The Power of the Rail Network

20 November 2018

Any industry is more than its products and services. Its people matter. Across the UK rail sector that is very true, and a recent Rail Alliance event highlighted the power of collaboration and networking.  

It’s easy working away in a bubble. You have clients, you keep on top of orders and if you’re lucky the phone calls keep coming as people need the goods and services you offer.

Business, and life, should be much more than that.

Several members of the TBM team attended a recent Rail Alliance event in Derby. It was about Rail Vehicle Maintenance, the kind of stuff we cover – from toilet tanks to seat covers, power sockets and grab poles.

What struck us was the diverse group of rail professionals who gathered to listen to a series of presentations, network and catch up with people they hadn’t seen in a while.

In fact, some of the attendees came from a wider group – engineering organisations, communication experts and even bus firms. The common thread was transport, collaboration and how best to tackle the challenges that face organisations who provide services to industry (B2B) and the public (B2C).


The Rail Alliance

The Rail Alliance is a dedicated business-to-business networking organisation with around 400 members.

That’s a decent pool of talent. There are multiple opportunities to share knowledge, gain referrals and tap into years of expertise.

The Derby event kicked off with coffee, chat and introductions. Even the “show and tell” was a great ice-breaker, and informative for anyone wondering what other rail businesses actually do.

Then the meaty issues.

Smart maintenance, something that fascinates us – especially with train toilet tanks. Although we recommend regular cleaning and servicing of such complex and vital systems, imagine technology that alerted us when a unit was about to fail.

There was further talk about data, how the TOCs could and maybe should collaborate more, share information, plus an insight into the challenges faced by rail operators in fully understanding the information they gather.


Understanding the railway supply chain

How goods and services flow across borders is a hot topic, especially when the dreaded Brexit term is used.

A fascinating presentation came from Nathan Eldridge, from TfL, about how to manage obsolescence.

On the face of it, dealing with things that pass sell by dates and need to be replaced seems straightforward. It’s not, especially when expected (or required) life times of rail vehicles are pushed out five, ten and twenty years!

Imagine having to plan around sourcing thousands of parts to keep a vehicle running until 2030 when it should have been replaced ten years ago. And we thought we had it bad!

Crucially, getting hold of those vital parts to keep passenger services running really could be affected by the outcome of Brexit negotiations. Those parts come from all over Europe. They are all certified to EU standards.

Worst case scenario could see many thousands of parts having to be re-certified before rail companies can call them in and deploy them. There are certainly many challenges ahead, but there was a can-do attitude from those present.

That sums up the railway community.


Future rail talent

Towards the end of the session, just when some were flagging and needing a caffeine boost, along came Raj Basi from DB Cargo (UK). He’s the depot manager at the company’s Toton site.

His pitch was all about delivering maintenance excellence, embracing diversity and championing apprenticeships.

There was an alarming statistic thrown into his presentation. Across the roll call of DB locomotive engineers/technicians, he told us that the average age was around 51 years of age.


However, he’s nothing if not proactive. DB are already taking on apprentices and aim to create a range of challenging and exciting roles at their depots – and one of those is near us in Crewe, Cheshire.

The morning was a great mix of people and subject matter, with some engaging content and delivered by a well-drilled team.

Just another Rail Alliance event.

Oh, and don’t forget the amazing lunchtime buffet. Superb food, but crucially another fantastic opportunity to chat, listen and network with a great bunch of railway people who care about what they do.

Long may it continue.

If you’d like to know more about the Rail Alliance, take a look at their website for details about who they are, what they do and when the next events will be taking place…   


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