OFF THE RAILS: Ben Cullen – Knowledge Transfer Manager at Innovate UK Business Connect

Posted: 25 April 2024 | | No comments yet

Rail at Innovate UK Business Connect’s Knowledge Transfer Manager, Ben Cullen, is the subject of this week’s ‘Off the Rails!’

ben cullen

What was your route into rail and transport?

I left school at 18, and fairly quickly after, started an apprenticeship in the Merchant Navy as an engineer. I spent 11 years ‘at sea’, which includes three and half years of study and ‘on the job’ training.

After eleven years, I wanted to take the skills I’d learned and take a shore-based role. I have always had an interest in the rail industry, so moving in to rolling stock maintenance seemed like a logical decision. That was in Spring 2016, and I haven’t looked back. I have worked for Virgin Trains East Coast, LNER, Hitachi, and now I’m very happy to have taken up a role with Innovate UK Business Connect helping to facilitate innovation in the UK rail industry.

How important is climate resilience in the transport infrastructure of the future?

I would say climate resilience is extremely important. The UK rail network in recent years and months has been tested greatly up against the increasingly volatile climate. It’s fair to say, that heavy to extreme weather events will increase in their number and regularity. Therefore, we as an industry have to adapt to these changes, and innovation can and must play a significant role in evolving and improving climate resilience throughout the UK rail environment.

What types of green infrastructure solutions do you think should be considered in transport infrastructure planning?

Green and blue infrastructure is under-utilised in the transport sector. It can help to mitigate the adverse effects of pollution, heat, flooding, and noise. This can be in the form of climate resilient interventions like SuDs, bioswales, permeable paving, rain gardens and planting. Climate resilient infrastructure is an increasingly hot topic – we have recently seen flooding of stations and disruption to transport.

How can transport infrastructure be adapted for noise pollution?

The utilisation of green and blue infrastructure-based solutions can help to naturally mitigate noise pollution whilst bringing other benefits such as visual and health related positive impacts.

What is the most exciting accessibility feature you’ve seen in action recently?

A month ago, I was invited to a technology demonstration by Neil Barnfather MBE, at London Euston station, to witness the impressively innovative GoodMaps app. The app offers innovative AI-driven indoor navigation that enables everyone the freedom and autonomy to discover and interact with the world around them.

The app can be used by anyone but has been designed to improve accessibility and inclusivity for those that need it. The app provides directions within Euston station, audibly and visually through augmented reality utilising the phones camera. Euston is one of a few stations where the app can be used, but there are more stations that will be added to the platform in the near future.

This year is Global Railway Review’s thirtieth birthday, its pearl anniversary. Do you have a pearl of wisdom for the industry?

A great deal of change has happened to the UK rail industry over the last 30 years. In that time, there is a lot of which we can be proud. As we look to the next 30 years of rail, we need to be striving to meet our ‘Net Zero’ targets, while also promoting and incentivising passengers to choose rail where practical, instead of opting for the car –in addition to logistics companies choosing rail freight instead of road haulage.

Innovation and collaboration nationally, and internationally needs to be promoted yet further. Working together, we can overcome the challenges that might arise in the years to come.