On the 20-21st June 2018, at Quinton Rail Technology Centre in Warwickshire, I attended the Rail Live show for the first time.

When I arrived there I was told to park a couple of miles away in a distant airfield, then jump on a coach to travel to the show with fifty balding and sweaty men in orange hi-vis.

So far… so not what I was expecting!

To me, an outdoor rail show should basically be a mini InnoTrans – great location, everyone in suits, with a little walk from a local train station.

However, when I learnt of the origins of the show, I began to understand. The show was organised by Rail Alliance who wanted a large outdoor area where all of the rail maintenance supply-chain could come along and show off their latest products. A showcase if you will.

Year-on-year Rail Live has grown, with the addition of the train leasing companies, train manufacturers as well as the more strategic and research-driven companies.

RAIL magazine has for the first time been involved, and this has really been a bit of a game-changer in terms of the content of the show. Through their impressive contacts list, they managed to bring many of the big names in rail to the table, as well as giving the spotlight to some of #thenewtransformers – a movement that RAIL magazine itself created.

Once I had walked past all the yellow machines I found the indoor arena where the National Rail Conference was taking place. On day two of the show was a lunchtime piece entitled, ‘How to be a success on the railway curated by Young Rail Professionals’. The event was compered by Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Transport Focus. He was joined on the stage was the Chairman of YRP, Michael Charteris, the Chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy CBE, as well as the Group Head of Brand and Marketing at Hitachi Rail Europe, Kendra Ayling. I was a little too late to catch Michael’s words, but have written up some of the highlights from Sir Peter and Kendra.

Above: Sir Peter Hendy CBE

Some quotes from Sir Peter Hendy CBE

“A rail career is one of the most secure in the UK. This used to be the banks or Royal Mail, but they’ve both changed beyond recognition. In rail you’ll always have a job, even if you have to change companies or change locations.”

“My advice for any young rail professionals is to ask questions. People in rail are happy to talk, they want to transfer their knowledge.”

At the end of Sir Peter’s speech, I asked him about how he saw autonomous cars integrating with, or replacing trains altogether.

“I wouldn’t like to see them in cities, it’s not their ideal situation. People in the street don’t want to get run over. In an ideal world, we’d ban cars from city centres altogether.

“I also don’t think they’ll replace commuter trains into London, as you can’t replicate the number of people on trains commuting if there is only one person per car, there wouldn’t be enough space on the road.

“Autonomous cars would work a lot better for people who live in the country, especially senior citizens. This would increase their independence later in life.”

As an addition to Sir Peter’s thoughts, Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Passenger Focus, suggested that, “Autonomous cars would work well for commuters getting to and from the station, especially for congested stations where parking is an issue. Looking forward, the same could be said of HS2. You could imagine a steady flow of autonomous cars dropping people off at the station and then heading off for their next pick up.”

   Above: Kendra Ayling

To finish the discussion we had an open-hearted confessional talk, from Head of Brand and Marketing of Hitachi Rail Europe, Kendra Ayling, about her career in rail so far.

Much of what Kendra spoke about was her rail career in comparison to the fashion career that she’d dream of whilst growing up as a child. After leaving London College of Fashion with a First Class degree, she headed off to work at Alexander McQueen, on £12 a day as an intern. Life was not quite as she’d expected working in fashion, with ridiculously long hours and minimal support.

After a few years of this, she was looking elsewhere, and a six-week opportunity came up with a rail company. With nothing to lose she took the job.

“Those six-weeks have turned into six-years.”

“My advice to anyone on their careers, is to not compare yourself to anyone else. I tried to be like Posh Spice, but that didn’t work out well.” Kendra put up a photograph as her as a kid on the big screen to give us all a laugh at how she, age twelve, copied Posh Spice’s haircut, but it made her look like a boy!

“I was giving a talk in my old school not too long ago. One of the kids asked me, why rail? I thought about it and said this, my first job was in high-end fashion. How many of you have a Gucci handbag? One kid put their hand up. My second job was for Panasonic and so I asked how many of them had a 3D TV? A few kids put their hand up. Now I work in rail, I asked, how many of them have been on the train in the last week, and they all put their hands up!”

“When we say we are working in rail, at all levels, we are not just welding a bit of track, but building better railway, to benefit the millions of passengers.”

Above: Outside the Porterbrook Flex vehicle on display

Porterbrook has a number of their new Flex demonstrators on display including these ones which are soon to head off to Northern Rail. You can read about the innovative bi-mode vehicles here.

So in conclusion, it’s not quite a mini-InnoTrans yet, but it’s certainly getting there. Worth going to for the people as much as the technology.