Rail Industry Focus


Rail Live: A unique industry conference

Colin Flack, chairman of the Rail Alliance, talks to RTM about this year’s edition of Rail Live and future ambitions.

As readers will remember from the June/July issue, RTM sent our very own reporter Josh Mines down to Long Marston to cover this year’s edition of Rail Live. During a jam-packed two-day event, we were astonished by the sheer volume of plant and innovations on offer. 

Now, as the dust begins to settle after the event, we caught up with Colin Flack, chairman of the Rail Alliance, the organisation responsible for running Rail Live, to discuss why the show has become so popular. 

Key to the event’s success, said Flack, is that the organisers have tried creating a show that “had more of a ‘country’ show atmosphere, rather than a brochure-led type of event” that you might find at the NEC in Birmingham or ExCeL in London. 

“A lot of railwaymen tend to be practical, it is an outdoor sport, so people get used to the fact that the conditions they work in can be very hot, cold, wet and dry,” he told us. 

“To show the kit off to its best, you need that type of agricultural-type show approach where you can make machines work and do things that you could just never do inside an exhibition hall.” 

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Now recognised as one of the largest outdoor rail shows in Europe, Rail Live managed to attract about 300 exhibitors and 6,000 visitors to this year’s edition, “which isn’t bad for a little place like us”, joked Flack. 

“The interesting challenge, from our point of view, is that it attracts a different demographic, especially from the exhibitors’ point of view,” he explained. 

“You always get the business development managers, but you also get a higher proportion of operational professionals. Because these people don’t do shows as much, it is a challenge to make sure they have the right experience. They approach it as a work site, and it is a very different context.

“But if you are a visitor from Network Rail or TfL, you are talking to people who really know the machines and products. At the show, you tend to meet the people who will be sticking the products in the ground or bolting it on to trains, using it and operating it. It is a really useful environment.” 

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For the first time ever, as mentioned in our coverage in the last edition, visitors to Rail Live were able to travel by train right to the show, courtesy of Vivarail’s D-Train. Passenger shuttles were run between Honeybourne station and a special platform inside the showground at the Quinton Rail Technology Centre (QRTC). It was also the first time the Class 230 had been used in passenger service. 

“That was a very welcome addition to this year’s show,” said Flack. “It again gave people the chance to see some variety that they wouldn’t normally have been exposed to, and gave them the chance to touch, feel and ride on the rolling stock. 

“We also had the two Eurostars on show that have now gone off to the High-Speed Rail Colleges in Doncaster and Birmingham, but they had the paint and refurb work done here. 

“There’s plenty going on here all the time. If people came back today, they wouldn’t recognise the site. But we are always doing some quite groundbreaking stuff here, from the D-Train development to rolling stock refurbishment. We also have Cisco here doing work as part of Project SWIFT, all sorts of things going on.”

Taking place just before the government released the High Level Output Specification for railway CP6, and against a backdrop of what has been a tricky CP5, Flack said the event was a good opportunity for many senior officials to meet with the wider supply chain. 

“I spent an afternoon with Sir Peter Hendy and he was struck because, in one place, you can see the full, sheer diversity of the supply chain,” he said. “It is very rare that you can do that. 

“It certainly drove the point home that you can’t switch projects off and on, and the need to get a grip, so that CP6 doesn’t kill people in the early stages. Also, people like Gordon Wakeford, the chairman of the Rail Supply Group, was able to see the constituency he represents across the field. There were also people in attendance from government departments, including the DfT and BEIS. It made the point that there are lots of good stuff and enthusiasm out there, but the situation is precarious at the moment and we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and we need to be a bit more mindful.” 

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During the show, people had the chance to see working and static On-Track Machines and On-Track Plant, as well as having practical hands-on experience of small plant, tools and equipment amongst a host of other live demonstrations. There was an opportunity to see the new light rail test track, and Network Rail’s Signalling and Innovations Group ran the Signalling and Telecommunications Village.

“At the Rail Alliance, one of our big mantras is about collaboration,” said Flack. “We are trying to get people talking to each other and working with each other. 

“Having Network Rail as the partner is crucial. Their support is so important because, obviously, you need to have them championing the cause – otherwise it would be a little bit flat if they didn’t. However, in fairness, the show has got to the point where it commands things by its own right, but none of us are complacent. 

“Network Rail also gives some encouragement for the top end of the supply chain to make sure they are there, take part and support the show. Lots of people have been great at supplying plant, and it relies on a lot of people helping to make it possible, which brings it back to that agricultural-type showpiece – which only works because the various farming bodies come together to make those shows work.” 

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Flack added that Rail Live is the sort of place visitors attend and end up saying ‘do you know, I had no idea that we can do that’. It also provides the tech transfer piece of the jigsaw, as there are many companies which attend that are looking to engage with the railway and see Rail Live “as a great place to visit, learn or to exhibit and show off”. 

It is also a great opportunity for the big projects to have dialogue with the breadth of the supply chain, while also being a good chance to engage and be seen to be engaging. The audience that you get ther is so broad, it would be an opportunity missed not to attend. Rail Live 2018 will be taking place on 20-21 June.

(Images: c. Rail Alliance)

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