Rail Industry Focus


Next Generation Rail highlights industry commitment to collaboration

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

A greater commitment to innovation and collaboration were two of the key messages taken away from Next Generation Rail in Manchester. RTM’s Adam Hewitt and David Stevenson were at the conference.

Next Generation Rail got off to a great start at its inaugural conference last year in London, and this year came to Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry (Mosi), aimed at early-career researchers and young professionals looking to enhance their career in the rail industry.

The three-day event in June was organised by RRUKA (the Rail Research UK Association, which brings together railway businesses and universities), FutureRailway and the Young Rail Professionals (YRP), with almost 200 delegates attending from 55 different organisations.

Skillshops and site visits

Attendees heard keynote speeches and participated in ‘skillshops’ to learn about communicating like a leader, developing better work relationships and staying ahead of the game through inventive problem solving. There were also site visits to the nearby First TransPennine Express/Siemens Ardwick depot, Metrolink depot, Lucchini RS and the University of Salford’s labs.

A group activity – looking at creating a new high speed line, HS3 – also tested the negotiation and collaboration skills of the participants, with teams representing a range of industry stakeholders, while Andrew Coombes, head of specification and assurance at HS2, also gave an interesting talk.


There was also an opportunity for young professionals to talk about some of the most recent rail research and present their case studies, with four awards being presented.

Best Academic Research Presentation (presented by Umar Saleem, special projects manager at Alstom Transport) went to David Connolly, of Heriot Watt University, for the development of ScopeRail, a production tool for in-door noise and vibration on high speed rail lines.

Best Collaborative Project (presented by Keith Rudd, director of Arup) was awarded to David Kirkwood, University of Birmingham, and Dan Grew, of Graffica, as part of a one-time collaboration to improve railway capacity by reducing delays and improving traffic fluidity.

Best Industry Case Study (presented by Peter Mellor from South West Trains) went to Cencen Gong of Interfleet Technology Ltd, for a case study focusing on pantograph sway risk assessment.

Best Poster Competition (presented by Helen Viner, chief scientist and research director of the infrastructure division at TRL) went to Jonathan Goodwin of University of Sheffield, for his work on multi-train trajectory optimisation.

A vibrant and dynamic event

David Clarke, director at FutureRailway, told RTM: “This event shows what a vibrant industry the rail sector is, and what good hands it is in – especially in terms of our young people. So it is really good to see the enthusiasm and the attitude that people show with new ideas.”

Colin Dennis, industry co-chair at RRUKA, added that he believes everyone will have picked up some new skills during the event through the skills workshops and group activities.

“During the course of the three days I’ve heard words like ‘exciting’, ‘fun’, ‘dynamic’ and ‘diverse’ being used to describe the industry. But there is still the reality that lots of things need fixing – and that is our challenge going forward.”

He said later that the event had “more energy than any other I’ve ever been to”.

‘The rail industry is like Narnia…’

Other attendees seemed to agree. Edward Bilson is on the TfL graduate scheme, after graduating a year ago in mechanical and manufacturing engineering from Warwick University. He praised the quality of research and debate at the conference. He said: “It’s thrown up a couple of new ideas for me from academia, which has been interesting. It’s made me decide that I’d like to do a PhD at some point.”

His colleague on the scheme, Matt Lees, a graduate of Imperial College London, said it was exciting to hear about developments at places like the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education. “They’ve got a whole range of things that are 30 years away from development, and things that are coming online in the next couple of years,” he said. “Some of the research out there is really abstract and futuristic, whereas other bits are solving problems we’ve got today.”

He joked about an analogy he’d heard at the conference comparing the rail industry to Narnia – “a magical world that nobody knows exists until you open it up and realise there is a whole other world out there!”

He said his initial interest was in civils and structural engineering, but a module in transport got him thinking about rail. “It’s in the news and a booming industry,” he said, listing some of the major programmes and projects that “will make a huge different to people on a day-to-day basis”, from the Northern Hub to Crossrail.

Having an impact

YRP chairman Adam Stead, interviewed in the last edition of RTM, said there had been “lots of positive feedback and everyone’s enthusiastic”.

He said: “There are lots of young people in the rail industry doing research and innovation and this is celebrating what they’ve done. Most of the delegates have come straight into the industry this year, doing graduate schemes and apprenticeship schemes, and this is a first experience for them. We’ve also got people three or four years into their careers explaining what they’ve managed to achieve already, and they can inspire people to stay within rail and progress their career, showing the newer people ‘this is the impact you could have’.”

The event was also used to showcase a new video that’s been created to inspire people to work in the rail industry. Dennis called it “tremendous” and there was lots of good feedback from delegates, plus suggestions to improve it. The video will soon be available at www.railtechnologymagazine.tv

Umar Saleem, 28, is a project manager with Alstom at Chester Train Care Centre, who was also at last year’s Next Generation Rail event in London. He got his IMechE Chartered Engineer status last year. He said: “It’s really encouraging to see the talent and potential of the next generation of engineers and researchers. It gives me hope that this industry is just going to get bigger and better.”

Simon Iwnicki, academic co-chair of RRUKA and director of the Institute of Railway Research at the University of Huddersfield, said: “I enjoyed Next Generation Rail. I think it was a really positive and exciting event and certainly achieved our aims. There really was a buzz about it and the networking was excellent throughout.”

Jonathan Gregory, a delegate from RSSB, said: “The conference was a real eye-opener. As someone relatively new to the rail industry, I had no idea there was so much creative research.”

The event was sponsored by the RSSB, Rail Technology Magazine, Thales, Arup, Alstom, South West Trains and TRL and endorsed by 13 supporters.

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