Deb Carson, Head of Operations at the High Speed Rail Group explains how they represent the industry

The High Speed Rail Group exists to support, promote and champion the successful delivery of a world-class high speed rail network in Britain. We are a membership-based organisation, open to
companies, organisations and academic institutions with experience in high speed rail and related infrastructure activities. Our members have helped deliver major infrastructure projects in the UK and around the world, ranging from creating entirely new high speed networks through to maintaining and improving the UK’s existing rail network. HSRG’s aim is to bring this extensive range of expertise together into one coherent and unique body, to promote the transformational benefits that a high speed railway will bring to Britain.

HSRG’s broad membership, which spans industry leaders from across the rail supply chain to academia, provides us with a distinctive insight into both the shortcomings in the current network and the transformative capacity, connectivity and carbon benefits that high speed rail can bring. Since HSRG was established in 2011 we have consistently made the case for high speed rail – and HS2 – by harnessing this unique pool of expertise, offering a clear-eyed view of the benefits that the extension of the high speed rail network would bring to the country. Now that delivery of the
first leg of HS2 is underway, we believe that the Government and the supply chain must work together to ensure that the project meets its potential and leaves a lasting legacy for the UK.

As a group we engage with our membership regularly to ensure that HSRG’s objectives have a set of priorities which remain at the core of all we do. One of these is a focus on sustainability. The rail industry is a key driver in the UK’s efforts to meet its net zero targets, and as we enter the delivery phase of HS2, HSRG is aiming to build on the notable work we have already done in this area. Some aims are ongoing – such as the passenger proposition onboard HS2 trains, increasingly relevant now that the rolling stock contract has being awarded. Other targets are longer-term: HSRG’s ultimate vision is of a truly national network that spans the UK, reaching the southwest as well as north to Scotland.

Jobs and skills are a particular focal point of HSRG’s work, and the group unapologetically places great emphasis on the importance of the work force and apprentices. The reason is simple: the associated boost to employment and productivity is one of the strongest arguments in favour of HS2, and high speed rail more broadly, and HS2’s potential to boost the economy can be backed up with empirical evidence.

As we emerge from Covid-19, this economic argument will continue to be one of the strongest, and as a group HSRG has pledged to continue to support the development of apprentices through our High Speed Rail Group Apprentice Network. We are extremely proud of this ever growing network of apprentices, and our members continue to support it as an importance element of inspiring the next generation of rail professionals to ensure that the future of the UK rail network is supported by talented, well-trained rail professionals. As well as holding events and running a one-to-one meeting programme for apprentices with their local MPs, HSRG have launched a regular podcast series, which aims to give apprentices a platform to talk about their roles, the experiences which first brought them into the rail industry, and the elements of their role which inspires them most.

The HSRG website also features regular interviews with apprentices, so that people both within the industry and from outside can learn more about the day-to-day working lives of rail apprentices and gain some perspective of how the industry looks through the eyes of a relative newcomer. HSRG’s apprentice network has produced some fantastic results, not only in improving the experiences of those who are just starting out in the industry, but also in encouraging those who are choosing their path to consider a career in rail.

We regularly hold events where members come together to collectively consider and debate high level transport system views across a range of focus areas. Throughout the pandemic, while opportunities to gather in person were restricted, HSRG organised several virtual events to ensure that communication within the high speed rail community was not put on hold and we now have a full calendar of activity in the diary for the remainder of 2022.

As well as through large set-piece events, HSRG benefits the wider rail community through a regular drumbeat of thought leadership, including our series of High Speed Rail Voices reports. Each of these reports sets its sights on a specific theme, and explores the positive effect that high speed rail will have in this area through a series of informative, insightful articles from a diverse selection of experts, encompassing politics, business, local government, the supply chain, think tanks, and associated charities and campaigners. The most recent of these reports, High Speed Rail: Net Zero Voices, included contributions from Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd, Jacques Damas, CEO of Eurostar International Ltd, and sustainability leads from both the Align and Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Ventures. Additionally, in January this year, HSRG published Modal Shift Matters – and HS2 Delivers It, which set out how HS2 is uniquely positioned to provide a more
attractive alternative to both car travel and domestic flights.

HSRG’s extensive range of activity is all geared toward ensuring that high speed rail, and the associated benefits it can, and is already bringing to the UK’s transport sector, is properly represented in public life. High speed rail is about far more than reducing journey times: it is also about providing economic and social benefits along the line of route, and the encouragement of skills in our young workforce to stimulate future innovation. It’s about making Britain a better, more attractive place to live and do business by bringing cities and towns closer than ever before, and passing a high-quality, modern, enduring transport network to future generations, so that the UK can continue to compete in the global race for jobs and growth.

Thanks to our already formidable body of work in pursuit of these aims, HSRG is now a respected voice on high speed rail in the transport sector and beyond. With HS2 now under construction, this mission doesn’t stop, and as an organisation we are committed to championing the truly national high speed network the nation needs and deserves.

If you would like to find out more about membership please do get in touch!

Deb Carson is Head of Operations at the High Speed Rail Group