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Adrian Shooter

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(22 November 1948 – 13 December 2022)

Adrian Shooter, a well-known rail industry leader, died on 13 December at the age of 74. He was ill with motor neurone disease that had increasingly affected his mobility and speech.

Adrian was a keen photographer at Epsom College in the 1960s, where I first met him, and he reinvigorated the school’s semi-dormant Railway Society. He was always ambitious for the Society and one such ambitious activity was chartering a train from British Rail (BR) and selling tickets to the public at a profit. Somehow, Adrian and colleague, Graham Miller (who also joined BR), were able to persuade BR to charter them a train to be hauled by a specific locomotive. The other obstacle he overcame was to persuade the headteacher of the college to act as guarantor as everyone in the Society was under 18.

Adrian’s enthusiasm was such that it was inevitable that he would join BR which, following an apprenticeship at Bamfords Ltd, (now JCB), he did in 1970 as an engineering management trainee. He held a wide variety of roles in both engineering and management which led to him having great insights into a very wide range of jobs. It was not unusual for him to take over from the train driver and drive all sorts of trains (under appropriate supervision, of course).

With privatisation beckoning, Adrian was appointed managing director of the prospective Chiltern franchise. He led the Chiltern Railways MBO team which won the franchise at privatisation, serving as managing director and later as chairman of the business from 1994 to 2011. He knew that the only way to be successful as a franchise was to grow the business, which he did very successfully though a hand-picked team, more than doubling passenger numbers during his tenure. Certainly, at the start, no one would have expected that this part of Network SouthEast would soon be running inter-city style trains to and from Birmingham Moor Street. It was said that he knew everyone at Chiltern by name and they all knew him as he insisted on meeting all new recruits.

He was also a non-executive board member of the Railway Safety & Standards Board (RSSB), and chairman of the Association of Train Operating Companies. Part of his work with RSSB included chairing the Adhesion Working Party whose remit was to seek to eliminate the cost and delays arising from autumn leaf fall, with a great deal of success. He also chaired the London Overground operating concession, Tyne & Wear Metro operating franchise, DB Regio UK (Deutsch Bahn), Laing Rail, and the West Midlands CBI Council.

Following his retirement from Chiltern, Adrian became the founder and chairman of Vivarail Ltd, aiming to provide upcycled ex-London Underground District line trains for secondary and branch lines. Vivarail also developed low-cost battery and diesel hybrid technology.

Some of his Vivarail colleagues have paid tribute to him. Andy Hamilton, product support director and assurance lead, said that Adrian was “an inspirational leader to whom I will always be grateful for the opportunities he afforded me, a mentor who would always offer wise if sometimes challenging advice, a fellow Engineer to share challenges with, and a friend.”

Dave Horton, Vivarail’s chief mechanical engineer, observed that “as one of the last people to work directly for Adrian, it truly has been a privilege to know this man. Apart from his vision, determination, drive and all those excellent qualities that made him a great leader, and will no doubt be talked about at length in the coming weeks, underneath all that he was just a very nice human being, with a great sense of humour”.

Adrian also served as Chairman of SLC Rail, a company that applies the lessons learned during Chiltern’s Evergreen and other infrastructure projects to help local authorities and others negotiate the process for their railway plans – for example constructing a new parkway station.

Ian Walters, Managing Director of SLC Rail said: “I am deeply saddened by the passing of this great man. I met Adrian on my first day working in the rail industry in November 1991, and I feel lucky and honoured to have had his mentorship and friendship since then. As chairman of SLC Rail, we have benefited from Adrian’s leadership, wisdom and experience – and focus on what worked for passengers – as we’ve grown as a business. It has been a privilege to have him as part of the SLC team for so many years.  It is no exaggeration that his involvement and advocacy has been fundamental to our success and our work will continue his unrivalled legacy.  Our thoughts and condolences are with his family during this extremely sad time.”

Another tribute came from Thomas Ableman, currently director of Strategy and Innovation at Transport for London and formerly Commercial Director at Chiltern Railways. He said: “I’m risking offending every other boss I’ve had, but Adrian Shooter was unique. He was passionate about customers and passionate about revenue. He knew that customers meant revenue, which meant you could do more for customers – which would, in turn, get you more revenue. It’s so obvious but it’s also a lesson that is so often not learned. More than ever, we need people like Adrian.”

These tributes were typical of the many comments by people who had worked for Adrian and have seen their careers progress as a result.

His career of more than 50 years was marked by the unveiling of a statue in his image at London’s Marylebone station on August 30 and the naming of Chiltern Railways’ pioneering diesel multiple-unit 168 001, as ‘Adrian Shooter CBE’. Knowing Adrian, he was probably proud and embarrassed in equal measure. Those who knew him might have thought he took as much pride and pleasure from demonstrating the battery powered class 230 train at COP26, including a demonstration run over the Forth Bridge.

Adrian was working until very recently and, in August 2022, was able to address a very large audience of the Retired Railway Officers Society at the Derby Conference Centre where, as a young trainee, he would have spent time when it was one of BR’s training centres.

Rail Media sends it thoughts and sympathy to Adrian’s family and friends at this sad time.