Rail Industry Focus

11.09.19

The next generation of rail infrastructure

Source: RTM: Aug/Sep 19

How the rail industry delivers the next generation of complex infrastructure will rely heavily on the people tasked with leading the projects, and the technology they use to do it. Faithful+Gould joined forces with Atkins at this year’s TCR Midlands to discuss the way forward.

The delivery of complex rail infrastructure is changing, and the industry must evolve in order to meet the demands of the future. The debate around project and programme management can be a tedious one though, which is why the panel of this Leaders Debate looked to the world of Wizard of Oz to visualise their point. 

Roger Hall, project director at Atkins, opened the presentation by calling for the industry to stop following in the footsteps of the Scarecrow longing for a brain – it’s time to start delivering innovation. The digital age has arrived, and the rail industry must adapt if it wants to deliver effective infrastructure. Hall’s message was not that companies should look to the future for innovation, but the present. Hall stated: “My challenge to you, the industry, is with all the digital innovations already out there, are you going to deliver?” 

The solution is courage, said Michael Odling, regional director at Faithful+Gould. He declared: “With the brains providing the solutions through digital technology, the industry and Network Rail need to be brave like the Lion, to generate ideas and bring in different skillsets and fresh talent. We need the courage to do something differently, and we need to do it quickly.” 

Keeping within the fantasied analogy, we then addressed the Tinman’s heart. Adeel Azam, also a regional director at Faithful+Gould, said the challenge facing those in infrastructure management is to deliver benefits increasingly quickly and efficiently for customers. Those key players responsible for digital technology are tasked with driving innovation, and these teams must become the beating heart of our organisations, said Azam. Technology will then help us on our journey, and achieve our customer’s desired outcomes. 

Odling argued that for the industry to successfully improve it must work together. All the characters in the railway operate with different goals, and whilst they will each be able to achieve their individual goals, without true collaboration the overall goal will not be achieved. 

He said: “And that’s what we want to do, we want to deliver cost-effective solutions, not just achieving our own goals but delivering the overall target of infrastructure on the ground that is cheaper and more efficient.” The rewards of achieving this goal could even stretch beyond meeting targets. With the increasingly congested competition for the public purse, if the rail industry is able to demonstrate that it is an effective and efficient collaborative industry then more government funding will come its way. 

Azam echoed Odling’s calls for collaboration, calling the current way of doing business on the railway “confrontational”. Rail already has a lack of cross-pollination with other sectors, said Azam, but there is so much to learn from other sectors. Hall pointed out that when you sit down and list all of the really good projects the industry has delivered and the really bad ones, the positive list is huge in comparison. Odling used Birmingham New Street as an example of success achieved through collaboration. Developers, builders, TOCs, the local council, Network Rail and other parties coming together to deliver a new station, and a shopping centre on top, all whilst keeping the current station operational. 

The project proved that when we as an industry work together, we work really well, said Odling. On the other hand, he warned the railway is slow to learn its lessons. Companies move on from a successful project and lose the information and best practice, and as an industry we must learn how to do better. 

Key to delivering innovation is creativity, an area where rail has traditionally struggled. When you look at our industry, Odling explained, it’s imperative to foster an atmosphere of innovation but this tends to come from people who think outside the box and don’t know the boundaries. He suggested that when you’ve been working in the industry for a long time, your thoughts become constrained by what you know. This is why young people coming into the business is so important.

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