Rail Industry Focus

01.05.15

UK ambitions for Eurotunnel's rail training centre

Source: RTM Apr/May 15

Bernard Lemière, director general at Eurotunnel Group’s Opal Coast International Rail Training Centre, discusses the centre’s development and his hopes to grow the business in the UK.

Eurotunnel Group’s Opal Coast International Rail Training Centre (CIFFCO) has had its accreditation as an “agency responsible for examination in general professional knowledge for driver training” extended until 2018. 

EPSF, the French railway safety authority, originally approved CIFFCO to provide training for a number of safety roles in the railway industry a decade ago. 

However, it was in 2012 that CIFFCO was officially inaugurated and it now provides training for the Eurotunnel Group subsidiaries as well as external rail companies – supporting the development of the rail freight industry. 

Renewed accreditation 

RTM caught up with Bernard Lemière, director general at CIFFCO, to discuss the organisation’s development and renewed accreditation. 

“In France a training centre specialising in railway activity needs to be certified or accredited by the EPFS, and this isn’t something that is easy to get because of the safety element in which the rail sector works,” he said. 

“In France, historically, it was mainly SNCF which were accredited to do any training concerning the railway. But this market opened in the beginning of 2004 and we were the first private sector training centre to ask for this accreditation. 

“This latest accreditation is valid for five years and it is the third time we have gained it from the EPFS.” 

Last year, CIFFCO also obtained recognition for its Train Driver training programme on the national register of professional certifications in France. Until recently, SNCF was the only company with this recognition. 

“We really started to expand our activities in 2011 and opened them up to all railway companies or subcontractors in France,” said Lemière. 

“At the same time, SNCF was diminishing the number of its training centres. Today, SNCF is not even able to deliver all the training for its own staff – so they come to us. Last year, for example, we got 500 SNCF trainees – mainly from the infrastructure part – who came to CIFFCO for small and longer training. 

“With regards to driver training, we went up to nine groups of 10 drivers three years ago – so around 90 to 100 drivers. That is the maximum we can have at the moment.” 

 

UK ambitions 

RTM was told that the organisation would like to expand its training activities in the UK. In June 2013, the Office of Rail Regulation granted CIFFCO approval as a training centre, authorising it to “provide instruction and conduct assessments and examinations of general professional knowledge relating to train driving on the UK rail network”. 

Lemière said: “We needed this accreditation to train Eurotunnel’s shuttle drivers. So far we haven’t used this externally, in England. However, I would say that since then we have trained about 40-50 drivers internally. 

“We would like to expand our activities to the UK market, but this is rather difficult at the moment. We have one advantage as being part of Eurotunnel; we have a presence in the UK with GB Railfreight, which is owned by Europorte – a subsidiary of Groupe Eurotunnel.” 

Training doesn’t work in “exactly the same way” in the UK as it does in France, making it more difficult to enter the market, he said. “Although we do have a team on the UK side dedicated to Eurotunnel activity through CIFFCO. For instance, we do the training for the tunnel environment for the Eurostar people and all their sub-contractors. However, we don’t necessarily go outside the terminal, because so far it has been too difficult. 

“We would need to create a base in England, because from France it would be rather difficult to extend our activities. We want to expand our activities in England but this needs further discussion.” 

Flexible 

Lemière told us that a key to CIFFCO’s success has been its flexibility. 

“We are small but flexible,” he said. “We are able to set up a training programme in a short time. For example, if training needed to be organised to start in June and end in December we can do that. If you go to SNCF they will say they can take trainees but they have to start on a specific date.” 

Traditionally, CIFFCO has focused on managing the company’s training plan for the Eurotunnel terminals at Calais and Folkestone, with the rest of its activities relating to external contracts. 

“It is half and half concerning the number of hours of training that we do every year. In terms of turnover, it is two-thirds for external railway activity and one-third for the Eurotunnel training camp,” explained Lemière. 

International activity 

He added that the company’s international training activity – for all foreign rail companies operating in France – has also increased. “For instance, we have customers like Trenitalia for their activities. We also train customers from Belgium and are in touch with Luxembourg. All the countries around France that have rail activities in the country can also be our customers,” he said. “But my first big ambition for CIFFCO is to try to develop the business on the UK side.”

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