Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, UK rail passenger numbers were the highest we had ever seen, doubling over a 20-year period and were set to continue to rise. However, once the pandemic hit and the knock on effects of social distancing and remote working reared its head, the rail industry, as with many others, was completely turned on its head requiring levels of adaptability previously unseen.
Despite record investment as part of the UK government’s “Build, build, build” strategy, the industry still faces immediate challenges of limited resources and an increased pressure to deliver. The industry is suffering from the impacts of historic infrastructure, a business environment which is unable to keep up with rising passenger numbers, evolving demands for ecological solutions and ever developing technological advancements.
The answer is collaboration.
Comprised of business-to-business and public facing companies of all sizes and a vast array of expertise, rail is an industry where each organisation has a key role to play. In February, RSSB CEO Mark Phillips talked to Rail Business Daily about the need for collaboration to make advancements on the railway and how they were involved with the introduction of funding competitions to find shared rail solutions.
Collaboration is not a new concept to the rail industry. It is something that has been championed as a way of finding, instigating and successfully implementing change for a number of years. In this way, it is an industry that connects people in more ways than one. While part of the industry focuses on the here and now, another section is focused on developing the next piece of technology that will transform the industry.
The industry shares a unified mission of making the railway as safe as it can be, to allow more passengers and freight to travel more efficiently. It may not be written gospel but you will soon discover that all organisations involved are focused on solving one or more of those challenges in some way.
Alliances enable new innovations to develop and allow complex projects to take place. Networks nurture an environment where the most promising minds can collaborate to discuss and make plans for the future, linking people together under one single banner.
Shared safety rules are applied by all, with mutual respect, and success is championed. Membership bodies develop skills, and initiatives and focus groups further equality, diversity and encourage new skills and young talent.
The common thread running throughout all of the above is collaboration. Since their inception, 3Squared have championed collaboration across the industry to drive innovation and new ways of working. From their longstanding partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, introducing new interns to the industry year after year, to new alliances that help secure competition funding for innovations and advancements in technology, collaboration has been intrinsic to 3Squared’s growth and success over the years.
The 3Squared team are encouraged to take part in sector specific and wider collaborative opportunities. On a regional level they are an integral part of the Sheffield digital and business communities; in rail, they have members on the board of the Northern Leaders in Rail, are actively involved in trade associations like RSSB, RIA and RFG and regularly take part in industry wide panels and discussions.
Now, as we begin to see the momentum that improvement initiatives build and an increasing focus at a supply chain level, collaboration will begin to play an ever more important role. Changes in the industry due to COVID-19 will place a focus on technology, therefore removing the need for hand-to-hand contact and increasing the opportunities for remote monitoring. Innovative solutions to distancing and measuring facilities to keep the workforce safe will radically transform the way work is executed.
Building resilience for the future and enabling opportunities for change will propel the industry into the “new normal” that will dominate the rail industry going forward, as the country slowly comes back to life. As we have seen throughout history, the rail industry is safety focused and is actively seeking to improve best practice. When you pair this with collaboration, the future begins to look more promising, presenting a wealth of new opportunities to capitalise on.
“The way in which the railway community has come together as a whole in response to COVID-19 has been staggering. This has all been enabled, I would argue, through a willingness to collaborate and use digital technologies to tackle and solve the challenges that necessary safe working guidelines have created. All manner of companies have had to ensure that they maintain productivity while coping with a reduced workforce.
“This has essentially enabled rail to field-test a whole plethora of new products and services, which will hopefully support the adoption of further technologies. In the case of our own products, our mission of supporting a safer, greener and more efficient railway has been very much proven during lockdown. As the government firms up its plans for the Infrastructure Investment package and commits to building back “greener”, I hope that the collaborative environment that has emerged over the past few months will continue to flourish.”