This week Collingwood attended Railtex at the NEC. As always it was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with old contacts, make new introductions and see some brilliant displays from organisations across the industry. The highlights for us from this year’s exhibition, were the informative talks and seminars that took place.
One topic of particular interest, was the Rail Supply Group discussed by Alstom’s Terence Watson in his Keynote Speech, as well as Paul Copeland, Roy Freeland and Colin Flack from Siemens, Perpetuum and The Rail Alliance respectively. The group seems, in principle, to be a fantastic idea and will undoubtedly help SME businesses within the industry. With 11 industry leaders ‘heading-up’ the RSG, the message was clear, more organisations need to become involved in the group in order to properly influence the sector as a whole. One element of this topic that stood out amongst all others, was how attractive the UK Rail industry is for foreign organisations, and the facts speak for themselves, with German rail organisations on average exporting 50% of their ‘product’ compared to the UK at 10% and Chinese organisations being on average a massive 40 times larger than our own. It's clear the UK needs to secure the UK market whilst at the same time focusing overseas in order to get away from the short term strategy which is currently in place.
The RSG operates over 5 key work schemes - exports and inward investment, technology innovation, people, SMEs and high speed rail. In a further talk entitled ‘what’s in it for me?’ Roy Freeland unveiled his open-door scheme, which is designed to help rail industry SMEs have more direct contact and work with larger organisations. It will certainly be interesting to hear about the results of this scheme in the coming months.
Hitachi Rail’s Keith Jordan spoke about adopting a whole-systems approach to railway engineering, using his own organisation as a key example around elements such as their work on HS1, the Intercity Express Program and the Newton Aycliffe site. A big element of this talk was around innovation and technology, a key continuing issue within the industry.
Another interesting discussion came from Network Rail’s Commercial Director for digital railways, Phil Bennett. Clearly passionate about the topic, Phil compared the current UK rail network to the aerospace industry and the leaps that have been made there due to investment in technology and innovation. Phil pointed towards a much improved network, with better reactions to issues, more accurate ways to plan your journeys and generally more reliability across the board. This is likely to make real inroads as we move into CP6, so definitely one to look out for in the future.
Industry exhibitions and events tend to act as a barometer for their sectors so we were particularly impressed with a number of the stands at the exhibition. It is clear to see that previous years key themes around innovation and technology have been taken up by a number of organisations. And although the rail sector may be a bit late to the party across a number of key issues, there are extremely positive steps being made to improve and move forward. All in all this years’ Railtex exhibition filled us with confidence about the industry and its future.