Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum once again held their annual conference in the Derby Conference Centre, a truly historic railway location; the training school in the art deco building opened by the LMS in 1938.
The conference always attracts speakers of stature and this year was no exception.
The programme participants consisted of David Higgins, Chief Executive of Network Rail; Sir Roy McNulty who chaired the Rail Value for Money study; Terry Morgan, Chairman of Crossrail and Teresa Villiers, Minister of State for Transport.
Come the day the Minister was unable to attend but was ably replaced by David Horne; the new Managing Director of East Midlands Trains.
The conference was well supported by members of the Forum and guests while this year attracted some new attention from those protest groups concerned about the failure to win the contract for Thameslink rolling stock by Bombardier.
There was therefore a vocal but well–mannered gathering of protesters on the pavement outside the Conference centre.
Those arriving were very firmly reminded of the strength of local feeling and the concern for the future of rolling stock manufacture in Derby.
The sessions were chaired by Colin Walton, the UK Chairman at Bombardier Transportation.
Sir David Higgins
First on the podium was David Higgins with a very up beat message about Network Rail. He opened by with the very positive news that Network Rail was planning to build a new “Depot” in Derby on land currently owned by the Company.
This was naturally well received by the generally local audience and helped to reinforce the role of rail in the City.
The presentation continued to emphasise the enormous amount of work that would be required on the railway system over the next 30 years in the light of the explosive growth in business, both passenger and freight.
He challenged suppliers to step up and meet this demand while Network Rail improved its efficiency and performance.
Reference was made to the organisational changes, particularly in the investment area with early firming up of scope and avoidance of client requirement changes as schemes develop.
He concluded that Network Rail’s plans for control period five would be a great opportunity for suppliers and a positive period for the rail industry in total.
Driving of Innovation
Sir Roy McNulty had been invited back following his speech the previous year and was clearly pleased to be back in Derby. He emphasised the findings of his study and the level of savings that he felt could be achieved.
He expressed confidence that the industry could deliver and that figures of 30% should not alarm rail professionals. He expected the creation of “An enabling environment” and the “Driving of innovation.”
David Horne brought an air of real local interest having already filled the position of deputy to Tim Shoveller, the previous Managing Director of East Midlands Trains.
He entertained the conference with his views on the need for value for money and proceeded to tell us how East Midlands Trains had examined the views of its customers, as well as potential customers.
It was interesting to hear that the perceived average rail fare was twenty eight pounds whereas in fact the actual is around five pounds fifty pence!
East Midlands trains had adapted their marketing strategy to set budget fares around the level suggested by focus groups as reasonable and has also tackled the perception that it was never actually possible to obtain the bargain tickets online!
David referred to the use of reality show characters such as Jedward and Stacey Solomon in a tactic to connect with younger potential customers!
Finally we were treated to an excellent presentation from Terry Morgan, which gave a real insight to the Crossrail works and set the project in scale with national infrastructure developments.
As well as the current public route alignment it was interesting to hear that a route had been protected on to Ebbsfleet.
He emphasised that this was not just a Civil Engineering project – it was a RAILWAY project. The tunnel boring will be a significant undertaking with orders for eight tunnel boring machines being placed, sadly not available in the UK.
The work for these machines can be put in context as we learned that the Crossrail tunnel bore is 6.3 metres against the 3 metres of a tube tunnel!
Naturally there was particular interest in rolling stock procurement and we learned that there was an intention to procure rolling stock relatively early with an intention to bring it into service on Great Eastern and Western lines.
We also heard about the tunnelling academy at Ilford and how it was intended that other than rail projects would benefit from this essential skill development facility.
Finally it was good to hear of the environmental credentials. Spoil will be brought by rail from the tunnelling to a terminal at Northfleet whence it will be used to create an artificial island in the Thames estuary for the benefit of birdlife.
We rounded off by hearing the positive news that Crossrail was anxious that the project should benefit SMEs and that they should make every effort to become involved and make Crossrail aware of what they could offer.
The day ended with a valuable networking lunch and I am sure participants went home with the feeling of an event with much value. Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum can be well satisfied with an excellent day!