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Rail Franchising – Live at Leeds

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Top rail and community leaders came together in Leeds last month to discuss new thinking about creating the sustainable railway of the future.

Sustainability – how we live without creating hurt or damage – increasingly informs public opinion, politics, and the counsels of the more commercially astute.

Sustainability for railways breaks down into three constituent components. First, the people and places the rail industry serves. Secondly the men and women working in the industry, whether as staff, suppliers or contractors. Thirdly the environment – sustaining the planet and the delicate balance of its ecologies. All three phenomena are bound together in rail, one of the most extraordinary social dynamics of our time.

New franchises, new contracts and new job descriptions will in future draw upon principles of sustainability. The recent Northern Rail franchise does just that as do the TransPennine Express and ScotRail franchises.

The conference, staged by Rail Media in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Business in the Community (BITC), ‘New Franchising – Delivering a sustainable railway for the future,’ was held against a backdrop of the sustainably- inspired Leeds station in an area threaded with waterways and quiet squares. Law firm Addleshaw Goddard, specialists in railway law, provided a genial host, Paul Hirst, head of transport, overseeing proceedings with good grace despite the good natured ribbing of lawyers several speakers employed.

Social value

‘Creating social value is at the heart of our new business plan,’ said Alex Hynes, managing director, Northern Rail. It needs to be, the body employing Northern Rail changes from the DfT to the Rail North partnership. In turn, Rail North will be part of the Transport for the North and will be responsible for overseeing franchises. This will bring the train operation nearer to the people it serves. Hynes describes it as a huge responsibility.

Social value is not just about making money. Peter Wilkinson, managing director of Passenger Services, DfT, spells it out, ‘The railway does not belong to my generation but the one that comes after me.’ The DfT will be re-thinking franchises to better sustain the public interest. Wilkinson clearly wants to see change. ‘Franchises of the future will be rebuilt from the ground up with sustainability in place. It’s not about the price to the Treasury…’

About people

The attitude of the public is important. ‘We are committed to local user groups, making better use of station buildings,’ says David Hoggarth, director, Rail North. Hoggarth stressed rail’s role as a driver of the Northern Powerhouse. Sustainability for the north, said Simon Shrouder, head of stakeholder engagement at TfN, ‘Means our children and our children’s children can stay and prosper in this region. We can attract people from the south.’ TfN has a vast vision for the north: one agenda one economy one north. ‘The north is galvanising itself to help rebalance the UK economy,’ added Simon.

New franchise contracts emphasise involvement in community rail partnerships. Paul Salveson, founder of the original Community Rail Partnership on the Penistone Line and a former train driver, reeled off a colourful array of initiatives by station adopters, local people, schools and businesses. ‘Community Rail breaks down barriers between the railway and the community,’ said Paul. ‘It brings stations back to life.’ Getting whole communities involved reaps rewards both in terms of security – less vandalisation – and public identity. Commercial performance also benefits, but, ‘Responsible business is not just about philanthropy; it’s about managing growth responsibly,’ says Stephen Farrant BITC ‘Be really clear about your purpose.’ Business in the Community is rapidly developing a huge admiration for the steps being taken by the rail industry. ‘It’s fascinating and we find dealing with the railway industry is very stimulating,’ said Catherine Van Loo – of Belgium – an adviser with BITC.


Risk it!

Railways might be said to be risk averse – underpinned by a heathy safety culture. But let that go at business level. ‘Celebrate success. Learn from failure,’ says Paul Salveson. Wilkinson, however, goes much further. ‘We will have to take some risks in our industry. Let in some crazy ideas. Civil servants take note!’ The old ‘never done that before’ thinking has to change. ‘Change the model. Make proposals detailed and costed,’ Peter added.
If sustainability means acting responsibly it also means being responsible – being brave enough to roll out new ideas. Wilkinson praised Shamit Gaiger, policy director, RSSB.

‘We need leadership. We are a fragmented industry. It’s difficult to push things forward,’ said Shamit Gaiger in a rousing call to arms. She shares misgivings about the legal log jams that so often prevent new ideas gaining credibility. ‘Lawyers are the weakest link,’ said Gaiger, ‘The legal profession needs to step up and think outside the box…’ The conference host took this in good part.

Teenage kicks

Developing new means of recruiting railway staff will be essential. ‘We need long-term decision making,’ Shamit went on. ‘Over 40 per cent of our workforce is over 50; not good news for any business. Only 4 per cent of engineers are women. This is something we have to address.’

Good news was supplied by Neil Robertson, chief executive of NSAR. Neil chose Leeds to launch the new Apprenticeship Standards for Rail Engineering.

‘Network Rail has increased its apprenticeships to 800,’ said Neil. ‘It is a fantastic opportunity for youngsters.’

Recent Network Rail apprentice Jonathan Linford, 23, clearly agreed. ‘I really enjoyed my apprenticeship. I did three years at Portsmouth and have been working in York for two years now.’ Northern Rail itself plans more apprenticeships across its business and will be launching 40-week student placements.

New skills

Russell Goodenough, managing director of Fujitsu Rail, was himself an apprentice at British Aerospace. Fujitsu Rail is heavily involved in supplying IT applications for the rail industry and the London Underground. ‘We’re writing the syllabus for the HS2 college. Jobs will be much more sophisticated.’ Russell then described a world in which engineers out on track used IT to capture data and measure up what’s needed, transmitting pictures, plans and requests back to base using an iPad. ‘We’re looking at the imperatives of doing your job quickly. No paper,’ he added.

A family affair

Goodenough made the point that part of Fujitsu’s Japanese ethos informs the rail division’s sustainability stratagems in Britain. ‘Japan sees society as part of an extended family.’ This marries well with the traditional view of the railway family – a strength that will greatly boost efforts to create a responsible and sustainable railway. ‘Executives are measured on showing they are responsible,’ he said. This includes their impact on the environment, employment diversity and relations with the local community. Fujitsu Rail has a policy of dealing with SMEs. ‘And we pay all our taxes in the UK,’ added Russell, eliciting a huge cheer.

Stimulating the local economy can have direct benefits. Drew Haley, general manager of the Settle and Carlisle Development Company, says the line now puts £500,000 a year back into the railway. The company grew out of the campaign to keep the line open and now channels that energy into supporting a plethora of SMEs on the roof of England. A refreshment service on the train is supplied with homemade cakes and biscuits by a woman on a farm. Says Drew, ‘She now has 15 staff and a business unit in Kirby Steven.’ Upwards of 70 jobs have been created by the Settle and Carlisle.


Business ethics

Paying taxes is important; a moral compass that applies to employment practice, equally so. ‘No zero hours contracts – that applies to our supply chain,’ said Alex Hynes. Wilkinson referred to the buying power of rail and how this could be an ethical force for good. ‘We buy an enormous amount of material. What about child labour? Are the companies we deal with thinking about pollution?’ The rail industry can change overseas employment scandals and curb irresponsible corporate greed.

Green dream

The trains and buildings of the future will be cleaner and greener. Alex Hynes talked of DB’s StationGreen programme, creating climate-neutral railway stations. The first station in Kerpen Horrem opened in 2014. Trains will be quieter, faster and make better use of energy. The idea of using the train appeals to the public and should be capitalised on. ‘People make choices because they think they’re making a contribution,’ says Peter Wilkinson. The people joining this industry make an even deeper commitment.

It is in sustaining their pioneering vision, drive and determination that the rail industry can best secure a sustainable future. In the final analysis it’s all about people and how we serve them and the places where they live. As Peter Wilkinson put it, ‘We’re a people industry and long may we remain so.’


Dynamic get togethers like the Leeds conference don’t just happen by accident. Paul Hirst, head of transport at Addleshaw Goddard, deserves a special thank-you for refereeing the whole thing and handling questions with enviable diplomacy, skills won, no doubt, in courtroom and chambers.

A good team kept the show on the road – and on rail too – sorting out IT presentations, keeping delegates online and alert with a steady flow of tea and coffee and ethically- sourced biscuits and pastries. Thanks to Karen Edwards and Pat Tollar from Rail Media and Jennifer Ellis of Addleshaw Goddard. Watch out for the next Rail Sustainability Summit on 8 November in London.