Since the first high-speed train began operation back in 1964, few could have imagined that today more than 50 years later we are only just starting to embrace the technology and creating a global demand in the sector.
With HSR (High-Speed rail) projects starting to be commonplace globally, the demand for talent and, more importantly, talent retention is becoming paramount. The UK is one of a number of countries that is embarking on a large-scale HSR project in the guise of HS2. Whilst we in the UK consider this to be one of our largest single infrastructure spends, similar scale projects are underway elsewhere in Europe and further afield projects dwarfing HS2 are in development.
The UK can benefit from expertise developed on the HS1 project and to a certain extent, some of the initial planning on HS2. However, the amount of headcount needed to complete HS2 across phases 1 & 2, is already estimated to be over 25,000, spread over the full project cycle up to 2030. I know many of our more experienced individuals have already been targeted by overseas projects offering exciting working opportunities teamed with financial benefits which few can ignore.
Having worked with a number of high-speed rail partners from an infrastructure, rolling stock and operation viewpoint, I understand the need to have the right calibre of individuals who is fit for purpose for the task in hand. This, of course, is just as important elsewhere in the world with safety, cost and delivery timescales driving projects.
With the need for specific HSR experience required across all areas of the project supply chain the opportunity for those possessing such skills is immense. Few realise that although the concept of high-speed rail may be similar to our traditional rail systems, the technology and infrastructure is much removed from its predecessor. As you can probably imagine when you have an object full of people travelling consistently at over 200 MPH, safety is a key factor and the engineering required to ensure such is different from Victorian methods.
For instance, while some may surmise the actual rolling stock and drive trains would be slightly upgraded to achieve such speeds, few actually realise the complete re-engineering of the infrastructure that is required. Changes in the track installation, solid state ballast as well and a completely upgraded signalling solution means specialist skill-sets are key to the successful delivery of projects.
A number of players are already taking advantage of possessing such experience. For instance CH2M on the back of their HS2 contact are already getting a strong foothold on some of the major projects in SE Asia. Network Rail are also exporting expertise via their consulting division to overseas projects in the United States and Australia. The UK isn’t the only European national taking advantage of the global HSR demand. The likes of Deutsche Bahn, Vinci, Alstom and Ferrovial are all involved in projects further afield.
Having been fortunate myself to spend nearly eight years living in the Middle East and working across the Gulf, SE & South Asian and African regions. I know the demand to expatriate experienced talent to some of the emerging markets. When these developments are a key factor to a region's economic growth and development. Organisations will offer huge incentives to make sure the right leadership and technical ability are in place to secure the success of projects.
With the world becoming a global market and the need for technical expertise so great, few could argue against a career in rail currently. With so many opportunities both at home and overseas, teamed with the wealth of industry investment in skills development, the future looks bright for the up and coming generation of specialists.