An Interview with Richard Shaw – Business Development Manager for Rail Services at NEC Software Solutions

Join us in conversation with Richard, where we explore his 20+ years in the rail sector, as well as the future of industries technology and safety.

We’d like to introduce you to Richard Shaw, our Business Development Manager, who joined NEC Software Solutions in 2020 during the pandemic, which was a challenging time to start a new role. He finally got to meet some of his new colleagues in person in April this year!

Richard joined the company with over 20 years’ experience within the rail sector and we wanted to find out more about his career as well as the challenges and opportunities within the industry.

Richard started in the Rail Industry in 1999 as a software and commissioning engineer. One of the first technologies that he worked on was with remote condition monitoring, whereby sensors were deployed across the rail network to identify faults on the rail infrastructure including points machines and track circuits, ensuring faster response and resolution of potential issues on the network. 

Richard highlights that as an industry, the rail sector is completely focused on safety and its people, and after spending many hours, days, weeks, months walking up and down trackside to location cabinets, in his words he ‘was hooked.’ Shortly afterwards he formed a company with his father, deploying remote condition monitoring which was subsequently acquired and then acquired again by a large German engineering company. 

Richard also has extensive experience working with SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) solutions for traction power. These solutions are used by the Electrical Control Operators for monitoring, controlling and managing the power supply to electrified train networks and in the case of an incident isolating the power quickly so that engineers can then work on the equipment safely. He then moved into doing some of the technical training for Network Rail staff and then subsequently on to business development roles. 

Richard has worked on some of the biggest rail software contracts across Europe, being part of the team to win the passenger information system for the Edinburgh tram network. He has also been heavily involved in the radio communications side of rail networks within Europe, helping to deploy Global System for Mobile Communications-Railway (GSM-R) cab radio solutions, which he describes as one of the biggest technology innovations of the last 15-20 years in the sector, moving away from the NRN radio systems. Using a customised fixed telecoms network alongside mobile technology, its processes include journey registration, operational messaging and prioritising driver-signaller communications. Those involved range from drivers and signallers to managers, controllers and maintenance staff. The fact that this stemmed from a European directive meant that every country in Europe uses the same standard using the same operational cab radios and safety guidelines giving interoperability across the European Union.

In another recent role Richard was involved in a large contract for passenger information and station communications system upgrade for HS1, the UK’s first section of high-speed rail, between St Pancras International, Stratford International, Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International.

Having spent over 20 years in the industry Richard has a deep understanding of the challenging procurement processes and governance around what needs to be done and how you deal with the network of companies involved and because of the safety criticality of the environment any system that interconnects with the network has to have the relevant product acceptance and approval. Richard also knows only too well that the pace of innovation, due to the crucial necessity of governance and safety, is not as quick as in other sectors.

Network Rail from an infrastructure point of view and the franchised train operators have gone through many changes in recent years, the most recent being the creation of 5 regions having a degree of autonomy and a reduction in ‘red tape,’ these changes bring both benefits and challenges for the supply chain.

Richard has found that one of the key benefits is that suppliers can get access to the decision makers quickly, but with the added challenges that you’ve have multiple people to talk to. Further change is underway with the recently announced Great British Railways. This new public body is being built to integrate the railways and deliver passenger-focused travel with simpler, modern fares and reliable services, bringing further alignment of train operators with the infrastructure side of the network.

NEC has been working with Network Rail to develop the CallTouch solution. CallTouch is an approved safety-critical incident and signalling control room telephony solution, which is used to ensure that calls from trackside phones are delivered to the correct incident management operator or signalling controller.

Richard explains that with NEC’s capabilities developed for the emergency services and their cloud infrastructure, there is great opportunity to leverage these in the rail sector. He believes that being mindful of the future whilst fixing today’s problems will be the future way of working in the sector and that the Network Rail design for reliability process will go some way to achieving this. It integrates a series of tools and methodologies into a supplier’s existing design processes to create documented, traceable and controlled evidence of reliability, availability and maintainability.

Richard sees one of the biggest innovations has been that Network Rail has opened the doors for dialogue with the supply chain. They have brought in a number of people from outside of the industry and set up a Digital Railway Programme to look at the railway of the future and how we can do things better. 

The Digital Railway Programme aims to support the industry with transforming the rail network for passengers, businesses, and freight operators, introducing modern signalling and train control technology to increase capacity, reduce delays, enhance safety and drive down costs. It is an industry-wide initiative that enjoys the support of government, train operators, freight companies, the supply chain, and trades unions.

The Digital Railway Programme is helping address the industry’s major challenges, introducing digital solutions in areas that will deliver the best value for money. The Railway Industry Association, of which NEC is a member, is also playing a key part in bringing the supply chain and key stakeholders together in support of transformation.

Richard knows that with NEC’s pedigree within safety, emergency services and technology segments, they’re well-placed to play a key role in the future of the railways in Europe and beyond. He sees safety, resilience and reliability as being cornerstones of the organisation.

The competition within the rail sector supply chain is to be applauded and welcomed because it keeps everybody honest and on their toes, and often the best solutions are from working  collaboratively with companies who could be seen traditionally as competitors. Collaborative working works because everyone knows that they’re all part of the same jigsaw puzzle.

Richard expanded on other future projects, a key one being HS2 with over 20,000 people involved in the project and others being consolidation and removal of trackside furniture, to improve rail worker safety and be more cost efficient. 

Richard believes that these sort of transformational infrastructure changes can be supported and enhanced by some of the software solutions that NEC have already developed, such as notification systems to the control room, video call dispatch, and text to voice and language translation for the many diverse languages in use across the UK.

The key to future innovation is listening to the network and operators in what they are trying to achieve and then building solutions to support those transformational activities.

Whilst Richard has found his first year challenging due to the pandemic and not being able to meet as many customers as he would like, he’s already in the process of signing a number of new contracts, so watch this space for news of those!

He also believes that the recent bringing together of a number of brands and teams into the Public Safety arena within NEC will really help drive synergies in the product roadmap that will help expand into other areas of the transport sector. 

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