New approaches to rail strategy

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By Rhianne Evans

Doctoral Researcher in Railway Systems Engineering

My PhD research, A systems engineering approach to developing rail strategy, applies principles from the Systems Engineering discipline to aid the understanding and development of policy and strategy for the rail industry. In recent years there has been an increased effort to define a long-term strategic direction for Britain’s railways, which are enjoying a period of unprecedented growth. However, the fragmented nature of the industry since privatisation has resulted in the development of a multitude of policy and strategy documents for rail. From a user perspective, there is confusion regarding the purpose and content of these numerous publications, and as a result they are often ineffective. From an engineering point of view, this is a high-risk situation, with a likelihood of strategic misalignment and project failure.  

The research is unique in that it combines knowledge from Engineering, Policy/Strategy and Language studies, which are traditionally separate research topics. However, in large-scale engineering projects, communication and policy are often to blame for project failure. It is therefore crucial to understand how these areas can be improved in order to increase the likelihood of success for future rail projects. This is particularly relevant at present, with the development of High Speed 2 and increased investment in rail across the country. The focus of the PhD project is to define a common approach to developing policy and strategy for the rail industry. The work draws heavily from the Systems Engineering discipline, both in the methodology applied and the underpinning principles of the approach which has been developed. In addition, the research has helped to develop a holistic view of the current political and strategic landscape of the British rail industry. Whilst the work is centred on a rail case study, it has equal implications for policy and strategy development in other domains.  

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Having studied French as my undergraduate degree, I have been fortunate to bring my skills from other areas into the Engineering domain. The Centre for Railway Research and Education is an open-minded, ambitious group, which welcomes new ideas – however unusual! I am currently organising an international conference on high speed rail at the University, bringing together academic and industry leaders. I have also received mentoring and support from Atkins, which has provided me with invaluable industry experience. I am thrilled to be part of the thriving rail engineering community, which has already presented countless opportunities for work, personal development, and discovery.  

More information about 'High Spped Rail: Celebrating Ambition’ can be found at www.birmingham.ac.uk/high-speed-rail. Abstract submission is now open for the conference, with accepted authors receiving a free place at the conference. The event will be a great opportunity to showcase research and network with key industry figures. Welcomed topics include Control, Capacity, Economics and Aerodynamics for high speed rail.