A few months have passed since I attended Rail Live. Since then, there have been significant changes in the industry, including HS2’s CEO Mark Thurston stepping down. It was evident from the length of the queue at Rail Live that the rail industry is flourishing, with companies in attendance ranging in size and speciality. Innovation was a prominent theme of the day: my favourite was a robot dog built by Boston Dynamics to assist with surveys along the railway, among other tasks.

The gender pay gap trend in rail

Among all the talks I attended throughout the day, one thing that stood out was diversity. Although it was not at the forefront of discussion, it was clear that it needed to be addressed. Rail is the only industry that appears to be regressing regarding pay and gender equality, despite attempts by the government and other organisations to promote equal pay and gender parity. Women in the rail industry are paid significantly less than their male counterparts; this gap is even more pronounced in senior positions, with women earning up to 20% less than men. Women are also underrepresented in leadership roles, holding just 21% of senior roles compared with 79% held by men. A Railway Technology analysis revealed that 94.5% of companies in the railway industry pay their male employees more than their female employees. This puts the pay gap in the industry above the national average of 11.6%.

We can’t wait for the GBR reform before we form a better system

In 1993, publicly owned British Rail, which was in charge of the railway, was split into more than 100 organisations. The private sector was responsible for leasing and purchasing trains (rolling stock companies), operating passenger and freight services (train operating companies and freight operating companies) and maintaining the infrastructure.

To restore cohesion to the disjointed railway system that resulted from privatisation, successive governments have taken steps to bring together the responsibility for track and train. This has meant that the management of infrastructure and the running of services have been more closely aligned, creating a more unified and efficient system.

The message from Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, was clear: we cannot wait for the GBR reform to take effect to address the issues on the railway today. We must be honest about the problems we face, act swiftly and effectively to tackle them and make sure that the lessons learned are used to enable a better future for the railway.

HS2 was relatively non-committal

Talks on the day about HS2 make sense given where we were ahead of Mark’s resignation and, despite this, I remain a firm believer in the transformational benefits HS2 will bring for generations to come.

By improving connections and aiding economic growth, HS2 has the potential to revolutionise the way we travel. In fact, it is estimated to create up to 100,000 jobs over the project life cycle and provide an additional £92 billion to the UK economy. However, the longer we wait to move forward, the more difficult it becomes to appease those who are opposed to it. This is because the longer we wait, the more entrenched and vocal those who are against HS2 become. We must act quickly and decisively if we want to have any hope of convincing those who are opposed to HS2 that it is a worthwhile investment.

Until next time…

Overall, it is always a pleasant experience to be among others in the industry at Rail Live. As a bid consultant, I’m part of the non-technical-but-really-like-the-people camp. Yet, somehow, Rail Live makes talking about even the most technical topics, such as sleeper brackets and the European Train Control System, feel like home.

With over 300 exhibitors and more than 4000 rail professionals in attendance each year, this event provides a unique platform to connect with key decision-makers and industry experts to exchange ideas and insights. It’s no wonder that Rail Live has become one of the most anticipated events in the rail industry calendar.