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Women Inspiring Rail: A Q&A with Harriet Berwick, SilverRail Technologies

In the second interview for Global Railway Review’s Women Inspiring Rail series, Harriet Berwick, Product Manager at SilverRail Technologies, discusses her proudest moments in rail so far and who has been an inspiration during her rail career.

How did your career in rail begin and what does your current job involve?

Ten years ago, after spending time away travelling, I accepted a temporary position with Assertis Ltd. The role was primarily focused on accreditation testing for their new B2C website.

As I progressed within the company, I gained valuable experience in various roles, eventually becoming Head of Product. It was clear this is where my expertise and enthusiasm lay.

Eight years later, I was ready for a new challenge and I joined SilverRail almost a year ago.

My focus at SilverRail is on SilverCore (our ticket issuing system) and on our account-based ticketing product. Although my focus is on the UK, our platform provides for rail carriers globally. I’m always interested in understanding how other countries are embracing and improving their digital experiences.

What aspects of your job do you find the most challenging/rewarding, and why?

Seeing a project and product come to life and enabling users to gain real value out of something I have helped to build is the most rewarding aspect of my job. As a regular commuter into London myself I tend to use my own experiences as a passenger to shape what I work on and prioritise, so I do see huge amounts of value in what we are producing.

As a regular commuter into London myself I tend to use my own experiences as a passenger to shape what I work on and prioritise, so I do see huge amounts of value in what we are producing.

The most challenging aspect is trying to implement change. Rail is a complicated industry! With the franchising system and the number of players in UK Rail, change is a challenge. However, in an era where people’s expectation of delivery and the demand for excellence is at an all-time high, the rail industry must start listening to the passenger. I believe that this vital change is starting to happen with the likes of the Williams Rail Review. Focusing on the paying customer is critical to success.

What is it about the rail industry that are you most passionate about?

Removing complexity for the passenger. Rail passengers should be able to easily search, book and pay for tickets through whichever channel they choose, whether that be online, through a mobile-app or in person.

I also feel there is a deeper social responsibility to get more people choosing rail as a method of transport, primarily it is a much cleaner travel option than air or road and it’s also often faster and cheaper. By removing complexity and improving the customer experience, it becomes a far more attractive option.

What has been your biggest achievement/proudest moment so far in your rail career?

In 2015 whilst at Assertis, I was part of a team who succeeded in getting the Caledonian Sleeper website live three months before the new franchise took over – a first in UK Rail.

The sleeper service had never been its own franchise before and people ‘in the know’, recognise they are a challenge to retail online.

We successfully built a custom journey planner, a brand-new responsive website, mobile apps, a staff app to book people in on the train as well as extending the reservation booking horizon from 12 weeks to 12 months.

It was the most challenging and equally the most rewarding project I have worked on so far in my rail career, I am extremely proud that I was a part of it. The Caledonian Sleeper is an institution and it’s fantastic to see their new trains in action.   

How has the rail industry evolved since you joined? What have been the biggest changes?

The industry has become far more digital. When I first started in the rail industry, aside from a few self-print and mobile tickets (old style text message), everything was focused on magstripe. There’s now a huge push towards smart ticketing – whether that be barcode or smartcard.

Improved customer experience is definitely at the forefront of retailing now and TOCs must provide passenger charters, service quality and performance statistics to their customers.  

There has certainly been a shift in focus on improving customer service, for instance the introduction of delay-repay and the train companies, ‘Customer Promise’. There is also the added pressure of instant customer feedback with the rise of social media.

Improved customer experience is definitely at the forefront of retailing now and TOCs must provide passenger charters, service quality and performance statistics to their customers.  

Who within the rail community has been an inspiration to you, and why?

I have been fortunate enough to work alongside people I really admire and respect over the last 10 years in the rail industry. They are passionate about making a difference for UK rail and are pushing for change.

I have been fortunate enough to work alongside people I really admire and respect over the last 10 years in the rail industry. They are passionate about making a difference for UK rail and are pushing for change.

Early on in my career I worked briefly with Megan Spencer-Rigby (at Assertis), she pushed and encouraged me to see my role in a different light. She saw us creating something beyond just a product within a technology company; I had the power to help shape a better digital experience for passengers.

Megan is amongst many people I’ve worked with who have empowered, inspired and supported me throughout my career in rail so far.

What can be done to diversify the workforce in the rail sector? What advice would you give to those thinking about pursuing a career in rail?

The rail industry has definitely become more diverse in the 10 years I’ve worked within it. For instance, at SilverRail, approximately a third of the employees are women. However, despite this encouraging number, I think the wider industry still has a way to go when it comes to diversity. Actively approaching schools and universities promoting a rewarding career in rail could help diversify the sector, as well as offering flexible working hours and inclusive environments. 

Companies such as SilverRail and Network Rail, who have objectives such as, ‘Inspire’, are doing a great job in promoting and attracting a more diverse workforce, along with organisations such as ‘Women in Rail’ who encourage and embrace diversity. 

Yes, rail is a complex industry, but it is also one that is becoming more interesting and rewarding to work in all the time.

My advice to those wishing to pursue a career in rail is to find somebody you find inspiring or simply find an industry problem you would like to work on. Follow industry professionals on LinkedIn and reach out to them for guidance, experience or support. 

Yes, rail is a complex industry, but it is also one that is becoming more interesting and rewarding to work in all the time.

If you would like to take part in the Women Inspiring Rail series, or would like to nominate a colleague to part, please email: Eve De Clerk, Junior Editor, Global Railway Review

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