“Whatever your views, there’s no doubt the rail industry in the coming years will be significantly different. However, there are also opportunities to exploit and we will constantly seek to help our members do this through our various activities.”
Running a railway is a complex business. And understandably so, because managing the operations of a nation's rail networks and the hundreds of companies that all need to work in unison is a major challenge. So, it's fantastic that we can welcome for for the latest 5 Minutes With… the head of an organisation that is intrinsic to this happening in the UK market, Darren Caplan from the Railway Industry Association,
The national trade body for the rail supply community, the RIA’s 275 members cover a diverse range of products and services, including multinational companies and SMEs. The RIA works to promote build a bigger and better rail industry, whether through lobbying and policy development, holding events and networking, technical and innovation activity or boosting the UK rail exports abroad. Its chief executive, Darren, sits down with SmartRail World’s Dave Songer to share some details on his influential job, explain the challenges of working in the ever-changing rail sector, and he also puts forward his argument why the supply chain is perfectly placed to make this dynamic industry bigger and better.
Dave Songer (DS): Hi Darren, thanks for joining us! You’ve been with the Railway Industry Association (RIA) for nearly two and a half years – has rail changed since you began working there?
Darren Caplan (DC): If it’s possible, the environment in which rail operates has become even more uncertain in the last two and a half years, making it even more challenging to grow a sustainable rail supply sector. So, RIA’s focus is on doing whatever we can to help members navigate those challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Where is the uncertainty? The implementation of a new Network Rail 100-day devolution plan; the Williams Rail Review; Brexit (of course!); the start of a new CP6 Control Period; overcoming the sustained current criticism of major rail projects such as HS2 and Crossrail; and the party-political nationalisation versus privatisation debate. How’s that for starters?
DS: What is it about the rail industry that you enjoy most?
DC: Working with members and people who are so positive about dealing with whatever’s thrown at them! There are so many issues in rail for suppliers to have to deal with, yet the proactive and good-humoured approach from people in the industry to just get on with growing a bigger and better rail supply sector is truly inspiring. There are also fascinating developments at the forefront of the innovation taking place – whether developments in different train technologies, digital railway, or the use of composite materials, there really is some great stuff going on in our sector.
DS: What’s been your biggest professional challenge?
DC: Making RIA the very best it can be. I am very lucky in having such a talented and motivated team all of whom really do go the extra mile and try to put members first in every way they can. I’m also lucky that RIA (@railindustry) has such fantastic members – large and small – who inform pretty much everything we do. However, RIA can be even better – the biggest challenge for me is to make sure all our functions; lobbying and PR; policy; technical and innovation; exports; membership; marketing; events and business admin all deliver so that our members stay and do even more with us, as we try to grow and improve on what we do.
DS: And how about the UK rail industry supply chain – what is the biggest challenge facing that?
DC: Well, that would have to be what I said in my first answer: dealing with the current uncertainty the sector is facing. The Williams Rail Review; Brexit; the Government’s challenges to decarbonise and digitalise the rail network; the political debate during what could be a General Election year; a volatile rolling stock market; the lack of consistency and visibility in rail workloads – whatever your views on these issues, there’s no doubt the rail industry in the coming years will be significantly different. However, there are also opportunities to exploit and we will constantly seek to help our members do this through our various activities and the intelligence that we disseminate.
DS: What do you think will be some of the biggest differences between the passenger journey today and in a decade’s time, say?
DC: We have a huge number of schemes in the pipeline, including the Transpennine route upgrade, Crossrail, HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, East West Rail and Crossrail 2, to name a few. Plus, the industry is working to decarbonise – which we can deliver through cost-effective electrification if the government were to work with us by committing to a longer-term rolling pipeline of work – and digitalise the rail network. So, I hope that passenger journeys will be feeling the benefits from all these schemes – with even better, cleaner, more reliable services, greater capacity and connectivity – and with all the economic growth, investment and jobs this will bring.
To see live discussion on many of the topics covered in this interview, visit SmartRail in Munich on 17-19 June, when infrastructure managers, passenger rail and freight operators and industry suppliers will cover the latest developments.
Confirmed speakers slots at the 3-day event include CTOs and CIOs from Deutsche Bahn, SNCF, Translink Arriva CZ and FS Italiane.
Visit the show website to see the agenda, speakers and register for the show.
DS: You were previously CEO of the Airport Operators Association – did you learn anything there that has proved useful at the RIA?
DC: There are of course similarities as trade associations seeking to grow bigger and better sectors. However, it is perhaps the difference in political perception between aviation and rail which is more notable. In aviation, when things go wrong the passenger blames the private sector airport or airline even if part of the journey is the government’s responsibility, such as queues at the border on returning flights, the customer hold the airport responsible. Yet in rail, the passenger holds the government responsible if their train is late, cancelled, or they have a bad experience – they do not blame the infrastructure or service provider. And that is why rail is such a particularly difficult sector for the Department for Transport compared to other transport modes.
DS: Now the Brexit question! To what extent does that affect the RIA's day-to-day ?
DC: As you can imagine, over the past three years, we have been ramping up our work on Brexit. Our policy team have been ensuring RIA members are kept up to date on the latest political developments, particularly concerning what it means for them. So, we’ve been lobbying on a number of areas – such as ensuring standards are as harmonised as possible, keeping trade as frictionless as possible, and also safeguarding access to a skilled workforce – whilst also seeking to take advantage of the government’s need to increase exports and potentially do bilateral trade deals around the world (with, we would argue, rail being a key component of that). We’ve also been developing relationships with other rail industries, notably in Australasia and Malaysia, as well as redoubling our exports activity.
Importantly, for RIA members we’ve produced checklists of key areas that rail business of any size should be considering, and are engaging with the government to make sure any concerns of the rail industry are represented.
DS: The RIA's Rail Fellowship Programme has recently been in the news – can you tell me about that?
DC: The RIA Rail Fellowship Programme is an initiative we launched last year that sees politicians spend a day on-site at a rail supplier, in order to find out more about the rail industry. The Programme helps promote the sector, whilst also showcasing the work of rail suppliers to politicians so they can gain a greater understanding of rail. We’ve now held 10 visits across the country – it’s been a hugely successful programme.
DS: Great to hear! Finally, Darren, where in the world is your favourite rail journey ?
DC: I love taking mountain trains. The Gornergrat Bahn Matterhorn Railway in Zermatt on the Swiss/Italian border is a pretty special ski lift! In the UK, it’s hard to beat the Great Western route from St Erth to St Ives’ Porthminster Beach in Cornwall, for a dramatic example of the great British coastline at its most picturesque.
DS: Thanks very much, Darren. We look forward to seeing RIA go from strength to strength.
If you liked this 5 Minutes With… check out our last with Robert Nisbet from the Rail Delivery Group.