Well, that was a surprise. Who did we find right by the entrance of hall 22 at InnoTrans? There with an imposing open plan, two storey construction was our very own Network Rail. Dynamic rail images formed the backdrop of the stand, showing people exactly what Network Rail does and the projects they’ve delivered and are capable of delivering.

So, what were they doing there and who were they hoping to talk to?

To an extent this could be answered by listening to the reactions of other exhibitors. To the remark, “You know that Network Rail is here this year?” came the reaction, “Really! That’s interesting. We must go and visit them!” And visit them they did. A steady stream of suppliers and potential clients for Network Rail’s new consultancy business made their way to the stand.

Being on two levels gave Network Rail the chance to see from their balcony who was on their way. And down below in the ‘snug’ of an enclosed conference room, where only the torsos of those inside could be seen, intense discussions went on – unless this was really the tea room.

International consultancy

InnoTrans presented the perfect opportunity to launch their new consultancy business to the market.

Speaking during Network Rail’s press conference, Nigel Ash, managing director of Network Rail Consulting, said the six-week old enterprise would be focussing its efforts on North America, Central and Eastern Europe and India – countries with ageing networks in need of modernisation.

Network Rail believes its work restoring the Forth Bridge, rejuvenating Birmingham New Street and redeveloping King’s Cross station shows its experience of upgrading worn out Victorian infrastructure which would be attractive to the international market.

Ash explained: “The main focus is actually showcasing our expertise around the world. And it’s also about bringing some of the expertise and the knowledge and learning processes back into the UK, so by having staff working on international projects they’re used to working in different environments, different cultures and different ways of doing business.

“We’re not going into the market with a ‘this is the way we do things in the UK’. It’s very much around what’s the problem and how does that experience help you stop that problem, are there any similarities, any pitfalls we’ve had.

“There’s been some projects in the past which could have been managed better and that experience is very valuable.”

Adding: “Network Rail Consulting will be selling to other railways and this was the first time we have done any public facing work and gone out to new clients.

“This is very much the start of our marketing campaign to raise our profile in the target markets we’re focusing on. After InnoTrans we will be exhibiting at conferences in America, India, Australia and the Middle East leading to follow up meetings with interested parties.”

Supplier engagement

Of course, international business works both ways, and another reason that Network Rail made an appearance at InnoTrans was to engage with foreign suppliers and contractors. Simon Kirby, managing director of Infrastructure Projects, was there for two days, as were all his route directors.

Steve Featherstone, programme director – track, who was also on the stand on the first day, commented: “Events like InnoTrans let us see first-hand some of the ground-breaking developments in rail technology and services being made in all four corners of the world. It’s important that we think globally when it comes to new suppliers, as many of these new ways of working could deliver huge benefits for us in Britain.”

It was obviously a success. The stand was always busy, with UK suppliers, foreign contractors and overseas governments all talking with what was quite a high-powered Network Rail team. It will be interesting to see what business comes of it, and in which direction the money flows.