"As SAV commercial lead for FirstGroup I have the fantastic responsibilities of bringing new opportunities to the business. It is interesting as this is such new technology there isn’t much in the way of data to pull from."
FirstGroup is a rail, bus and coach operator that serves passengers in the UK, Ireland, Canada and US, employing around 100,000 people and carrying in the region of two billion passengers annually. The group made the headlines last month after one of its UK rail franchises, Great Western Railway, began operating its latest fleet of trains – the Class 800 Intercity Express Trains built by Hitachi Rail Europe.
For this week’s 5 minutes with… we go across the pond from our London offices to speak to Joseph Holmes, senior manager, business strategy and insights at First Transit. Joseph began his career at First Group in England on its management graduate trainee programme and he explains to Dave Songer the sense of accomplishment he gets from his job, the work he’s done on autonomous vehicles and why Devon leads the way for rail.
Dave Songer (DS): Excellent to catch up with you, Joseph, what made you to want to work in the rail industry?
Joseph Holmes (JH): I have always had a fascination with the railway. I started working at Reading railway station in the UK in 2005 during my summer vacation. I did it as part of my work experience/apprenticeship as a gateline assistant, checking passengers tickets to ensure that revenue was being collected. Being a people person, I quickly fell in love with being a part of hundreds of peoples’ days and helping them along their way!
(DS): What do you enjoy most about it?
(JH): Being a link in that vast chain of transportation. As we know there are so many roles and responsibilities of individuals who make up the successful operation of any transportation system. Being a part of that is a fantastic feeling and I get a huge sense of accomplishment.
(DS): How has it changed since you began working in it?
(JH): Since moving over to the US, I have heard of some of the amazing changes that have happened. As I used to work on Great Western Railway, it’s been great to see the biggest upgrade ever take place on that line, including the electrification of the rail lines and the doubling in size of its high-speed fleet – with 93 new Intercity Express Trains replacing existing services by the end of 2019.
(DS): Can you give me some more details on your role as commercial lead of shared autonomous vehicles?
(JH): As SAV commercial lead for FirstGroup I have the fantastic responsibilities of bringing new opportunities to the business. It is interesting as this is such new technology there isn’t much in the way of data to pull from. Here we have to factor in a lot of assumptions and more often than not this technology does carry considerable risk. However, by working together, and utilising the very best from our team such as safety operations, engineering and risk we can share best practice amongst the business and deliver some truly outstanding results for our clients.
(DS): What role do you think autonomous vehicles will play in the future?
(JH): Autonomous vehicles actually play a part in today’s transportation ecosystem. By investing in these future technologies, we can enhance our existing services and increase ridership by providing a wider range of solutions. To eliminate solo drives and bring people to our existing services is the initial step in solving the first and last mile challenges of today.
(DS): You used to be duty station manager at London Paddington. I’ll bet that was an interesting job – what was a normal day like and what was the most eventful thing that happened?
(JH): As my answer to the third question shows, we operated some fairly epic, but pretty aged fleet. One of the more eventful shifts was when one of the sleeper sets failed. It was 1am, and with sleepy passengers I had to go and wake them all up and inform them that they were still in London and that their train had broken down. I then proceeded to book them all into a hotel room in Paddington; I certainly walked into some interesting situations at that time of the evening!
(DS): What are the FirstGroups’s key business priorities in 2018? Are you able to give specific details on a project or target?
(JH): Our overall strategy is to leverage our scale and the breadth of our global expertise for the benefit of our local markets. We aim to execute our strategy in these markets by focusing our experience and energy on key points in the transport service value chain. We do this with our five strategic objectives: disciplined bidding; driving growth through commercial propositions; continuous improvement in operating and financial performance; prudent investment in our fleets, systems and staff; and maintaining responsible partnerships with our customers.
(DS): What’s your favourite rail journey?
(JH): Without doubt, Exeter St Davids to Newton Abbot in South Devon; that section of track where the rail line runs along the Dawlish sea wall is truly epic and it brings back a lot of great memories for me growing up. I took the above photo and I remember being in awe of how powerful that Intercity 125 really is.
(DS): It’s hard to disagree with you, Joseph, that journey is fantastic. Thanks for taking part in 5 minutes with…
Last week's 5 minutes with… Mark Joseph, global chief development officer, Transdev Group.
Would you like to get involved in 5 minutes with…? This fun, informative feature gives our readership the chance to get to know more about the personalities behind the industry, what it is that inspires them, where they see the industry heading and of course their own favourite rail journey! Get in touch with Dave Songer: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.