Unlocking Innovation: Digital Railway – Winning Work

03 July 2020

The final day of the Railway Industry Association’s Unlocking Innovation – Digital Railway – The Future webinar series focused on ‘Winning Work’. The event explored the question of how to build the supply chains to deliver the digital railway programme.

Systems, signalling & infrastructure

David Maddison, Regional Delivery Director for the North and Scotland, at Alstom is responsible for the Eastern Region Major Signalling Framework – one of two frameworks, the other being Southern – awarded to Alstom in January 2020 by Network Rail.

He explained how these new frameworks are focused on Network Rail’s key aim of putting passengers first, spurring innovation and delivering service improvements. Going on to explain how Tier 2’s and SMEs can become part of the programme, he challenged the supply chain to prepare for digital railway by creating capacity, developing skills and competencies and investing in technology, to ensure businesses were ready.

He stressed the importance of early involvement and joint collaborative problem-solving, as well as identifying the areas that Alstom were likely to outsource. He ended by inviting the supply chain to engage with Alstom about these opportunities, giving the helpful tip to look out for ‘meet the buyer’ events on social media.

Panel session on building supply chains

The session continued with a panel session with David Maddison and representatives of the other two holders of major signalling frameworks; Martin Wright, Head of Rail at Linbrooke, who are delivering the framework in partnership with Hitachi, and Andy Stringer, Chief Engineer of Siemens. The panel was completed by Lucy Prior in her role as Deputy Chair of RIA’s SME Group.

Key themes in the discussion included the importance of equitable collaboration with SMEs to accelerate signalling projects through innovation. Martin Wright reminded the audience that innovation is not just about technology, stressing the importance of developing people to drive efficiency and reduce wasted effort. Andy Stringer encouraged SMEs to target their efforts at where they can see the Tier 1s need help. Lucy Prior emphasised the importance of networking, through trade associations for example and also asked the larger companies to be as open as possible about pipeline information to ensure SMEs can come forward with the right solutions.

Signalling Innovations Group

The Signalling Innovations Group (SIG) was represented by David Shipman, Innovations Engineering Manager at Network Rail. SIG is responsible for developing tools and services to drive the goals of reduced signalling costs, increased safety, and lower maintenance costs.

Shipman’s view was that Digital Railway is huge opportunity for the whole rail industry to innovate and develop new tools, products and techniques. To illustrate SIG’s way of working, he used a case study explaining the collaborative journey with an SME he has been working with. Listing the challenges that SIG have in their pipeline, he gave practical advice on how to engage with SIG, recommending suppliers set out to gain a mutual understanding of challenges and opportunities rather than offering a ready made solution to a pre-conceived problem.

He also shared some practical lessons the SIG team have learned about how best to engage commercially between SMEs and a large organisation like Network Rail. He closed by emphasising that the opportunities are there and Network Rail want to work with SMEs, as well as the major players, to find the right solutions for both the present and the future, in order to integrate them into the whole railway system.

Elevator Pitches

SMEs once again had the opportunity to give an elevator pitch, where they gave an overview of their key products and services. The first was from Stephen Bull, the Rail Lead at Ebeni who have been appointed as the independent safety assessor (ISA) on Network Rail’s Degraded Mode Working System (DMWS).

The final presentation of the week was from Dr Jenny Illingsworth, Deputy Director of the Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education (BCRRE) about the Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems (CEDS). The new CEDS building will open in late autumn of 2020 and is part of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN). This large new building will be open to the industry and dedicated to rail innovation with collaborative workspaces, simulation areas and project labs. Suppliers can become UKRRIN members or ‘pay-as-you-go’ to access the new facilities and the expertise of the staff. Dr Illingsworth went on to outline the ‘Digi-rail’ project which is an SME support programme to solve challenges and access the increasing number of digital rail commercial and research opportunities that currently exist in the UK and internationally.

Concluding the week

At the start of the session, presenter Richard Jones, Senior Technical & Innovation Manager at the Railway Industry Association set out a summary of the past week, which had seen a webinar on each day. Monday saw a high-level overview of the project from Network Rail and LNER. On Tuesday, delegates were updated on the rollout projects on ECML and in-cab Fitment. Wednesday focussed on the structures that assure the long-term success of the programme, including the Rail Sector Deal, Project 190 and the Long Term Delivery Plan. Thursday was about innovation and today, the final session, covered supply chain building.

In total, 600 delegates had joined over the week. Throughout the week they had the opportunity to learn about all the aspects of Digital Railway and understand the opportunities that are available. The next Unlocking Innovation event will focus on Decarbonisation. For more information keep an eye on the RIA website.


Talk to us

Railway Industry Association

Kings Buildings
16 Smith Square
United Kingdom

© Railway Industry Association Great Britain 2022    


RIA is a company limited by guarantee registered in England & Wales Reg. No. 10036044