Lobbying on behalf of its members, the Railway Industry Association has an important role to play in both the domestic and international arenas

Jeremy Candfield,Director, Railway Industry Association

Today we are living in an age of international procurement. Many aspects of modern business have been following the general trend towards globalisation, and the railway industry is no exception. As with the automotive or aerospace sectors, there are few national markets that can still justify the development of unique designs - be it trains or signalling systems to give but two examples.

Larger manufacturers such as Bombardier, Alstom and Siemens have developed a worldwide presence through growth and takeovers, and many other suppliers are active across several continents. Even small companies have set up subsidiaries or partnerships in various countries. So where does that leave the activities of a national trade association?

Domestic challenges

Much of the work undertaken by the UK's Railway Industry Association is still in the domestic market. Representing its members to government, regulators and key industry bodies is perhaps the most central function, such as a recent major exercise responding to the review by the Office of Rail Regulation of Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan (p157). This is an issue of critical importance, as it will determine the shape of the UK railway industry for the next five years.

This work is supplemented by a variety of technical activities, supply chain initiatives, general membership services and networking events. But an area of the association's work that has expanded dramatically in recent years is our international activity.

RIA has long been involved in many aspects of international collaboration, such as the development and application of the European interoperability directives and the supporting Technical Specifications for Interoperability. General industry issues are addressed through active participation in bodies such as Unife and the European Federation of Railway Trackwork Contractors. But RIA is also involved in other groups such as the World Congress on Railway Research. These important activities continue, of course, but a new role that is becoming increasingly important is helping UK-based companies to compete in worldwide markets.

British suppliers have been exporting equipment around the world for as long as there have been railways. Indeed, some of them helped to build the first railways in many countries. In recent years manufacturing exports have continued to include railway vehicles, but also an increasing variety of specialised components and other items where high performance or reliability is essential.

Specialist UK skills among RIA members have expanded substantially in overseas markets, such as consultancy, leasing and infrastructure contracting. Indeed, with Britain's rail industry continuing to suffer from the 'stop-go' expenditure cycle which RIA has been lobbying against for many years, companies have been obliged to compete internationally to maintain a steady workload.

International promotion

RIA operates on a number of fronts, to help both its member companies and the UK railway sector as a whole. It works closely with UK Trade & Investment, the government organisation that supports UK-based companies in an increasingly global economy, and is contracted to deliver the current UKTI rail business plan.

RIA's involvement with UKTI's sector team begins at a senior advisory level, where we play a key role in the Railway Sector Advisory Group. This group defines the priority and opportunity markets into which the government targets its (limited) resources to support UK companies.

RIA's overseas activities include the management of a UKTI-?supported programme of railway-specific trade missions and seminars to countries of interest for new and existing exporters. Working with UKTI commercial officers in British Embassies and High Commissions helps to secure access to railway authorities and operators at the highest level. This increased profile for the group yields interest at all levels.

The individual companies participating in a mission are able to make valuable contacts with new and existing customers or to find partners, agents and suppliers. They also gain a rapid appreciation of the market opportunities as well as the business, cultural and political context.

In partnership with UKTI, RIA has taken groups to Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Ireland, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Taiwan, China and France during the past year. A similar programme of events is envisaged for 2008.

RIA also takes groups of UK companies to trade exhibitions in various countries, enabling them to showcase products and services to international audiences, as well as benchmarking against their competitors. These exhibitions are normally supported by a range of other activities organised by RIA, including networking functions to encourage interaction between customers and suppliers outside the show halls. Recent exhibitions with a strong RIA presence include Trako (Poland), Rail Solutions Asia (Hong Kong), AusRail (Australia) and Gulf Traffic (Dubai). The main event for 2008 will undoubtedly be InnoTrans in Berlin in September. RIA has organised a major UK presence at each InnoTrans show since 2000. In 2006 around 80 UK companies exhibited, more than half of which participated in the RIA/UKTI 'britain@innotrans' country pavilions.

Inward missions

The opposite side of our role is in helping overseas railway officials visit the UK. As well as a full participation with those drawn by the Infrarail and Railtex exhibitions, RIA receives senior delegations from railway administrations and procurement agencies throughout the year. Tailored programmes are developed to give the visitors an opportunity to see UK technology and expertise at company premises, or on site visits to transport success stories such as St Pancras International or the London Docklands area.

A regular topic of interest for international visitors is the post-privatis-ation structure of the UK railway sector, so RIA often arranges briefing meetings with key bodies, such as the Department for Transport, ORR, the Rail Safety & Standards Board and Transport for London. Together with meeting other railway stakeholders, these briefings help to put the UK scenario into context.

We believe that there is considerable misconception outside the UK about the effects of rail privatisation, which RIA strives to correct. It does so both through its own activities and in collaboration with other lobbying groups. For example, the recent publication Successes & Lessons of Rail Liberalisation in the UK was sponsored by the Rail Freight Group.

Because of the commercial structure of the UK railway sector, British supply companies are well used to working in an open, competitive market where mature clients increasingly recognise the concept of life-cycle costing and see the benefit of outsourcing many activities. This is not always the case in other markets, so RIA has been making the case for increased private-sector participation in delivering safety, quality and reliability.

We believe that the massive growth in passenger and freight traffic over the last decade shows that the UK railways are able to deliver long-term benefits to the customer. Thus it is better to cost investment over the operating life of an asset, although this is sometimes difficult to explain in markets which still work on 'the cheapest-first-cost wins' approach.

Facilitating relationships

Above all RIA seeks to facilitate business relationships on behalf of its membership and other UK companies: by working with UKTI to open doors; by educating international customers on UK skills and expertise; and by helping to maximise the prospects for international success.

Both new and established exporters have found huge benefit in taking part in trade missions and exhibition activities, although of course securing the final deals is down to the individual companies. It is for them to follow-up on the initial contacts made during RIA events, and to meet the technical, commercial and cultural challenges of bid and delivery.

RIA's role, along with the partners with whom it works, is not to try to do everything for its members, but to help create opportunities within which they can forge their own successes.

About RIA

The Railway Industry Association is the representative organisation for Britain's railway supply industry. Its 140 member companies include major international groups and many specialist businesses offering a wide range of equipment, services and expertise. RIA provides a range of services to its members and is actively involved in cross-industry improvement initiatives.

RIA also promotes international trade, and offers an advisory service for sourcing equipment, services and expertise from the UK.

  • CAPTION: Working with UK Trade & Investment, RIA organises many international missions and presentations, such as this visit of UK-based suppliers to Beijing during 2007.
  • CAPTION: RIA co-ordinates a strong presence for UK groups attending international trade fairs and exhibitions; more than 80 firms participated in the 'britain@innotrans' pavilions at the 2006 exhibition in Berlin.

  • CAPTION: The cars for Taipei's automated Neihu mini-metro line were built at Bombardier's plant in Derby last year. As well as complete vehicles, UK exports for the railway sector today include specialist components, and softer skills such as consultancy, leasing and support services.