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Next Generation Rail – Knowledge without Borders

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The future leaders of Great Britain’s railways gathered at the impressive Network Rail Westwood training and leadership centre earlier this month to be inspired, network and to develop amongst their peers at the Next Generation Rail 2015 conference organised by the RSSB and RRUKA.

The focus of the event: look ahead, learn from past major projects and get inspired to create a better railway for the future.

Drawn from a wide pool of operators, engineers, consultants, customer service professionals, academics and apprentices, the conference was an opportunity for the best and brightest of the next generation of Britain’s railway leaders to learn from one another, and to broaden their horizons at this time of growth, excitement and expanding demand.

The conference kicked off in the sweltering heat of the hottest day of the year so far with a number of site visits to engineering and railway sites across Warwickshire and Northamptonshire.

The trips ranged from Siemens’ King’s Heath depot in Northampton, which maintains London Midland’s fleet of Class 350 EMUs, to WMG Innovative Solutions, a start up at the University of Warwick looking to improve collaboration between academia and industry. The candidates came back infused and engaged with the technological enhancements applicable to the future railway of Great Britain.

The conference was entitled ‘Knowledge without Borders’. Highlights included talks from experienced railway professionals from across the world, sharing their experiences of running railways in Japan, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United States.

Kathrine Obst of the European Commission (EC) kicked off the Thursday, 2 July, session discussing the Fourth Railway Package and the vision the EC has for growing rail usage, both freight and passenger, across the continent and the technological advances it sees as being necessary to achieve this.

There was also the opportunity for both academic researchers in the early stage of their PhDs, as well as early career professionals, to present on their research so far and invite questions from the floor. The break out area that contained the posters, which had been entered to the competition was well attended, with delegates taking advantage of the breaks to go and quiz the poster authors on their work, which ranged from a customer compensation scheme, to work looking at the construction of the Marmaray Tunnel in Istanbul.


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The break out sessions on both days covered a range of topics, as diverse as Lean management and how to write a successful proposal. These sessions again allowed delegates from a variety of backgrounds to come together, to share their experiences and to learn from one another, with the most successful groups being those which were the most diverse.

The following day, Sean Blair ran a session using Serious Lego Play, a chance again for delegates to meet new people and explain their vision – using Lego – for our railways of the future, with most groups focussing on the importance of staff, customers, accessibility, technology and sustainability. Although it was an opportunity for delegates’ brains to relax and to let their hands do the talking, there was a serious side to the session – to challenge perceptions of how we view and interpret things, and how to work together to harmonise these views.

And it wasn’t just hard work during the day. The social side of the conference was well catered for, with a pub quiz in the Varsity pub on the campus of the University of Warwick on the Wednesday night – albeit in furnace like conditions – as well as dinner on the Thursday night in the opulent surroundings of Warwick Castle. These two events provided the opportunity for delegates to take a well-earned break and to socialise with their new found friends who they’d met during the day.

The conference even allowed people the opportunity to indulge in a little railway celebrity spotting, with Patrick McLoughlin, Claire Perry, Mark Carne and a number of other senior directors in the industry seen passing through Westwood.

What struck a number of attendees is the value of the event – three days worth of conferencing, expert speakers, accommodation and refreshments for an extremely reasonable amount – huge thanks to the organisers and corporate members for helping to make this happen.

For somebody who is reading this and is still in two minds as to whether to go next year, we would absolutely encourage you to come along.

Next Generation Rail far exceeded my expectations and I’ve made a number of useful contacts who I know I’ll be keeping in touch with to share best practice and learn from their experiences; I hope they’ll do the same with me. And as the title of the conference suggests, it’s important that we do encourage ‘Knowledge without Borders’, and remember that isn’t just national borders, it’s the borders between companies, between engineers and operators, and between academics and industry. It’s up to us we to ensure we don’t make the mistakes of past generations and end up stuck in our silos.

The vast variety of organisations represented made the the whole event a fascinating experience. The one connection and focus shared across the young professionals and academics was clear – improving the future of rail for Great Britain through innovation, project delivery, and better safety standards. What this connection released is a common topic of talk, and the opportunity to ask questions to start piecing this complex puzzle of industry together.

On a closing thought, if the future rail market carries the synergy and cross functional working that was apparent at Next Generation Rail 2015 – we will no doubt have a railway to be proud of.

Written by Will Munton and Tommy Gore from Young Rail Professionals (YRP)


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