Rail Industry Focus

07.11.16

Are we ready to export rail?

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 16

RTM’s David Stevenson reflects on the key messages from this year’s Dinner at the Roundhouse.

A key message to come out of this year’s Dinner at the Roundhouse was that UK rail needs to be ready to export and broaden its horizons, as digitalisation offers the industry unique opportunities going forward. 

The black-tie dinner and networking event, once again supported by RTM, was well attended, with 450 delegates making the journey to the East Midlands. 

Following a relaxed champagne drinks reception, attendees were welcomed to the event by Colin Walton, president of Rail Forum East Midlands, and Howard Johnston, chairman of Mainspring, the event’s organiser. 

Taking place in the magnificent Grade II listed building, which was built by the ‘Father of the Railway’ George Stephenson in 1839, Bombardier Transportation’s president Laurent Troger gave the first, and very upbeat, keynote of the evening. 

He reflected on the recent success of the company’s Aventra rolling stock, which will become a prominent feature on Crossrail and East Anglia services in the future. 

Troger commended the works done by vast Derby and Derbyshire workforces, which he said “keep cities moving”. Discussing the future of rail in the East Midlands, he called for the region to be “ambitious” as it is at the heart of the “transformation for our cities and society”. 

Highlighting that Derby has “all the ingredients” to drive growth, the Bombardier official told delegates that the industry cannot be UK-centric: “if there is one thing we need to prepare in Derby, it is to export”. He asked the audience if they were ready to export, especially within the next year, and their answer was a resounding: yes! 

As well as focusing on rolling stock manufacture, Troger said: “We’re facing a moment where new digital technology provides us tremendous power of data. This will allow us to significantly improve our processes to design and manufacture trains. But it will also better enable us to understand our assets, to better maintain them, and connect with our passengers. 

“Digitalisation is coming so fast, it is a tremendous opportunity for us to bring the best mobility solutions to our people.” 

Following Troger on stage was Simon Smith, director of passenger services design at the DfT, who said that the challenges of franchising in the past – most notably the termination of the West Coast franchise competition in 2012 – are being overcome. 

He was optimistic that franchising still offers the best opportunity to help deliver the government’s agenda for rail and delivering improvements. 

“Skills, experience and competition from the private sector brings innovation and encouraging investment,” he said. “Ultimately it is saving money for the taxpayer.

“Together with private sector partners, franchising is delivering widespread improvements and higher quality.” 

Reiterating Troger’s call for greater exports, Smith said the government would “be really pleased if there could be a big increase in exports, as well as a successful UK market for rolling stock production”. 

Although noting that the number of bidders for rail franchises has been diminishing, with South Western and West Midlands having only two bidders, Smith said that franchising can still be competitive. 

“There is a great future for the rail industry in this country,” he added, “and rail franchising can play a major role in delivering this.” 

After the insightful keynote speeches, which were warmly received by the audience, comedian and writer Holly Walsh gave a light-hearted look at the railway. 

The event’s charity for the evening was Royal School for the Deaf Derby, a non-maintained residential special school with a nationwide catchment area, which provides support to around 120 pupils aged between 3 and 19. Delegates generously donated more than £3,700, which the school’s head teacher, Helen Shepherd, said would be used to provide much-needed technology to support the students. 

Next year’s Dinner at the Roundhouse will take place on Thursday 12 October 2017.

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