Rail Industry Focus

01.01.13

The Future of Rail is in your hands

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2013

Rail Champions founder and managing director Chris Williams-Lilley reports back from the recent Future of Rail Conference, and RTM also hears from conference producer Matthew Edwards.

I'm having to change the habit of a lifetime – thanks to Marketforce and the world-class speakers we heard at the Future of Rail Conference held on November 27 at One Whitehall Place, London. I used to dread trade or industry conferences and, like many of the times before, thought I’d last till midday before making an early exit. However, I was met with probably the most exclusive line-up of expert rail industry speakers, from all quarters of the globe, sharing their own personal experiences, but more importantly, recognising that the future of rail is in our hands.

There were two big events last year that became a focal point of the debates, namely the rail industry’s performance during the Olympics, where a new standard was set for public transport, and then we had the West Coast Main Line franchise bid collapse, which will have ramifi cations for a few years to come.

Which leads me to Jim Taylor (general manager for transport at technology company CSC), a guest speaker from the USA, who reminded us that all the TOCs and station staff working through the games “went the extra mile…we all recognised the value of human touch”.

Britain delivered a stunning performance when the reliability of the railway was under daily scrutiny and passenger numbers soared to new record highs. “Do we want to go back to what we had?” Jim exclaimed.

An obvious benchmark, compared to the normal standards enjoyed during the daily commute – I can see his point. The Games and the exemplary behaviour of all our railway staff proved we can pull together in extreme circumstances. It was the ‘people’ who made the difference. Baked-in intelligence, coping with the unexpected, scenario planning and workforce management all contributed to the success of the Games. We must learn from this experience and continue the benefits arising from a collaborative approach to deliver a truly world-class rail sector.

Moving on to the small matter of the WCML franchise collapse, an internal Department for Transport investigation led by businessman Sam Laidlaw, who found that “organisational changes and resourcing constraints” contributed to flaws in the franchising process.

David Brown, group chief executive at Go-Ahead Group, speaking on behalf of the Rail Delivery Group, commented: “There has to be leadership and governance, which would increase the capabilities of both the TOCs and the DfT. We need to get closer to the problem and take full accountability.”

That was a view shared by everyone in the room.

Remember, with railways carrying more passengers than in the 1920s, there must be closer scrutiny and collaboration on all aspects of workbank planning, supply chain management and route-based planning to ensure the industry as a whole meets the targets set out by Sir Roy McNulty in the Rail Value For Money Review.

So here’s the rub: we need behavioural change, we need engagement with the supply chain, and a clearer scope of supply (for both franchisee and infrastructure upgrades). Only then will progress be made and the funding gap reduced.

It was pointed out that there are at least 250 industry organisations in the rail sector, most working in isolation.

So I do take David’s comments seriously when he recommends there must be governance and leadership – otherwise the industry as a whole will not benefit.

Simon Kirby, managing director of Infrastructure Projects at Network Rail, set forth his vision: “Get closer to our customers.

“The future of rail is being delivered now. Improvements being made both now and during CP5 are set to transform the rail infrastructure.”

Network Rail too is facilitating change, and has devolved routes to align with its customers.

There is a National Centre and a separate projects business working closer to its supply chain.

Network Rail will become a rail infrastructure solution developer, integrator and deliverer, with additional support on engineering, design and asset protection.

With such a radical change to its business model, it is hoped that Network Rail (and the industry in general) will at long last offer a more ‘flexible’ approach to procurement, looking seriously at alternatives and embracing innovative solutions.

It has done so within the security and communications packages. Just look how far we have come with smart ticketing too, with the successful implementation of Oyster (and ITSO) and the benefits of congestion easing that has resulted.

It is with great anticipation we see the benefits of an electric spine across the UK, enhanced or re-developed stations, such as Birmingham New Street, London Bridge and Reading, 14 new signalling centres across the network – with the ultimate aim of providing great customer service.

In closing, I’ll reflect on comments by Sir Brian Souter, CEO of Stagecoach, who made a passionate speech reflecting on a year of reforms, and what comes next . There is modal shift in transport, with more and more people choosing rail over the car and other forms of public transport. The environment is a key concern to everyone, but one thing that will make all the difference, he said, is “to be interested in the business” – “It’s people who will decide the Future of Rail.”

If you take my advice, you’ll put The Future of Rail in your diary for 2013 – it was an unmissable conference, which considered serious and complex issues facing everyone in the supply chain. Thanks to Marketforce for putting together a truly magnificent panel of global experts.

A view from the organiser

Conference producer Matthew Edwards said: “Three key factors made this year’s The Future of Rail such a success. The first was the audience: they brought competing perspectives from across the sector and contributed to the day’s high level of debate and engagement.

“The second was the context – it is certainly not a dull time to be working in rail. Of course there are challenges, but the conference highlighted all the positives: alliances and the RDG are revolutionising how the industry is working together, and the devolution agenda at Network Rail is promising great things for the delivery of the infrastructure of the future.

“Finally, the speakers were fantastic – Sir Brian Souter was characteristically provocative but was more or less kept in line by our fantastic chair Adrian Shooter. Following this year’s event, Keith Greenfields, managing director of Heathrow Express, called it ‘one of the most useful conferences I have attended’. I couldn’t agree more.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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