Eli Rees-King, Marketing Director at the Rail Alliance offers an insight into the extensive international work that the Rail Alliance is involved in and the growing demand for international support from its community…

Since its establishment, Rail Alliance has played an important role in supporting organisations keen to develop international strategies – whether a company is investigating export, exploring collaboration opportunities in a country region, or for international businesses wanting to find out more about the opportunities in the UK to set up permanent facilities, as well as representing members at key international trade fairs such as InnoTrans, TRAKO, SIFER, Rail Live Bilbao to name but a few.

More recently we have been working on projects involving specialist study missions for SMEs in key overseas markets. International marketing and export strategy is something the Rail Alliance has become more adept at over the years in response to the growing demand from Rail Alliance Community members. It is important to make the point that we rely on critical networks to do this and it is through our links with specialists in this vast and often complicated area that we are able to offer objective and impartial support to organisations who are looking to branch out with activities in overseas markets. Importantly, the Rail Alliance is also recognised as a Department of International Trade (DIT) Trade Challenge Partner (TCP).

With our extensive network of contacts and the ability for us to signpost in the right direction whether that is via our Eurail Clusters (ERCI) colleagues or through a DIT Trade Advisor based in the UK or in post overseas(or more specialist support such as an Export Finance Advisor or assistance from the International Patent Office).

Recognised for our involvement in this significant area of support, we are included as an integral member of the Regional Rail Forum under the steer of International Trade & Investment Regional Campaigns Manager, Ricky Belgrave. We value the important contribution we can make to this group to support the DIT in promoting the UK rail sector and in turn support our community with their international strategy.

Supporting the Industrial strategy and Sector Deal – regionally and nationally:

This year at Railtex this year, we jointly delivered an event with Midlands Engine to ‘Promote Excellence in Rail in the Region’ created to showcase the Midlands rail cluster as well as the critical transportation links being invested in – such as HS2 not to mention the vast amount of work that has already seen rail networks in the area expand significantly.

With an audience that included international companies, Government representatives, regionally based SMEs and rail journalists, the feedback on the content was excellent and we can thank the strong panel of industry leaders who presented – including Adrian Shooter, CEO Vivarail, Robin Lapish, Supply Chain Manager/Specialist, HS2 Ltd, Toby Rackliff, Strategic Rail Policy Lead, West Midlands Rail Executive, Mark Goldby, Midlands Engine/ Advanced Manufacturing Specialist, Dept. for International Trade, Alex Burrows, MD BCRRE & Rail Alliance – all showcasing the region through different important viewpoints.

Our part in the European Rail Clusters Initiative

How did this journey begin? Ten years ago, the Rail Alliance made an important decision to help establish the European clusters network and set up the ERCI (European Rail Clusters Initiative). It was a decisive milestone and the cooperation agreement was officially signed during InnoTrans 2010 in Berlin.

ERCI is now the leading meta-cluster of the railway industry in Europe uniting 14 innovation clusters from ten European countries. Together, the ERCI helps to connect the ideas and interests of close to 2000 small and medium-sized businesses in the industry and is their voice and lobby at European level. It helps member companies to grow – through improved access to European partners and customers, accelerated technology transfer and joint marketing in, and outside, of the EU. Over the past years, ERCI has established governance structures and has established itself as the European railway cluster network.

PERES – Promoting European Rail Excellence outSide of Europe

This leads me on to introduce PERES. The PERES 4i-partnership, was awarded under the umbrella of the EU cluster collaboration platform in January 2018. An 18-month programme of which Rail Alliance is one of four ERCI partners appointed to deliver it alongside DITECFER (Italy), i-Trans (France), BTS Rail Saxony (Germany) and the Serbian Railway Cluster for South-East Europe RCSEE. PERES is led by Italian cluster DITECFER.

‘The fact that the EU Commission is now explicitly supporting rail industry SMEs in market development is strengthening our activities. I am sure that new and interesting partnerships will arise from the common activities with other European companies’ said ERCI spokesperson and PERES participant Dirk-Ulrich Krüger from BTS Rail Saxony.

PERES aims to intensify and lead on international cluster cooperation to support companies in the European railway industry being represented (mainly SMEs) in internationalisation processes concerning markets outside of the EU. The clusters, in fact, also include large enterprises at the top of the supply chain and scientific bodies, but the overriding objective remains, and that is for PERES to empower the SMEs to solve the challenges faced when entering international markets.

The approach in terms of building capability to go international also takes into account those entities that enable SMEs in their daily development (for example, for R&D activities, innovation support, tests, certifications, etc.). It was quickly recognised by the PERES team, that by that positioning the organisations as part of a much larger value chain (rather than seen as in individual entities) this would be key to offering a competitive – and therefore even more attractive – proposition at international level that could quickly meet and respond to market need.

PERES is also an initiative designed to support and develop the PERES Cluster Managers themselves, enabling them to better support its members and to deliver higher quality project objectives. This takes place through a combined approach such as the development of initiatives such as B2B at important international rail fairs in addition to sharing experiences and best practices between us and also with other European clusters.

Belgrade Presentation of PERES Research and the Trade Study Mission

In January, the partner clusters involved in the PERES project came together in Belgrade at the Serbian Railways HQ to present the work that took place in the months prior resulting in the creation of an internationalisation strategy drafted specifically for SMEs in the European rail industry. The announcement was also made that the selected market for the international study mission would be the United States of America – based on the research undertaken and the emerging value chain.

As the event was hosted by Serbian Railways, participants also had an opportunity to meet the representatives of three national railway companies – Serbian Railways Infrastructure, Srbija Voz, national passenger transport operator, and Srbija Kargo, national freight transport operator.

PERES goes to the USA – Chicago (Illinois), Cleveland (Ohio), and Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania)

At the end of March 2019, led by Veronica Bocci from Italian cluster DITECFER the Rail Alliance along with another three cluster partners BTS Saxony, I-Trans and RCSEE and nine SMEs met in Chicago USA for the beginning of a seven-day study mission across three states of America. This area was selected due to its concentrated mix of railway companies that suited the capability of the value chain identified as part of the research.

It was important that meetings not only included companies providing products and services in the US but also business groups, Government organisations and academia/research bodies with advice on doing business in the US market.

The intinary was extensive and included meetings with Metra, Progress Rail (Electro Motive Diesel), Chicago World Business, TTX, RDC (Railroad development Corporation), Wabtec, Bombardier, Ohio University, Ohio rail Development Commission, Carnegie Mellon University, NextManufacturing Center & Manufacturing Futures Initiative – to name but a few!

Each meeting provided a new and important insight into the US market and, importantly, valuable connections. We are very close to concluding the project and a meeting will be taking place in the next couple of weeks before the final presentation of results in Brussels on 25 June 2019. This has been a true collaboration of specialists and after many hours of research, SME engagement, reports, and presentations.

Based on the success of this pilot project it is envisaged that PERES will continue and a further trade study mission which will be announced early next year.

Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education (BCRRE, University of Birmingham) and international presence

Another further building block and of huge benefit to the Rail Alliance community is the presence and connections that BCRRE already holds with international markets – including markets outside of Europe – for example, Dubai, Korea, China, USA, Singapore, Japan – just to name a few.

The Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) at the University of Birmingham is the largest university-based centre for railway research, education and innovation in Europe, developing world-leading new technologies and delivering renowned higher education programmes. BCRRE is also the lead academic institution of the UK Rail Research Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and hosts the Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems.

Only last month BCRRE signed cooperation agreements with two organisations based in Serbia to strengthen ties with the rail industry across South and East Europe. The agreements, which were signed at the SEE Mobility Fair in Belgrade on 8 May 2019, set out plans for how BCRRE, Rail Alliance, the Faculty of Transport and Traffic Engineering – University of Belgrade (FTTE), and RCSEE, will work together on collaborative railway research and innovation projects. The RCSEE agreement will focus on sharing knowledge and best practice between BCRRE Rail Alliance and RCSEE with a shared aim of increasing opportunities for SME members to grow and develop their business.

There will also be collaboration on developing skills including a railway engineering education partnership between the Universities of Birmingham and Belgrade. This month it plays host to one of the two annual steering group committee meetings that the ERCI holds a year which will offer the cluster members to find out more about BCRRE and also an opportunity to visit Quinton Rail Technology Centre and speak to several UK rail businesses – including Vivarail, Porterbrook and Chrysalis – about the exciting projects they are engaged in right now.

ERCI Innovation Awards

As a final note, I must take the opportunity to share the details of the ERCI Innovation Awards that will be taking place this year at Expo Ferroviaria (Milan – Italy, 1 to 3 October) and will be hosted by DITECFER. Every year, the ERCI honours pioneering innovation projects of European rail industry companies with the yearly ERCI Innovation Awards. There will be three awards – for the most innovative SME, the most innovative large enterprise and ‘jury’s favourite’. Winners are selected based on the following criteria:

• Innovation features of the solution

• Economic and social benefits for the railway sector

• Integration of new digital technologies

• Impact on ‘human capital’

• Creation of the innovation by networking (cooperation with other private or public entities.

If you would like to enter there is still time – the deadline for entries is 14 June 2019.  Please let us know if you would like more information. We were delighted to see Rail Alliance community partner, Perpetuum win the ‘Best SME award in 2018 at InnoTrans’ for Wireless Sensor Nodes including vibration and temperature sensors, an energy harvester, a microprocessor and a wireless transmitter.)

If you are interested in finding out more about the international work the Rail Alliance is involved in, please go to www.railalliance.co.uk and send a message via the contact form.