In 2011, businessman Sir Robert McNulty was tasked by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) with assessing how the taxpayer could get better value for money from Great Britain’s railways. In his findings, McNulty reported that the cost of running the country’s railways would need to be reduced by 40 per cent to reach the levels spent on systems in France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, recommending that savings of at least £190 million could be achieved through innovation alone.
So, when the RSSB[Rail Safety and Standards Board]’s innovation programme director, Neil Webster, revealed that one project in the organisation’s portfolio has the potential to save the industry up to £1.8 billion across 40 years during a recent rail industry address, you can understand why a roomful of professionals were left sitting on the edge of their seats.
Neil was speaking at the Rail Technology Summit, held at the offices of international law firm Bird & Bird in London exactly a year to the day since dozens of techies, innovators and digital disruptors packed into the event’s predecessor, the Digital Rail Summit.
A former aerospace engineer, Neil is one of 10 members of staff, supported by 300 technical experts from the RSSB, who are employed to drive innovation and technology transfer. These colleagues come from the rail sector and also a number of non-rail industries, such as the automotive, digital media and pharmaceutical sectors – a combination which helps them to identify and introduce proven technologies.
The money-saving project that Neil spoke of is one of the shining examples of this proven process that the innovation team has followed more than 250 times. Vortex Exhaust Technology’s systems had proved effective in saving fuel in automobiles, trucks, and marine vessels by improving the efficiency of their diesel engines. The technology was originally born out of F1 during the 1970s and is a simple piece of kit that sits in an exhaust system to improve its economy.