"Brexit has to be the biggest career challenge I have faced…I probably spend 80% of my time working on Brexit issues."
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) brings together passenger train and freight train operators, Network Rail and the rail supply chain to help change, improve and secure prosperity in Britain’s rail network. Providing services to enable its members to deliver a railway that benefits customers, the taxpayer and the UK’s economy, the RDG gives a voice to passengers and operators and delivers vital national ticketing, information and reservation services for passengers and staff.
For this week’s 5 Minutes With…, SmartRail World caught up with Laura Wright, the head of international policy at the RDG about the important role the group plays in Britain’s rail industry. Having begun her rail career as a graduate at Network Rail, where she held no fewer than five positions, Laura explains to Dave Songer about the varied projects she’s worked on, the changes she predicts will occur over the next decade, what she's due to speak about at SmartRail and the huge issue that fills most of her time: Brexit.
(DS): Hi Laura. You began your career in rail with @networkrail, where you have held a number of positions – what do you most like about working in the rail industry?
(LW): There are so many exciting and interesting opportunities in rail. I have had roles in major projects, stakeholder relations, transformation and international relations. There are not many industries that give you that kind of scope. The scale of the challenge is also unique to the industry, for example, I have worked on the multi-million pound Crossrail and Thameslink projects which are once in a lifetime investments. Finally, the rail industry is a big family, the people I work with are great and people genuinely care about what they are working towards.
(DS): What does your position at the RDG as head of international policy entail? (Does the EU referendum play a big role?)
(LW): I love my job at RDG because of the variety of topics I am able to work on in this role. Since the referendum, I probably spend 80% of my time working on Brexit issues. But the team and I also monitor key EU legislative dossiers such as passenger rights, build relationships with our associations and sister railways, and explore global exporting opportunities for our members.
(DS): What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced in rail?
(LW): Brexit has to be the biggest career challenge I have faced. The result was unexpected and when I came into the office the day after the referendum we had a blank sheet of paper and few ideas about where to start. Since then we have collated issues and risks, developed new policy in multiple topic areas and synthesised often disparate views from across the whole industry. This is a project with a moving target; we don’t know what Brexit is going to look like and we have to take action on complex issues without a view of the final relationship between the EU and UK. Brexit also permeates almost everything we do on the railway; standards, passenger rights, employment, authorisations to name but a few areas.
(DS): How has the rail industry changed most noticeably since you began working in it?
(LW): The industry has become far more collaborative since I started my career. The industry has broken down some of the silos it previously worked in and we have become far better at involving all parties in discussions. It is only by working in partnership can we continue to deliver great outcomes for passengers and freight customers.
(DS): How do you see it changing over the next decade? Where would you like to see it?
(LW): I think there will be two main changes to the rail industry in the next decade. Firstly we will become more digital. I think the industry will become more responsive to passenger and freight customer requirements, in particular responding to demand for mobility as a service. Secondly I think the industry will become even more inclusive. There are far more women working in senior roles in the industry than when I started and I am really proud that RDG’s member, Network Rail, has committed to the biggest recruitment of female workers in the history of the railway, hoping to increase the number of women employees by 50%.
(DS): The RDG announced recently that more than 5,700 new carriages will be added to the UK’s tracks by 2021. What more can you tell me about that?
(LW): Over the past 20 years, the number of passenger journeys in Great Britain have more than doubled. The total distance travelled by passengers has also gone up by 36%. 5,700 new carriages will be delivered as part of more than £50bn being invested in our railway to respond to this increase in demand.
(DS): You’re due to speak at SmartRail this year – what are you most looking forward to at the show and what do you think you’ll cover?
(LW): As a sector that imports and exports both goods and services, transports people across borders, and possesses Britain’s only physical link to mainland Europe, getting Brexit right for the rail industry will be a barometer for whether the overall deal will enable Britain and Europe to prosper together in the decades ahead. As such I am delighted to be speaking at SmartRail to share our experience from Rail Delivery Group on how we are preparing for Brexit and creating a strategy for future success for Britain’s railways.
(DS): What’s your favourite rail journey – wherever that may be in the world – and why?
(LW): A love of railways is in my blood – I am the fourth generation of my family to work in rail – and as such I have taken many fantastic journeys. The Darjeeling toy train has to be my favourite; it is a stunning journey on a small train with a big heart. As a ‘Yorkshire lass’ I also have a lot of affection for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway which wends its way from Pickering to the beautiful coastal town of Whitby.
(DS): Thanks Laura, it's been great speaking with you, thanks for your time and see you at the show.
Last week's 5 minutes with… Chris Lawrence, technical director at the RSSB.
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.