This year WCS exhibited at Rail Live – the rail event of the year. Here the team share some of their key takeaways from the show.
Rail Live is a unique event, with 270 exhibitors, more than 5000 visitors, and plant, machinery and rolling stock on display – it showcases the quality, innovation, and skills within the UK rail industry. The setting, Long Marston Rail Innovation Centre, is a 135-acre, mainline rail-connected site – unlike what you might expect from a trade fair. Here hi-vis jackets and safety footwear are required at all times.
Visitors represent the whole rail community, putting CEOs and track workers side by side. Companies attending range from contractors, product suppliers, and rail engineering firms like us to train operating companies, public bodies, and international visitors. Speakers included the Chairman and the CEO of Network Rail, as well as the Minister of State Department for Transport.
At WCS, although some of our civil engineering consultancy services are outside of the rail sector, it has been a specialisation since the founding of the company, and we very much see ourselves as an integral part of the world of rail. The company has grown significantly recently, so this year seemed like an exciting time to exhibit. With attendees from across the industry, it was a chance to catch up with clients, reconnect with former colleagues, meet suppliers, and make new relationships.
“A number of our engineers have worked on rail projects in their dedicated teams for many years, so there were a great many familiar faces at the event,” comments founder and Managing Director Asa Whitfield, “but it was good to meet new people also. Recently, we refreshed our branding and changed the company name from Whitfield Construction Services to Whitfield Consulting Services, so it was a good opportunity to remind everyone familiar with us about the new elements of how we present ourselves.”
Our space featured a Lego City model train and track. Visitors were invited to guess how long it would take for the model to complete a journey, which proved a good icebreaker and conversation starter. “Some of those taking part were pretty serious about it, with calculators out and formulae on the back of the written entries,” says WCS Engineering Manager Natalja Petkune, who came up with the idea.
Of course, many conversations are enjoyed when hosting a stand, but lengthy and memorable ones included talking with Dura Composites, Cubis Systems, Anderton-Ibstock, Bridgeway Consulting, OnSite and One Big Circle.
“One trend you do notice over the years, is more and more companies at events like these offering hi-tech solutions, “adds Nick Lowe, Associate Director at WCS. “This year, there were quite a few firms offering surveying and photogrammetry using drone footage.”
Sustainability was a topic that came up frequently – specifically rail electrification, but also other alternatives to diesel such as Battery Electric Multiple Units – and how projects in this area contribute to the government’s rightfully ambitious plans to phase out diesel trains by 2040, and to the UK Net Zero commitments. This was an especially exciting discussion point for WCS, given our history of projects in rail power & electrification. MD, Asa wrote a recent article on what the UK is doing in this area, the challenges, as well as the opportunities for innovation and growth – read more about that here.
Network Rail’s Control Period 7 (CP7) starts next year, so inevitably, there was discussion of the anticipated changes. “HS2 is a huge project that will continue, of course,” says Nick. “There will also be investment, particularly in innovation and new technology. Remote condition monitoring of assets is expected to grow further, and there will be the rollout of digital in-cab signalling.
“Alongside that, I would say the general expectation of those I talked to is that CP7 will have a significant emphasis on safety, maintenance, and renewals, so there was much discussion and anticipation about what activity might be on the horizon. Reflecting on the many projects WCS has contributed to as part of our maintenance framework contracts, both in temporary and permanent works, as well as on call-outs for emergency issues, I’m excited to see us take those skills and experiences forward into the new control period.”
“We’ll certainly be back next year,” adds Asa. Nick commented: “Yes, it was definitely a worthwhile trip. Something we’ve discussed for our next visit is bringing along some of the younger members of the team, graduate engineers and so on. An event like Rail Live is a good way for them to get a stronger sense of this sector we work in, plus there is the opportunity to make personal connections.”
Do note it in your 2024 diary and stop by at the next Rail Live. In the meantime, if you have a project we might be able to help with, please get in touch on 020 3581 7847, email@example.com, or via our contact page.