Coventry University in association with the Rail Alliance – the businessto- business networking organisation for the rail industry – hosted the event, Rail interiors: the inside story, at its city-centre campus last month.

More than seventy representatives from manufacturers, suppliers and other SME’s across the country attended to hear high level experts from both industry and academia outline their thoughts on the future needs and developments of the rail interiors sector.

Speakers at the event included Chiltern’s former chairman Adrian Shooter, Laurence Al-Shaar from Eurostar, David Clarke of the Future Rail Enabling Innovation Team and Coventry University’s Elaine Mackie, a senior lecturer in design theory and analysis.

The latest thinking and technology on all aspects of rail interiors from design seating and accessibility, lightweight structure and washroom facilities to safety and security systems were explored during the event. The conference also outlined how customers and suppliers could access funding programmes and presented plenty of opportunities for networking. But the key focus on the day was very much around the positive business benefits which could arise from the formation of a new rail interiors cluster.

Benefits of being part of a bigger group

Colin Flack, CEO of the Rail Alliance, said: ‘We wanted to offer a unique opportunity for companies within the rail interiors sector and those looking to break into it to network, to meet, share expertise and do business with each other.

‘Above all, we wanted to ensure that people went away with a greater understanding of the benefits of being part of a bigger group by delivering practical advice about the concept of clustering. We know that companies are looking for a relevant platform where networking and collaboration is supported and facilitated.’

A comparative example of the merits of collaborative working was provided by Jason Aldridge, managing director of Arrowsmith Engineering, who highlighted the success of the Coventry and Warwickshire Aerospace Forum (CWAF).

Formed in 2008 with ten companies specialising in all facets of the aerospace industry and supply chain solutions, the forum now has a turnover in excess of £100 million and works jointly and individually and in collaboration with leading UK universities and professional associations to meet the ever -changing demands of the sector.

Expanding on the theme of cluster working David Wright, Coventry University’s associate pro-vice chancellor for Major Initiatives, added: ‘Smaller players sometimes have difficulty getting their voice heard or bringing their innovation to market. The old adage of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ is very apt when we look at businesses working together.

‘There are some great examples of the power of collaborative working like the Coventry and Warwickshire Aerospace Forum which we heard about at the conference. We believe that there is some great rail interiors capability in the region and beyond, which is why the Rail Alliance and Coventry University are encouraging companies to become part of a rail interiors cluster.

‘We can provide tools and support to help them shape that cluster to ensure that the sector’s capabilities are brought forward and developed.’

The messages conveyed were well received with Michael Knight, development manager at Coventry University and one of the conference organisers, hailing the event a great success. He said: ‘We were delighted with the number of attendees, the speakers and the amount and quality of the networking that took place. We know that a couple of companies have already agreed to meet again to further discuss possible avenues of cooperation and we’re sure there is a great future in developing the Rail Interiors Cluster.’

Those who missed the event but want to find out how to become part of the Rail Interiors Cluster can contact the Rail Alliance at to register their interest. The next Rail interiors: the inside story event will take place on the 12 March 2015.