OFF THE RAILS: RIA’s Chief Executive Darren Caplan

Posted: 4 April 2024 | | No comments yet

In this week’s installment of ‘Off the Rails’, I spoke to RIA’s Chief Executive Darren Caplan, at RIA’s Innovation Conference.

darren caplan

We are at RIA’s Innovation Conference in Newport, Wales – a fantastic event. I’m here with Darren Caplan, RIA’s Chief Executive. Darren, how are you finding the conference so far?

I’m really excited about it. People seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s our largest RIA Innovation conference ever. We’ve got record numbers, sponsors, and exhibitors. We’ve got, I think, 800 people coming over the door over the two days. So, lots of exciting things happening that I’m enjoying already. There’s a lot of networking opportunities, and as well as the speakers, we’ve got a Future Focus Zone, and exhibitor spotlights. We’ve also got a networking dinner this evening with street food where people can mingle and talk about the issues of the day. We’ve got students coming tomorrow, like an open day. So, it’s all really exciting!

We’ve got all kinds of different types of industry here as well, it’s not just the rail industry, so we can learn from them. From my point of view, it’s an interesting conversation already. We’ve had Uber, we’ve got National Highways coming later and the Met Office. All in all, lots of great content, lots of people, lots of network opportunities, and it’s our biggest ever. We are hoping for a great couple of days!

It really feels that there is a lot of interaction between different industries. How would you say the rail industry is collaborating now?

Well, I mean in the past I think it has been a bit of a silo. It’s a very old industry. It’s been going for 200 years. Next year our trade association is going for 150 years next year. But I think there is a lot more integration of transport modes now, trying to work closely together.

So, you have to work with buses, cars and active modes of travel. You have to work with aviation and shipping and have an integrated system. If we can encourage and get more people onto rail because they’ve come through other modes, that is the prize.

I also think other modes want to learn from each other as well. So, in terms of customer service, we can learn a lot from aviation in terms of long-distance travel ticketing, which is something that we are covering in our paper tomorrow, on retail and ticketing, and can we get more dynamic forms of people using the rail network.

So, there’s a lot of that going on with sharing good practice. I think these kinds of events enable people to come together and talk about the issues of the day, and innovation is key to that because innovation is something you can do in any transport mode, and you can modernise. That’s what we see here. I know in South Wales they’re looking at the light rail or the metro system in South Wales and that’s going to be a very modern form of transport, with modern forms of ticketing. Already they’re looking at a kind of Oyster Card, which is the only one outside of London. So, there’s already innovation with people learning from each other, these kind of events bring them together.

Is there a particular innovation you’d like to see by the end of this year?

I’m excited about the innovations we’re seeing here at the conference, I mean, we’ve already had robotic dogs.

I love those.

The robotic dog got the welcome address this morning, so I’m quite slighted by it. But the Robotarium and Cranfield University both have robotic dogs. We’ve got the University of Birmingham doing work in augmented reality, we’ve got IBM doing work in artificial intelligence, we’ve got 3D printing, and we’ve got energy and emissions calculators for work on rail. So, there’s so much innovation going on and I would say to anyone, “go down to the exhibitor halls, go to the other areas around the conference, and talk to all the exhibitors.”

The innovations are all there. I can’t say there’s a dominant innovation, but I think there’s lots of innovation which excites and inspires people.

It’s all exciting. RIA is 150 next year, Global Railway Review has its 30th birthday, its pearl anniversary. We’ve got a bit of catching up to do! Do you have a pearl of wisdom for the industry?

First, congratulations on your 30 years, GRR has done a great job and it is very strong on the international scene, and I think from RIA’s perspective, we do a lot on exports. So, if there are ways, we can work together on generating more export work, more goods, and services sales overseas.

The European Trade Association has a global market study, and it shows that rail is growing 3% every year by 2027. We can all get a part of that action working together with the intelligence you guys bring, the information – you know what’s going on around the world. If our members can harness that, then everyone succeeds. So, the pearl of wisdom would be let’s push on with exports in the years ahead.