RIA Innovation Conference is a GO!

'Innovation' is the word of the day

The Conference began with an introduction from RIA Chief Executive Darren Caplan and Technical Director David Clarke, with both setting out the need for an innovative, effective, digitalised and green rail industry. 

Darren Caplan's opening remarks made the case that we should be positive about the prospects for rail in the future, as passenger numbers bounce back post Coronavirus. He also gently lobbied the Rail Minister – due to speak after him – on two issues: 

  • Firstly, visibility of the Government’s plans for UK rail, with the Williams Review, Integrated Rail Plan, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline all needing to be published soon to give rail suppliers the chance to plan for the future; and
  • Secondly, for the Government to commit to RIA’s Rail Decarbonisation 21 'asks' ahead of COP26 in November 2021 - to initiate a rolling programme of electrification and support hydrogen and battery powered trains – enabling the DfT to demonstrate a global leadership role this year.

David Clarke set out the theme of the Conference - 'The Railway of The Future', and launched the new Unlocking Innovation website - a new hub for innovation across the rail sector. Have a look here!
He also launched RIA's new collaboration with ITN Productions - 'MADE With Rail', a new industry programme highlighting the latest developments in Materials, Automation, Data and Energy (MADE) in rail.

Keep an eye out "for the next few weeks"

The first keynote speaker was Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP who set out some of the upcoming developments the rail industry could expect over the coming months and which innovations in rail he was most excited about. 

Joking about the Williams Rail Review, Heaton-Harris said that when the review started 'I had hair', but that it had understandably been delayed by a General Election, Brexit, a pandemic and now the local elections. He said, however that it would be out, along with a number of other key Government reports, in 'the next few weeks'.

On decarbonisation, Heaton-Harris said that the Government had big plans for rail and that upcoming policy decisions would make those at the Conference 'very happy'. He said he was particularly excited about projects like the development of hydrogen trains and that electrification had a significant role to play.

He also spoke about the role of Rail Project SPEED in reducing costs, the benefits set out in the Rail Technical Strategy and the role of digital signalling projects. His key message: watch this space, some exciting announcements are on the way! 

Rail Technical Strategy: Setting out the future of the industry

The first panel discussion focused on the new Rail Technical Strategy (RTS), the joint industry plan to meet the challenges the railway will face over the coming years. You can find out more about the RTS here. 

The panel discussed three of the key priorities of the RTS, the first of which was Easy to Use for All. Sharon Odetunde of RSSB started off by highlighting how the industry is working to remove exclusionary barriers for passengers, making rail attractive and services more personalised. Charlene Wallace of Network Rail added that this was a key part of their vision to put passengers first. 

Clive Roberts of BCRRE spoke next about the Optimised Train Operations RTS priority, setting out the benefits of more flexible and reliable train timetables. He was joined by Mark Fielding-Smith of Atkins, who said that the East Coast Digitalisation Programme was 'game-changing', delivering a step change in how the industry collaborates. 

The last priority to be explored was Reliable and Easy to Maintain. David Rowe of Network Rail highlighted that the reliability of assets underpins the passenger and freight experience, and is crucial for safety on our railways. David White of HS2 Ltd set out how they were using data more effectively to manage their assets and take a whole systems approach. 

So how should the industry get involved with the RTS? Jo Binstead of Siemens and Chair of UKRRIN led the call for case studies from across the industry and for industry professionals to join the upcoming conference workshops and sessions. 

Luisa Moisio of RSSB emphasised that the RTS was a joint industry collaboration and that they wanted to work with organisations across the sector. She added they are building a database of who is doing what across the industry and enhancing their long term plan.

You can find out more about getting involved with the RTS here, or email rts@rssb.co.uk 

'Turning Data into Information'

The first session of the afternoon focussed on data driven growth, one of the other key priorities of the RTS. 

Ian Mclaren of GTR kicked off the session with an overview of their DataHub project. "Data needs to be seen as a raw material" he said, explaining how GTR is making its data and apps freely available through the data market place.  

"The process is incremental" he added, urging those considering utilising data sources to continue seeing how they can improve their products over a period of time. Giving a real life example, he set out GTR's location and train cleaning app, their Desk Booking app and their Covid testing app, amongst others, all of which are being made available to the industry.

Next, James Bain of Worldline said the rail industry needed to focus more on the consumer. He spoke about the Rail Data Marketplace which the industry is working with Government on, a project aimed at supporting the sharing of data. He emphasised that this was a time 'to be brave and not be nervous' when it comes to sharing data. 

Ian Bridges of Balfour Beatty joined the virtual stage next, the newly appointed President of the Institution of Railway Signalling Engineers. He spoke about RCM Squared - using data to deliver predictive maintenance, thereby helping to stop unnecessary maintenance, which can reduce costs and carbon by requiring less work.

"By collecting more data, such as temperature on site or whether its a windy day" we can find out why and when assets need maintenance, he added. He also highlighted the use of digital twins particularly as a way of understanding assets more. 

The next speaker was Irina Parsina of Microsoft Teams Engineering, who spoke about the human factor of data and innovation - highlighting the value that people bring to data. "The industry has been a bit slow" to fully embrace data, digital twins or predictive maintenance, she added, but ended by highlighting the big opportunity for the sector. Irina will be returning to give a Keynote to the conference on Friday. 

Will Wilson of Siemens concluded the panel. Having real time data was increasingly essential, he said, particularly given Covid and the need to reassure passengers by monitoring train load patterns, for example.

Speaking about Eurostar trains, Will said that "the data we extract on a real time basis is more than we can ever process", so it needs to be provided clearly and accessibly. "It can reduce the cost of operations" he added, raising this benefit as one of the most exciting aspects of new and emerging data sources. 

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