RFG welcomes new Network Rail boss to its Christmas Lunch

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) was delighted to welcome Andrew Haines OBE, the new chief executive of Network Rail, as its guest of honour for its annual Christmas Lunch.

Addressing around 800 RFG members and their guests at the Royal Lancaster Hotel on 12 December, he praised a dynamic and resilient sector and acknowledged rail freight provided around £2bn of economic benefits each year. He particularly paid tribute to his predecessor Mark Carne and said he had left behind a very positive legacy for the future amid a changing sector.

Andrew Haines took over as CEO of Network Rail this autumn from heading up the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). His background is in rail however and he was MD of the Rail Division for First Group and prior to that he was MD of South West Trains.

He said he was delighted to be back in rail and looked forward to working with the freight sector. “Ten years is a long time and a lot has changed in that time,” he said. “Ten years ago the big challenge was how do we accommodate all of the coal that needed to be transported across the country and as we all know it’s quite a different situation at present. But equally there are very significant flows that we had not even dreamed of at that stage. Freight is a vital part of the economy, delivering close to £2bn in economic benefits.

“There have been significant changes over the past 10 years but at the same time many of the old issues remain. So I’ve tried to spend a lot of my time over the past three or four months getting out and about talking to customers, stakeholders and local government about their issues and needs. I’ve had a lot of feedback and I’m grateful because it’s important that we listen and we learn.”

Andrew joined the lunch, having previously attended the 30th anniversary service of the 1988 Clapham Junction disaster and he said so much had been done in the sector since the tragic incident. “It was for me a deeply powerful reminder that we cannot take safety for granted in our sector,” he said.

Further paying tribute to the efforts of Mark Carne in regard to safety, he said: “Under Mark’s leadership Network Rail has genuinely transformed its approach to safety and that is a long-lasting tribute.”

He added: “It’s been a tough year for many people who work in our industry and there have been too many times where we have lost focus on our end users, both freight customers and passengers. We have demonstrated in too many cases that we have not stepped up our ability to manage change when our customers need us to. We have a model that is overcomplicated and as a consequence too many of us have been found wanting. And most worrying we risk becoming an industry of victims. Too many people are satisfied explaining why things go wrong and not showing the level of resolve they need to fixing them. That is my fundamental message. I want Network Rail to be synonymous with an organisation that performs, is open and dynamic, is dependable as a partner and delivers more for less.”

Finally, he said he thoroughly supported the appointment of Keith Williams, also from the air sector, in his role to undertake a Rail Review and said he was someone of great integrity and practical experience.

In rounding up the challenges of 2018, RFG Director General, Maggie Simpson, said that the freight sector had seen a positive year despite challenges elsewhere in the railway.

“There can be no doubt that the railways are again in difficult times,” she said. “Indeed, they have hardly been out of the headlines this year, with timetabling and performance issues across the passenger network, cost overruns on Crossrail and a franchise system arguably on the verge of collapse. These issues are not of freight’s making, but the railways are a system and when there is trouble in one area it inevitably affects us all.

“Despite all this, I think the rail freight industry has actually had rather a good year.  We’ve seen a renewed confidence and demand for growth across the sector.”

She highlighted key succesful projects including: new intermodal services at London Gateway, a second daily service from Teesport to Scotland, the opening of iPort in Doncaster; a new terminal at Hitchen and Tytherington quarry; the Felixstowe branch upgrade; and  DB Cargo UK completing its £6m Wolverhampton Steel Terminal.

Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s RFG Christmas Lunch. As always it was a fantastic sell-out event that provided members and their guests an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new business connections, and celebrate the rail freight sector. On the day the champagne raffle raised more than £5,100 for Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, the RFG’s chosen Christmas charity.