At SmartRail Munich 2019, we had some of Europe's top executives and foremost rail experts throughout all three days of the event. As always, these conference speakers and audience members shared their knowledge with other attendants and networked with people all over Europe, raising the bar for everyone involved in the European trains' business.
One of those speakers was Robert Nisbet, Director, Nations and Regions of the Rail Delivery Group. Robert was the fantastic moderator of a couple of sessions during the event, and amid his busy schedule, he sat down with us to chat about his position and the things that excite him the most about the industry.
What does your job as Director for Nations and Regions entail?
I'm the Director for Nations and Regions of the Rail Delivery Group, which is the trade body that represents the private train operating companies and Network Rail, which manages the infrastructure. We speak for the whole rail industry in the UK, and my job is to tell everybody how great the British railway industry is… but also to apologise when things go wrong. I'm effectively their national spokesperson.
I also have a role engaging with stakeholders around the country to make sure that within London, we're hearing the concerns they may have in Scotland, or Cornwall -- you know, far-flung parts of the UK -- just to make sure everyone's listened to.
Do you have any involvement in international matters?
Obviously, at the moment, the rail industry -- like much of Britain -- is focused on Brexit; you know, what the effects and the impacts of Brexit may be. We as an industry have got to get ready for it, so we've been doing contingency planning in case there is a no-deal -- while we may be leaving the European Union, we are obviously not leaving the continent of Europe, and therefore we have to make sure that we're ready. So there's a lot of interaction and discussion with our colleagues in the continent, as well.
What did you spoke about at SmartRail Munich?
So, my presentation was about diversity and inclusion in the railways, and I was moderating a panel about that same subject. There's a saying in Britain about "male, stale, and pail", and the industry is too dominated by middle-aged white man -- we've got to start looking at increasing diversity in the workforce in the railways, to reflect our customers.
Our customers are women, BAME, LGBT, among others, and we have to reflect that with the people we hire, as well. We're looking at how we can increase the pool of talent and make sure it is not just middle-aged white man running the railways, and that we're getting a lot more diversity of thought, so we can look at solving problems maybe differently.
I also talked about the environment, and what a lot of people don't realise is just how good the rail industry is for the environment. We saw those climate change protests recently (like Extinction rebellion in the UK) and rail has a really positive story about how it can take people out of planes -- which are obviously carbon dioxide straight into the atmosphere, while we are a green mode of transport. We need to be shouting about that more, because all of us face climate change.
It's a big issue. We all got to do our bits to try and make sure that the effects are not going to damage the world for our descendants. We just have to make sure that we are environmentally friendly -- and rail is an environmentally friendly form of transport.
Is there anything about the industry that really excites you?
I've been really impressed with so many presentations we heard here at SmartRail; there's so much excitement and innovation.
You know, lots of people tend to think of the rail industry as dirty, analogue, diesel -- they tend to think of the railway industry as it was, not what it is now and what it could be. And there are so many talented people in that SmartRail conference room who have got great ideas to make the customer experience better, to make trains run more efficiently -- there are really exciting things going on, and I think a conference like this is the ideal opportunity for people to get around and share their expertise and their stories. You’re not just talking to people from Britain -- you're talking to people from Italy, from Canada, from all around the world, and it's really, really valuable that we as an industry all talk to each other to share best practices.
I know you like trains, but how did you get into this career path?
I was a TV journalist and I worked for BBC and Sky for many years, but I just wanted a change, really. I love trains. I base a lot of my holidays on trains -- I've done the Trans-Siberian Express, I've gone across the United States on a train from coast to coast -- and so when this opportunity came up to be the spokesperson for the rail industry in Britain, where there are some beautiful train journeys and views especially up in the Highlands or down in Cornwall, I just jumped at it.
And how are you finding your first year in it?
It's been a difficult year in Britain for the railway industry. Not everything has gone well. We've been trying to put in more services to cope with demand, but we tried to put in too many services at the wrong time last year and it led to big delays for people (for which we have apologised). But now things are starting to get much better, so I can start telling better stories again about how we're improving and the technology we are looking to employ to make the customer experience a better one.
Finally, what you are your thoughts on our SmartRail event?
The SmartRail conference is really useful, because it's a knowledge exchange fair for me. Especially someone who's relatively new in the industry -- I've had so many conversations with people who are really experienced, and just hearing about their experiences, what is like working for the railways in Argentina, Malaysia, Italy, Canada. I'm hearing all those different stories, and it’s helping me tell the story of the British railway by hearing stories from around the rest of the world and sharing that best practice. The conference has been great!
Robert will be attending our SmartTransit LA conference in Los Angeles, next 28-30th of October. To meet him and many other wonderful speakers and decision makers, join us at SmartTransit LA 2019!