Next generation rail

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 16

Giulia Lorenzini, partnerships manager at the RSSB, reviews this year’s Next Generation Rail Conference.

Innovation is alive and well in the rail industry! That was the clear message to come out of the Next Generation Rail conference, a three-day event held at the National Training Academy for Rail in Northampton this summer. 

Jointly organised by the rail industry body RSSB, the research organisation RRUKA and the Young Rail Professionals, and sponsored by RTM, the event attracted more than 200 young delegates from the railway and academia. 

A series of interesting and informative presentations from an impressive array of speakers, representing business and higher education, provided delegates with plenty of food for thought. Crispin Humm, head of customer experience at ATOC, told an enthusiastic audience: “You are coming into the rail industry at an exciting time. Rail recognises the need to change and become more agile.” 

Richard Jones, rail business director at the innovation company Transport System Catapult, highlighted the threat posed by disruptive technologies, such as driverless cars, but said rail still has significant advantages over other forms of transport. “The railway must spot opportunities and innovate,” he urged. 


An innovation marathon, renamed ‘Innovathon’, encouraged delegates to let their imagination run free. 

“There were some wonderfully energising and entertaining workshops, which provided insight into the tools and techniques needed to fast-track ideas and turn them into reality,” said Chris Lawrence, technical director at RSSB. 

“Next Generation Rail has a crucial role to play in motivating talented young rail professionals and putting across to them the importance of creating a culture of innovation in the rail sector where ideas – their ideas – can flourish.” 

The Innovathon climaxed with four entertaining presentations from delegate groups, each setting out ways of making train travel a more comfortable and pleasurable experience. 

The winning idea for a virtual Personal Travel buddy – an advanced version of the holograms that can already be found at some mainline stations – wowed the judges.

Rounding off the event, James Pritchard from the University of Southampton won the ‘Best Presentation’ competition and Andraž Krslin, a researcher at Cranfield University triumphed in the ‘Best Poster’ competition.

What the delegates said 

  • James Pritchard, research fellow, University of Southampton (winner of the Best Presentation competition): “I really appreciated the opportunity to network with, and present my work to a range of people from industry.  It is important to me that my work is useful and relevant to the challenges facing the industry.  The competitive element is good for those of us who like a challenge, and encourages us to ensure that what we present is indeed interesting for the assembled audience.”
  • Andraž Kršlin, researcher, Cranfield University (Winner of Best Poster Competition): “A conference about the future of the UK rail industry gave me an opportunity to benchmark our project against the best ones in the field. Winning the Poster Competition showed that we are developing interesting and relevant solutions for the rail industry. I was delighted to win and have the chance to take part in an inspirational event.”
  • To-Sum Chan, CCS Engineer, Research & Standards, RSSB: “The most valuable gain from the conference was to learn one of many approaches to innovate with a systemic process. The Next Generation Rail Conference 2016 has given us a tool-set for innovation, which surely will create a brighter future for the rail industry.”
  • Amy Donohoe, student, University of Bath: “I found the diversity and enthusiasm of attendees particularly inspiring. I think the biggest thing that I took away from the event was the phrase ‘the wilder the better’ and an understanding that abstract ideas are often the ones that produce the most innovative solutions to a problem. The workshops and social events provided me with the opportunity to network with my peers, creating contacts within industry which I’m sure will be of great value further on in my career.” 
  • Emma Liversage, data analyst, Tracsis: “The Innovathon contest was very helpful and thought provoking.”
  • Matt Cope, innovation manager, FirstGroup: “The Next Generation Rail conference was a great example of bringing together the future leaders of the industry to work collaboratively on the innovation practices that will transform rail and ensure its continued success.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected] 


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