Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Rosie Illingworth, Service Leader for Rolling Stock at engineering professional services consultancy WSP, about rolling stock, the Government’s 2040 Decarbonisation Agenda and the future of the industry

You’re in charge of developing WSP’s Rolling Stock Advisory team in the UK. How has that gone so far?

So far, it’s going very well! Prior to my arrival, WSP had rolling stock expertise in the UK, but it was spread through the teams in the Rail business. The Rolling Stock Advisory team is now the central point for rolling stock consulting and we’ll be growing the team through external recruitment over the coming months.

Tell us about WSP’s holistic approach to the rolling stock sector.

Our rolling stock team is fully integrated into the UK Rail business, where we sit alongside teams covering a full rail consulting service: Railway Operations and Planning, Systems Engineering & Assurance, Programme Management & Controls, Stations and Rail Engineering Services. Our rolling stock service in the UK is strategic engineering rather than technical specialist in nature, and we cover all phases of the rolling stock lifecycle from planning and optioneering, to procurement and service introduction, and into service life & cascades.

As this is a new service offering for WSP in the rail sector, how will your Rolling Stock Advisory team leverage its links to WSP’s international team of rolling stock specialists?

WSP’s Rail teams operate globally and we have a fantastic international network of rolling stock consultants with broad and deep engineering and commercial expertise. We utilise digital technology to have a connected global rolling stock community; we meet regularly by phone conference and have online forums to share questions and useful information. It’s just as easy to work with colleagues from overseas as it is with colleagues from other offices in the UK to support rolling stock and broader rail projects that are being led by the UK team.

What advice can you give to rolling stock procurers from the standpoint of the Government’s 2040 Decarbonisation Agenda?

Rail travel is already a very ‘green’ way to travel. But we must all drive towards the 2040 target of no diesel-only trains and the 2050 target of net zero carbon, as set by the UK Government in 2019.These goals will be achieved through a mix of cost-effective electrification and deployment of technologies such as hydrogen and battery power that are currently being developed.

In the coming months we expect Network Rail to publish the Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy to give clarity on which routes will be electrified in the drive towards 2050 net zero. Rolling stock owners and operators will need to take this information into account going forward when planning new fleet procurements, fleet cascades and fleet upgrades.

How does successful obsolescence management ensure longevity and performance in the rolling stock industry?

Rolling stock assets are designed for lives in excess of 35 years. However, not all components are expected to last this long and over the 35 years, technology will move forward and parts and systems on the rolling stock will become obsolete. This is particularly important given the increasing digitalisation of the railway. Electronic items & software have short lives and short production spans compared to the life of a rail vehicle.

Proactive obsolescence management allows owners and operators to identify systems and parts that could potentially cause service issues if they fail in the future, and if the supply chain is no longer producing spares. By making suitable plans at fleet, system and part levels, owners and maintainers can either procure and store spare parts whilst still in production or find suitable and alternatives before they are needed. This helps keep trains in operation.

Cross-industry research has shown that taking a proactive approach to obsolescence management can provide significant cost savings when compared to taking a reactive approach (reacting once an obsolete component needs replacing).

What are some of the landmark projects you’re most looking forward to getting involved in?

WSP has a very proactive stance on climate change issues. We understand the importance of addressing both the reduction of carbon emissions and the resilience of assets and systems to the changing climate. I believe the rail industry has a significant contribution to make to decarbonisation so I’m looking forward to projects which will address this issue.

Beyond lowering the emissions of our fleets, we can contribute to carbon emission reductions across UK transport as a whole by developing solutions that encourage modal shifts onto rail for both passengers and freight. As well as our reducing climate emissions, the rail industry has a role to play in ensuring our assets and systems are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Climate change projects can be large or small projects focused on decarbonisation or resilience issues, or they can be a part of a broader project. Tackling climate change will be the most important engineering challenge of the coming decade and I am excited to be part of projects that contribute to the overall goal of making our rail system less damaging to the environment and making our rail system future-proofed for climate change.

What do you see as the most important issues your clients are likely to face in the next five to ten years?

From my perspective, the three big issues that we will face in the coming years are the impact of COVID-19, climate change and changes to the franchise model.

COVID-19 will bring challenges in the short, medium and long-term, in that it impacts our passengers and freight, our colleagues, our ways of working and our supply chains. In the short and medium-term, we will be challenged to continue to run the railway and execute previously made plans to develop the railway under exceptional circumstances. In the long-term, as we move into a post-COVID-19 world, some of our behaviours will have been irreversibly altered and this will have an impact on demand, something we will need to consider when planning into the future.

Climate change will present a challenge to the railways, both from the perspective of the industry being part of the solution to lower carbon emissions, and also from the perspective that we will need to make our systems robust to the impacts of climate change. In the future, we will face increased extreme weather events and an increase in our average temperatures. We need to ensure that our existing assets can cope with the changing climate and that what we build going forward is future proofed against the changing climate.

The changing of government legislation around the franchise model will impact businesses across the rail industry. Understanding how to navigate the current uncertainty of when the new system will be in place and what it will look like and understanding the business implications of the new system once the framework has been communicated are significant issues for participants across the rail industry.

What changes to regulations do you anticipate from Brexit? Will the European Directive for Rolling Stock still apply? Will there be any impact felt at all?

During the current transition period between January 2020 and January 2021, the Directive still applies. After January 2021, the UK will be able to deviate from the Directive, but we must balance the benefits of any deviations from the European Directive with supply chain efficiency implications. Hence, any large deviations in the short or even medium-term are not anticipated.

How will Government legislation around the operation of the railways change the rolling stock leasing model?

The rolling stock leasing model we have in the UK is based around the rail franchising system that was created in the 1990s. The relatively short franchise length compared to the long asset life of rolling stock created a market for rolling stock leasing.

As the Government changes legislation around the operation of the railways, it is not yet clear what the replacement for the franchise system will look like. We expect the contracts to run train operations to be of longer duration than under the franchising system; this will slow down the cycle of lease renewals and cascades. This will be good news for fleets that are on-lease but provide less opportunity for off-lease or fleets being cascaded out of operations. If we move to a ‘concession’ model, we may start to see regional and local authorities making some rolling stock procurements directly in the future.

The current COVID-19 crisis is certain to impact and influence the legislation around the operation of the railways and will add further delay to the legislation changes being finalised and implemented, so it may be some time before we can see long-term changes to the leasing market.

Prior to WSP you were with SNC-Lavalin as a Section Head in the Rolling Stock Business Consulting team. What different challenges does this new position present?

What attracted me to the role at WSP was the challenge of developing a new team and developing service areas new to WSP which would complement our broad and deep rail expertise. The challenge is to grow a team that can deliver rolling stock consulting projects, and who can also leverage the closeness of our team to the broader UK Rail teams. This will allow us to add value to our solutions for clients by taking not just a rolling stock perspective, but a rolling stock and whole rail system perspective.

You spent 14 years in the civil aviation industry at Rolls-Royce, how has that experience informed your work in rolling stock?

There are many parallels between all large engineering projects, be they in aerospace, rail or other sectors. They all need a guiding vision to embark on them, and technical excellence, efficient and effective programme management and an amazing blend of people to deliver them. My experience at Rolls-Royce allowed me to see the full engineering project life-cycle, from early stage optioneering, through design and development and into service life. I was able to gain broad experience of working in engineering and commercial roles and understand the importance of how the two intertwine. I have been able to bring this through-life and cross-function understanding into my rolling stock work. I have used it to deliver rolling stock technical and commercial due diligence, rolling stock leasing market appraisals, rolling stock & ROSCO valuations and rolling stock operating cost analysis.

Rosie Illingworth is Service Leader for Rolling Stock at engineering professional services consultancy WSP