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Backing liberalisation: the European Rail Summit and awards ceremony

November 27, 2013
Author: Philip Martin

London recently hosted the inaugural European Rail Summit and Awards at the Hotel Plaza Westminster Bridge. The summit spanned two days with one long night in-between to discuss the challenges facing rail across Europe and of course to laud the winners of the prestigious European Rail awards.

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Brian Simpson MEP was the chairman for the first day, who you may remember we interviewed back in October last year just before the Amadeus Rail Forum about what he saw as the key challenges facing the industry. Back then he didn't pull any punches and this time was no exception as he proceeded with his top 10 list of pet hates. The theme of the morning was focused on the subject of “opening up the market to competition in Europe” and I managed to scribble down a few of his top 10:

  1. There is a big problem getting trains across international borders.
  2. Railway operators do not think European, but only within their own countries.
  3. There is still a lack of standards for European rail operability.
    • E.g. crossing 3 countries requires 3 different types of standards.
  4. There is a lack of openness from other countries e.g. Japan, whereas Europe is open and welcomes new countries and their companies to participate e.g. Hitachi.
  5. There is a lack of standard ticketing systems for European rail travel.
    • How come we can fly on one ticket but we can’t do it on trains?
  6. We must also consider the link with other modes of transport too.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom as Brian finished with a list of positives too:

  1. Railway workers are a special breed and dedicated to their job.
  2. Europe is still #1 in the world for railway engineering, expertise and infrastructure.
  3. There has been great progress in effective marketing structures.
  4. Railways are very much a part of our social structure and makeup, as part of our transport structure.

The rest of the morning’s speakers presented a mix of various initiatives in a competitive environment. There was a great presentation from John Smith, CEO of GB Freight, where his objective for the audience was to compare similarities with the liberalisation of the freight industry. What I took from his presentation was really a lot more than expected; he really showed how you can engage your people and make a successful company in times of stiff competition. “Who says freight is not fun?” John proved to us very quickly that an engaged workforce is all about attitude as well as a totally transparent relationship between workforce and managers. What it showed is that at the end of the day it’s about providing the best service to the customer and this needs to run throughout the whole logistics value chain.

The CEO of Arriva, David Martin (not a relative ;) gave a broad perspective of “Comparative experience of operating in a liberalised versus a regulated rail market” and showed off the diversity of Arriva with 19,900 buses, 714 trains, 214 trams, 440 non - emergency ambulance/cars, and 16 waterbuses in its fleet today, a true intermodal company! According to David, there is evidence that a liberalised market delivers greater improvements only if there is transparency between processes and conditions throughout the tender process. In a competitive environment the railways focus on a customer orientated strategy which further develops and encourages modal shift.

Proof of the pudding came along in Denmark in 2003 where Arriva were awarded the first contract as a private company. David presented the results of their operation in Jutland, which is around 15% of the regional network. With the Arriva solution the Danish government recorded savings of up to 40m euros through timetable improvements, 15% patronage growth and punctuality increased to 97%.

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The awards ceremony was hosted by impressionist and comedian Rory Bremner who’s been known to drive the odd train himself. Rory kept the audience entertained throughout the evening and the awards, including some excellent pronunciation of some of the nominations such as NORDHESSISCHER VERKEHRVERBUND which he willed on to get an award (and they did!). In the 2 categories we had been shortlisted in, we unfortunately fell short of the winning post but congratulations go to the winners of the “Best European Integration” – Infrabel (short video of the moment) and then “Customer Service and Information Excellence” winners Northern Rail – competition was high and it was great to have been shortlisted. There was however a winner on our table so congrats to Thello for picking up the “European Cross-Border Operator of the Year” award and thanks for the champagne too!

Food for thought at the end of this well organised event was Brian Simpson’s quote when he ended his opening speech on the first day with a thought for us all to take away:

“Let us brag about the good things we do and not hide from the bad things but face up to them”


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