RIA Annual Conference final day

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Day three of this year’s Rail Industry Association (RIA) Annual Conference began with “Rebooting UK Rail Exports”, a panel session on how UK rail can export more abroad.

The panel was made up of Shanker Singham of Competere; Louis Taylor of UK Export Finance; Jake Rudham of Unipart Rail and Interim RSG Exports & Investment Industry Champion; Steve Butcher of John Holland, Australia; Lucy Prior of 3Squared and Vice-Chair of RIA’s SME-Group; Simon Argyle of the UK Mission to the EU; and Kaspars Briskens of Rail Baltica.

Louis Taylor began by setting out how UK Export Finance can help businesses looking to export. He emphasised the importance of new markets and free trade for the economic recovery from Coronavirus and added that it is vital that UKEF work together with RIA to promote UK rail businesses.

Shanker Singham then spoke about how he saw the trade negotiations going. He set out a number of ways the UK could develop trade deals with nations around the world, covering issues like state aid and governance, which would need to be resolved for these deals to be agreed.

Unipart’s Jake Rudham set out the work of the Rail Supply Group on exports, which is being delivered as part of the Rail Sector Deal. This work included developing a mentoring scheme and a process for suppliers to get a reference from Network Rail, which could be used to win work abroad.

Next came the RIA Conference’s first overseas speaker – Kaspar Briskens from Rail Baltica who joined from Latvia. Briskens described the Rail Baltica project, highlighting that UK rail plays a key role for international development, especially on sustainability & multi-modal integration.

From Australia, John Holland’s Steve Butcher painted a positive picture of the state of the domestic rail industry there, saying Australia was an exciting place to be for rail companies, with a large number of opportunities.

And last, but by no means least, 3Squared’s Lucy Prior gave the SME perspective, saying how important it was for UK SMEs to diversify their client base and to look abroad for new work.

“It’s about working openly and together.”

The panel on skills and diversity began with the launch of RIA and Women in Rail’s new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Charter which has been signed by over 100 organisations across the rail industry. More information on the Charter can be found here.

Chaired by Dyan Crowther, CEO of HS1 and Chair of NSAR, the panel consisted of Florence Eshalomi AM MP; George Chilcott, Chair of Young Rail Professionals; Women in Rail Founder Adeline Ginn; Professor Clive Roberts of the University of Birmingham; the National Railway Museum’s Andrew Maclean and CPMS Group’s Farah Sajwani.

Adeline Ginn began by highlighting the importance of listening to people’s concerns and showing diverse role models in the industry – “it’s about working openly and together.” George Chilcott agreed, saying the main work of YRP is to show there are young role models and a range of opportunities in the rail sector. “There are great opportunities to make a huge difference”, he added.

Andrew Maclean gave a different perspective, saying that the Museum was as much about looking to the future of the industry as it was about the past. He highlighted that there had been a huge contribution from a diverse range of people to the railways over the many years of the industry’s history.

Farah Sajwani said that there is much more to do to educate young people about the opportunities involved across rail, with Florence Eshalomi adding that UK rail needed to show it was more than just driving trains – “there’s fantastic opportunities for people from a diverse background”. Clive Roberts agreed, saying he met young people every day who were enthusiastic about the industry. “We have such a good potential to further people’s careers,” he said.

Dyan Crowther closed the session by mentioning the role NSAR’s new Routes into Rail can play in promoting rail to young people. Routes into Rail is a cross-sector initiative to help drive people into rail, particularly from groups currently under-represented within rail. It will be launched on 27 November at the NSAR Skills Symposium

“The future is uncertain but the fundamentals of rail are still very strong.”

Andrew Haines.

The last session of the Conference saw Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines quizzed by compere Paul Clifton.

Haines was clear that Coronavirus was a tough challenge for the industry, but that the railways would bounceback. “We are going to have to fight for those passengers to come back”, saying that more needed to be done to showcase how safe transport was.

Positively, he said the Government were behind rail investment and were keen to use rail as a catalyst for economic growth, highlighting the work being done to reopen the lines closed under Beeching.

When it came to Network Rail, Haines said he was proud of the organisation and what it had achieved, particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, he felt there was far more to be done, saying it could be an even more open and engaging organisation. He was clear however that he did not see a new ‘guiding mind’ body sitting within Network Rail and that, instead, the body should feed into the client organisation.

Haines was also clear that more needed to be done to speed up rail projects, saying that the GRIP process, used to deliver rail schemes, was being reviewed and would be replaced with a new process in 2021.

The session closed on a light-hearted note, with Paul Clifton urging all attendees to vote for Andrew Haines to have his legs shaved for Rail Aid – you can vote for him here.