Of the group of current supporters, only charities the Samaritans and the Transport Benevolent Fund have backed the RailStaff Awards for longer than industrial communications specialists Westermo.
A partnership that began in 2013 with a ‘Back to School’ themed evening at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham now enters its seventh year. This year’s venue is set: the NEC, Birmingham; and so is the date: November 28; but the new theme, which directs the night’s entertainment and immersive decor, is yet to be revealed.
“We’ve been doing it for seven years and I think we are well known in the rail industry now,” said Phil Mounter, transportation sales manager for Westermo, who credits the awards, the Railway Industry Association and networking events for boosting the company’s profile.
Founded in 1975, Westermo is a Swedish company that manufactures robust data communications products for mission-critical systems from its sites in Stora Sundby and Västerås.
For example, one of Westermo’s products, its train backbone industrial ethernet switch, can carry all the required data for control (doors, propulsion, light), security (CCTV) and passenger information (announcements) on-board trains.
Phil predominantly works in rail, but the company also supplies its off-the-shelf products to water utilities, subsea and power distribution sectors, as well as any other industry that has critical telecommunications infrastructure and an essential need for high reliability, rugged and resilient products.
When Phil began in 2005, Westermo only had a couple of products accepted for use by Network Rail. Now it is a preferred supplier with more than 20 accepted products.
2018 was a successful year for the company. It secured a number of contracts for supplying on-board industrial ethernet switches and wireless LAN products as well as support services for product training and detailed network design services for the refit of rolling stock. It also saw Westermo successfully provide data networking technology during the first phase of the East Cornwall Capacity Enabling Scheme. But for 2019, Westermo has even more aggressive targets.
“Opportunities are looking pretty good this year,” added Phil. “We’ve got off to a good start with Network Rail so far, who are looking more and more into managing assets. Rather than routine maintenance they’re looking into predictive maintenance, for which we supply 3G and 4G cellular modems, allowing them to monitor assets remotely.
“Internationally, Network Rail are years ahead of any other railway in doing that.”
On-board train networks continues to be another important growth area for Westermo, with more and more contracts being secured from large train manufacturers such as Bombardier and Alstom.
As we step from one control period into another, one of the RailStaff Awards category titles has changed to reflect a theme which has a huge part to play in the modernisation of our rail network.
Control, Signalling & Telecomms Person or Team of the Year, which was won by telent’s Garry Andrews in 2018, has now become the Digital Railway Person or Team Award.
At last year’s ceremony, judges said that Garry stood out from 14 other finalists for his work in developing the rail industry’s workforce in the specialist field of telecoms. Out of around 30 persons in charge of testing (PICOTs), which are responsible for putting telecoms systems into service in the UK, Garry trained and mentored 10.
Speaking after his award win, Garry said: “From my point of view, a lot of the telecoms we do on the railway is still quite old-fashioned. We’ve only just started to move into IP networking. A lot of it is still two bits of wire down the train track. It’s not sexy and I think telecoms often gets missed off when people talk about projects.”
Supporting the name change, Phil said it reflected how the fields of control, telecommunications and signalling are moving, particularly the latter.
He added: “Signalling is changing; it’s becoming more automated. You’ve got the big ROCs rather than the small signal boxes, and the ROCs will control a route or a large geographical area, so it’s becoming a lot more automated.
“They require a lot less people to provide the same functionality as provided before. So, it’s all about de-manning really. Whether we like it or not we’re involved in that process.”
As the months go by and the nominations flood in, Phil will be keeping an eye out on the people and their stories that are put forward. Come November 28, Phil will once more step on stage in front of hundreds of industry peers to hand out an award and recognise yet another unsung hero.
He added: “I’ve been doing this job for 14 years this year, so I’ve been in rail for about 12 years, and the industry has been quite good to me.
“The people in the industry are very approachable and friendly, it’s a very touchy-feely industry, they like to see what product you’re offering before they buy it but it’s quite a loyal business in a way. They come back to you time and time again provided you give them the support they ask for.
“Supporting the RailStaff Awards is a way of repaying that loyalty to an extent, putting something back from what we get.”