"Rail is an expensive product when compared to other modes of transport and the gap is widening. However, we all know that it is the solution."
BLS provides passenger transport services in Switzerland. The rail operator offers regional and tourist rail routes on a network of 700 kilometres. This week Emily O'Dowd spoke to Andreas Willich, Head of Passenger Transport to provide his predictions for rail over the next ten years as well as his opinion on rail's hottest topic at the moment - what strategies are in place if a cyber attack took place.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What inspired you to begin working in the rail industry?
Andreas Willich (AW): I have always been fascinated by rail - not to say I’m a trainspotter! Part of my love for it is the pivotal role it plays in our society which allows people to become mobile and connect communities. I specialised in transport during my geography studies in the UK. When I first began studying the industry it became very apparent that there were aspects of rail that just didn’t work well. This allowed me to bring new experiences to the industry, encounter diverse situations and meet a range of people. So far my time in the industry has been very enriching!
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
AW: I love working for our customers to provide them with a better experience on each journey and most importantly, making them happy. In Switzerland more than half of rail traffic is leisure rather than commuting. This is because our passengers are able to spend a nice weekend on our trains travelling through the mountains!
Secondly, I enjoy the leadership role that I have within the team which gives me the responsibility to motivate my team every day and remind them why we are always looking to achieve more. And this is a very simple – to try and improve our customers’ lives every day.
Thirdly, I feel privileged to build part of our country’s future by contributing to urban mobility solutions. As our population is continuing to grow, it is inevitable that rail will become a key player in getting people around in an efficient way.
EOD: What is one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced during your time in the industry?
AW: It has always been efficiency! This is something that operators across the world will admit is an ongoing problem. Rail is an expensive product when compared to other modes of transport and the gap is widening. However, we all know that rail is the solution – it is greener, CO2 neutral and our railways in Switzerland are even powered by water. However, these advantages will become less obvious as more cars go electric and rail will still stand as expensive in comparison. On top of this, there are always new regulations coming through and it’s making trains heavier than they used to be due to all the safety equipment that is needed. This means we always come back to the question of efficiency – we need to keep a competitive advantage for both green efficiency as well as cost efficiency.
EOD: How do you predict rail will change over the next ten years?
AW: I believe that lots will remain the same and the key infrastructure will still be in place. However, the biggest difference we will see is the impact of digitalisation especially in terms of driverless trains; real-time information will be improved through mobile devices and there will be better integration between the different modes of transport. We will start seeing less car ownership and new forms of public transport like driverless vehicles.
People will be looking to get from A to B as quickly as possible rather than taking a journey using just a car or just by rail. We want to solve mobility problems and rail will play an increasing role with the high population density.
EOD: What strategies are in place to be able to respond to a cyber attack in the future?
AW: This is a big challenge for everyone across the rail industry. Digitalisation has transformed the ways that the rail industry operates for both the passenger and for the operators. It allows us to carry out our costs, information and data but at a far bigger risk caused by the internet of things. We need to be careful and vigilant. Fortunately, the IT unit is up to date and a lot of money has been dedicated to protect our trains and data centres. Obviously this is not just an area which is effecting rail but banks and airports alike, therefore it is important to share best practice across these industries.
EOD: What is your favourite rail journey?
AW: The BLS runs a train route from Berne to Loetseh Berg, Simplon to Italy, Domodossola. This mountain scenery and lake stretched from the North to the South through the mountains passing through two cultures and two languages.
Last week's 5 minutes with... Gerry Culligan, Commercial Director for Irish Rail.
5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World bring a 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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