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Exciting new chapter for First Class Partnerships (FCP)

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CEO Ian Horseman Sewell discusses a major merger, UK rail reform and building back green 

The UK’s leading independent supplier of strategic consulting services in the international public transport market has marked its 25th anniversary in style.

First Class Partnerships’ (FCP) merger with CPCS Transcom Limited (CPCS), a global management consulting firm specialising in infrastructure, is already proving hugely beneficial—not just for the merging companies, but also for their employees and partners.

CEO Ian Horseman Sewell, who is leading the expanded group’s UK and European operations, said:

‘There is a fantastic synergy the two firms and the merger has given us access to a well-established global operating platform backed by significant analytical expertise and a wealth of consulting resources. We are already deploying joint teams on projects we perhaps wouldn’t have pursued as separate organisations’.

Although FCP and CPCS have previously worked together successfully on high-profile jobs all over the world, the merger signals the start of an exciting new chapter for FCP, a company set up in 1996 by a group of board-level leaders from the then recently-privatised UK rail industry. They came together to bring the combined weight of their know-how, networks and experience to bear on public transport issues both in the UK and overseas.

UK rail reform 

FCP’s focus was and remains on delivering great outcomes for funders, suppliers, operators, governments and passengers. The combined expertise of FCP and CPCS will prove vital at a time of great change for the rail industry.

Ian said:

‘Market reform in the rail industry has to leverage relevant specialisation and expertise. It must be led by people who understand how the full railway system works. The way the industry has developed in recent times means that there are large numbers of deep specialists often operating in silos.

The number of people who intuitively understand the workings of the system is limited. But implementing the reform requires the government to have access to those
people and develop industry-wide training programmes to widen the opportunities for individuals to gain multi-disciplinary expertise.

The changes can’t be limited to contractual models. It is vital that significant cultural changes in UK rail are delivered. If we are to continue to achieve great things in the next chapter of the railways, it will be because we are proactive in using the latest analytical tools to leverage so-called big data. By doing so, we can ensure that everything we do and every decision we take is optimised in terms of service delivery for passengers and freight forwarders.

As an industry, there is a particular need to be a million times better at embracing the creativity and entrepreneurial flair of unsolicited yet viable proposals from the private sector and academia. We have to be much more successful in making sure they happen. We’re seeing this done well in places like California, Singapore and Toronto.

To date in the UK, collectively, we have a poor record of delivery on these “market-led” proposals and, with the prospect of future constraints on taxpayer-funded projects as a result of the economic effect of Covid-19, that must change’.

Build back green

Perhaps the biggest challenge and opportunity for the rail industry is reconciling fast-approaching national and sectoral target dates for net zero carbon with the coronavirus-generated slump in ridership, which has dramatically shifted mode share away from public transport.

Addressing this challenge fully and successfully will see the rail industry playing a truly material part in building a green economy.

Horseman Sewell adds:

‘Transport infrastructure will be a critical component of stimulus packages around the world and of the UK Government’s “build back green” and “build back better” agendas. If we fail to deliver appropriate new infrastructure, and in particular electrification, it will become impossible to hit carbon targets.

As an industry, we should always remember that rail holds a relatively low market share of journeys undertaken and the transport of goods. In both these areas, new customers will need to be attracted and retained by developing products that reflect modern-day expectations’.

There is every opportunity for this to happen. The improved connectivity created by projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail can transform poorly performing economic areas, as does the re-opening of routes that is taking place—particularly by providing improved access to jobs and education.

For freight, the level of activity during the COVID-19 restrictions has proved resilient; infrastructure investment to allow much longer inter-modal operations combined with new port and terminal facilities is removing large numbers of Heavy Goods Vehicles from the road network.

It has to be accepted that too much train haulage is provided by diesel power and that a programme of electrification will be needed to bring about change. Much work is being done by industry suppliers to reduce the cost of providing the necessary infrastructure, which will improve the business case for making early progress.

Not all routes will justify electrification, and it is encouraging that there are a number of projects in hand to develop the use of hydrogen as a source of power where lines have less traffic density.

In summing up Ian said:

‘The two grand ambitions of making transformational investments in transport infrastructure and operations and of achieving the challenging net carbon targets which rightly sit at the heart of the green agenda are a tantalising prospect. It’s one that FCP and the CPCS group as a whole is committed to, throughout our work helping countries, cities, investors and organisations’. 

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Ian Horseman Sewell is Vice President of CPCS’s UK and Europe division. He is also CEO at FCP, the international rail advisory firm that merged with CPCS in 2020.

This article was originally in the March 2021 issue of Rail Director, a publication managed by RailBusinessDaily.

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