"After 20+ years in the industry I am still amazed and the passion and commitment found in the rail projects I work on..."
Today SmartRail World is in Paris to meet with Pierre Gosset, Chief Technical Officer at SYSTRA, the international engineering and project management group specializing in rail (high-speed and conventional) and mass transit (metros and tramways). With over 60 years experience from its parent companies, SNCF and RATP, it is focussed on deploying the latest engineering techniques and innovative solutions to ensure the world’s metropolitan areas meet the explosive growth in demand for public transport they are experiencing. Although a French company, SYSTRA has a global focus with 47% of its revenues being generated abroad. Pierre Gosset, recently sat down with SmartRail World Editor Luke Upton to discuss industry changes, staff recruitment, competition, global growth areas and more.
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks very much for the time today. You Joined SYSTRA as Chief Technical Officer in January of this year, what has been the main focus these past months?
Pierre Gosset (PG): Not a problem Luke. It’s been a very busy and very exciting first year at the company! I came from Alstom, where I’d been for 16 years and finished up as Vice-President Engineering and previously I’d worked at RATP. So having worked for a customer in RATP, and then a systems company in Alstom it’s been fantastic to bring these perspectives to SYSTRA which is solely dedicated to mass transit and rail engineering. It’s a great time to join as well, annual revenue has now reached around €600 million and we aim to hit €800m in the next three years.
This year has also seen me do a lot of travelling, and spend a lot of time on an aeroplane! We’ve got over 5,000 employees, more than half based abroad based and we are active in 78 countries. So yes, very busy but very good!
LU: Thanks, you’ve worked in the rail industry since joining RATP in 1995, how have you seen the industry change in this time. And how does SYSTRA ensure it is able to respond to these changes?
PG: That’s a big question! I’ll take the changes first.
Looking back to the 1990s and comparing to now, I guess the first difference is that technologies like Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) were then in their infancy, whereas now they are proven and mature solutions. And as such the demands and expectations have changed from customers. This is linked to an increase in traffic on the lines and growth in passenger numbers. What we are seeing now is more of what I would call ‘rehabilitation projects’ where existing networks need new technologies deployed or over-layed on them to grow their capabilities and keep pace with growing demand. New projects are still being built of course, particularly in Asia and the Middle East but this is matched with the overhaul of existing ones.
I also think that we are also seeing new sourcing strategies and customers seeking difference packages. Some of the old divisions, for example systems or architecture don’t exist as they once did. And as a result companies now need a wider variety of skills to work with customers.
Also, the time to deliver projects has shrunk. When I started work, the implementation of for example a CBTC System used to be four, now it is closer to two years.
LU: That seems a big shift. What has driven this change in timing of project delivery?
PG: Technology has improved significantly and we are able to deliver projects in a more integrated way. China has made a difference too, projects are delivered there very quickly and this has caused a ripple effect across the industry. That’s another major change – it’s now a global business and SYSTRA work all over the world as a result.
LU: A global market brings more potential customers, and we’ve already mentioned China once, but it also brings more competition?
PG: That is true! But I’m okay with that. Competition is good!
LU: So amidst all these changes, how does SYSTRA ensure it is able to keep pace and continue to thrive?
PG: At the heart of it is having the right knowledge and recruiting and working with good people. Our projects and reputation are built on excellence and trust so we need to have the right people involved at all levels of the project. And this begins with recruitment, which in line with our above point on the changing industry is also a global market. We look to be flexible with our recruitment, looking at other industries and seeking the new skills we’ll need for our clients. Plus with projects all over the world we also need to recruit locally.
Linked to this are our networks within SYSTRA, we focus on close collaboration in a shard workplace. And are proud to deliver to our clients the same quality service as they would receive if they were in France, wherever they are in the world.
LU: Just take on this global theme a little further, where are some of the key places you are seeing growth at the moment?
PG: With a rapidly rising world population and mega cities seeing the focus of this growth, now is the time to improve rail and transit networks – and a result we are seeing growth all over the world.
Just to pick out a few highlights, I think what we are seeing in Saudi Arabia is very exciting. We’ve had a presence there for a number of years but a little earlier in 2015 we signed a contract to lead a consortium to develop preliminary designs for Medina’s future metro system. We also are developing plans for the Jeddah Metro (pictured right) and have worked previously on the Al Mugaddassah Metro amongst other projects in the Kingdom.
Whilst India is an area where we are seeing increasing demand, we’ve just recently signed agreement to work on Lucknow’s elevated metro for example. And North Africa, although hindered by the low cost of oil is also seeing us take on work. Last month we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Algerian national rail operator SNTF to create a joint venture to develop rail projects in the region. And we also have a joint venture to expand light rail transit system in Casablanca, Morocco.
There’s also exciting work in France and the UK planned and I could mention many other projects! And all these are connected to the trend I highlighted above – growing urban populations.
LU: Thanks, and we’ll be sure to keep all our readers up to date with all these projects. Just to conclude, the passion for rail is obvious during our interview, but what most excites you about the industry?
PG: After 20+ years in the industry I am still amazed and the passion and commitment found in the rail projects I work on. It’s actually this energy that excites me most. The projects that SYSTRA work on are complex and demanding and rely on high level of technology, but ultimately it’s the people and their energy that make them happen.
LU: That’s great, thank you very much. I look forward to keeping up-to-date with the latest developments as we move into 2016.
SYSTRA White Papers available to SmartRail World readers for download:
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