Rail Industry Focus


Trains, tuxedos, TransCityRail: A day (and night) of celebrations

Last night, TransCityRail (TCR) North hosted its fourth instalment at Manchester’s Principal Hotel, bringing together over a thousand key members of the industry – from the high-profile chief executives and managing directors to the up-and-coming SMEs looking to break into the sector – under one roof to talk all things rail.

Testament to its success is the fact that many of the delegates present last night were also celebrating their fourth year attending the event, which has now established itself as a must-attend in the agendas of a wide cross-section of companies working to improve connections across the north. David Brown, for example, used to attend the event every year as CEO of Transport for the North (TfN); yesterday, he contributed a much different perspective as Arriva Rail North’s new boss. TfGM’s Amanda White once again attended to discuss the opportunities springing up across Greater Manchester. And Richard Westcott, the BBC’s transport correspondent, could not pass up the opportunity to host the event for the fourth year running.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of welcoming many of these familiar faces time and time again to TCR is noticing the rising enthusiasm they bring to their presentations and Q&A panel debates each year. Whilst realistic and reflective about the challenges the industry still faces, these senior decision-makers have an ever-growing list of projects from which to choose from when discussing the north’s successes.

This year, for example, White sang the praises of TfGM’s 2040 plan, broken down into five-year segments; Brown listed the benefits of Northern’s fresh franchise and shiny new rolling stock; Stuart Calvert of Digital Railway celebrated the £5m announced to digitise the TransPennine route; Andy Haynes outlined the changes already made in Network Rail’s ambitious route devolution, which is moving power away from the centre and into the hands of customers and SMEs; and Paul Griffiths, HS2 Phase 2 managing director… well, this one is fairly obvious.

Daytime conference

From its bright and early start at 8:30am (albeit thankfully fuelled by several cups of strong coffee, courtesy of Bechtel), the TCR conference was once again a smash hit after its successful debut last year. Griffiths, who just took over as HS2 Phase 2 MD, welcomed delegates with an informative keynote which helped paint a rich picture of how the mammoth high-speed scheme will connect with Northern Powerhouse Rail to ensure no city in the north is left behind.

As well as arguing that the north and London shouldn’t race against each other but rather link up as an efficient and streamlined network, Griffiths made the case for sticking together as one country to compete with successful cities in Europe like Hamburg or Leon.

Taking over from him, Mike Hogg, north of England representative at the Rail Freight Group, issued sober warnings of the dangers of underinvestment in freight – but overall, issued a hopeful message about the future of the sector if proper cash, time and hard work is dedicated to it. After all, as Hogg argued, digital railway is critical but cannot be seen as a panacea to every capacity issue – freight has a key role to play in keeping things moving across the north and beyond, and “can’t be seen as just a ‘nice to have.’”

Andy Sowerby, head of transport infrastructure at O2 Telefónica, the event’s strategic partner, was also realistic in his speech as he admitted mobile operators need to do better by rail in order to fix the connectivity problems across the network. But, much like Hogg, he urged buyers and suppliers to use the National Infrastructure Commission’s recent report as a catalyst to start doing things differently via a “mobile connectivity revolution.”

TCR-196Stuart Calvert, Digital Railway

The rest of the conference was jam-packed with an array of enlightening speakers, including Network Rail’s Duncan Law, TfN’s Nick Donovan, Northern’s Ian Hyde and Jason Pearce, managing director of Panasonic Systems Solutions Europe, TCR’s strategic partner.

As with last year, the sessions were all interspersed with plenty of time to network, visit exhibitor stands, meet other suppliers and collect some well-deserved business cards. One delegate, Debbie Francis, managing director of Direct Rail Services, even said she bumped into an old-time friend who she hadn’t seen for years – and who told her he had met a variety of new faces who will be key to his newly-launched rail company going forward.

For Chris McMonagle, head of business development for UK infrastructure at Bechtel, the event was about putting his company’s name out there to ensure it becomes as widely known in the north as it already is in the south. Meanwhile, for the O2’s Sowerby, it was a fantastic chance to step out of the ‘telecommunications/ICT bubble’ and meet new partners.

“It’s a great opportunity to speak to other people,” he told us. “We sit within our silos, we think we know what we know, we talk to the people we know, and we never really expand on that. So it’s great to talk to people outside of our comfort zone, and sometimes outside of their comfort zone too.

“Just straight after my presentation I had a couple of really interesting conversations with people, exchanged some business cards and an agreement to take those conversations beyond this event.”

The diversity of the delegates attending the event, who hailed from a rich cross-section of different companies and sections of the industry, was highlighted by many of those who RTM had a chance to speak to. Gillian Peters from BAM Nuttall argued it’s exactly this “wealth of people” that makes TCR so important to attend.


Black tie dinner

As soon as the conference drew to a close following Calvert’s energising keynote – which ended up sounding more like an invigorating call to action – the space was transformed into the networking drinks reception that kicks off the now-established TCR black tie dinner, this year sponsored by Xrail. As well as the usual flow of bubbly and canapés, this year’s reception also featured a group of magicians that had even the most jaded long-time industry leaders taken aback with amusement and bewilderment. If only their trick of turning lottery tickets into a handful of fivers could be replicated a million times over, CP6 funding would be sorted.

As well as Griffiths and White, the night-time soirée brought together National College for High-Speed Rail CEO Clair Mowbray, Rail North director Gary Bogan, Northern MD David Brown, TfN director of strategy Nigel Foster, Network Rail route managing direction LNW Martin Frobisher, Siemens Rail Automation UK director of operations Rob Morris and BAM Nuttall director of pre-construction Alan Cox to participate in two lively Q&A panels that served to bookend what was, as usual, a fantastic three-course dinner.


Delegates also had the opportunity to watch a video, put together by the RTM team, depicting all the many exciting projects currently underway in the north. So exciting, in fact, that it managed to wow Frobisher – a man who has been personally involved in several of these schemes. As he said, the footage provided an inspiring start to what was without a shadow of a doubt an invigorating get-together.

If you were unable to attend this year’s TCR, we won’t lie and say you didn’t miss out on much – it was bursting at the seams with informative presentations, friendly conversations and wine-fuelled debates. But you still have a chance to attend its fifth instalment, which has already been booked for 4 October next year. Get in touch with the team to book your place and we’ll see you there – same place, same time, and even better conversations.



Andrew JG   08/10/2017 at 11:33

Suppose this was all to do with the infrastructure and transportation for the North of England. Including talking about The Northern Powerhouse. Might be wrong anyway.

David   08/11/2017 at 09:06

Andrew, you are correct.

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