How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?

Contributions to the Festival of York Central which raised questions about the future of rail in York.

How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?
24th May, 6.00-8.00pm
National Railway Museum

Last week we ran an event at the National Railway Museum to explore the question: How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?

The event was chaired and introduced by John Nelson who has a long-standing involvement in the railways. In terms of considering the intersection of York Central and rail industry,  John described his interest as motivated by a ‘passion for the rail industry’, that he was still involved with three rail companies, a former trustee of the NRM and is a local resident, based in Holgate.

When John arrived in York in 1987 there were about 8,000 rail employees and about a quarter of the population some way dependent on the rail industry. The Carriageworks was closed due to political decision to “show the benefits of privatisation” and was at the time the most advanced facility in the UK. The loss of the Carriageworks meant the loss of many motivated people. The loss of higher-skilled jobs (and hence higher paid jobs) has lingered. John believes promotion of higher-end employment in York is needed – and that York Central is an opportunity.

Currently around a 1000 people in York work in the rail industry – a massive change in twenty years. Nationally, (via the Rail Industry Association website) it is noted that the rail sector is worth £36bn to the UK annually, with a tax benefit of £11bn annually, bigger than food and drink or pharmaceuticals. Across the UK jobs directly/indirectly associated with rail number just under 600,000, with 115,000 working directly within the system, 42,000 in the retail side, 250,000 in the supply side.

Can we re-find a role in the industry which might allow York to live up to reputation as a rail city?

The next speaker was Lynne Minett, who is Head of Learning and Events at NRM. Lynne’s role is to make collections engaging to all. Lynne said that she knows that people want to engage with the site and collection and acknowledged that in the past they haven’t always told York’s story well. York Central is a catalyst to:-

  • Reinvigorate South Yard and other outdoor spaces
  • Reinvigorate indoor displays
  • Create new central gallery linking two main buildings
  • Create a Wonderlab and a maker/tinkering space

The NRM are conscious of need to fill the STEM skills gap and that both the NRM and whole Science Museum Group have a role in this.

The NRM now working more closely with rail industry via the York Central Partnership and elsewhere. Through the Future Engineers initiative there will be a programme of events to focus on engineering and in particular encouraging young women into STEM.

The NRM very positive about rail industry on York Central giving an opportunity to being the story of railway up to present day.

The final of the three speakers was Alastair Morrison who works for Tracsis in Pride Park, Derby.

Pride Park is bounded by rail lines, river and the station. It is soon to be extended by the extra Triangle site. The initiative was supported politically when it started in 1990’s. It took 20 years (almost) to fill the site. Derby College has a large number of engineering courses and apprenticeships.

Pride Park has very good rail connectivity and road access. Bus services improved after temporary diversion of services demonstrated the need. Tracsis moved there for connectivity. There are the nearby Network Rail offices, a good network of collaborative companies and bigger pool of employees. There are lots of companies working in different aspects of the industry and the East Midlands Rail Forum is very active in promoting the industry. There are other supporting businesses too such as banking, food, property consultants, hotels etc.

Two of the post it notes on the rail industry contributed during the Festival of York Central


The event was then opened up for discussion.

1990s legacy of lack of investment

‘It was difficult during 1990’s. York was relatively prosperous and so it missed out on government funding. There was also in this period an escalation of land values which limited the type of businesses which can be attracted. Inward investment dried up too, which left the city dependent on the region’.

Museum – about the past but also for the future?

‘I am thinking about the ‘museum’ part of the title of the NRM. Does “the past” get in the way of thinking about the present and future?’ Lynne responded that there is a strong commitment that current industry needs to be focus of the museum now. NRM is partnering with companies in the industry to fund events. Alastair added that on Pride Park Roundhouse (College) offers ‘good facilities for events and as a shopfront to the site’.

What kind of railway businesses?

‘Can we generate rail activity?’

‘Any new activity  would probably on supply side – what strategy would deliver on the potential? How can the council as planning authority help drive change and overcome hurdles such as high land value?’

‘I work in the rail industry for Siemens, could HS2 could be brought into York either as station or for maintenance depot?’

‘There is still significant rail employment which will collapse if the issue of future of the industry is not addressed. Neither of the Universities do engineering; could this change? Or could York College grow to fill this gap?’

‘If York wants rail to grow, then all participants need to “sing from the same hymn sheet”. Regional development agencies in midlands very focussed on engineering – not the case in Yorkshire. There was no drive across the board to retain / maintain rail industry in York’.

Lynne noted: ‘York is a “City of Media Arts” which leaves engineering out and often makes NRM a lone voice for engineering’.

So, there is an image problem and a problem of advocacy with the universities. Isn’t there a digital strand to the rail industry? John Nelson replied that ‘yes there is, but we’d need a broader group than this to explore that’.

‘Does the training college at Doncaster create problem by draining skills from region, leaving gap for creation of training facility in York? We need to involve a wide range of partners and explore synergies – universities etc. Need a process to involve immediate partners (Network Rail etc) as a starting point’.

‘How did the HS2 training centre end up in Doncaster? Mainly due to mechanical engineering in Doncaster’.

‘The demise of Virgin Trains East Coast franchise might give a chance for new opportunities – new alliancing arrangement. Can we set up a conference to explore ideas? Local links are useful such as the Institute of Transport Studies in Leeds, and the closeness of Doncaster’.

It was noted that no-one from CoYC Economic Development at the meeting and that Make It York is very focused on tourism.

How to increase the number of people involved in the conversation

‘There is a possibility with York Central, but this needs buy-in from wider range of partners. We need engagement of local people in the process of development. Also the broader industry such as HS2 and construction / civil engineering’.

‘North Yorkshire LEP should be contacted. There is frustration with York in terms of tackling future employment’.

‘We don’t have an equivalent of Midlands Rail Forum. Should we form an equivalent? ‘Railway Industry Association cover supply side across the country, could they be involved in providing member information? ‘The lack of attendance tonight is a symptom of lack of stimulus – so how do we target and engage wider group’.

‘York Central has dominated discussion, but around access etc there has been no real discussion of wider issues of business nor what actually goes on within the site’.

‘Perhaps we need to frame a discussion about the rail industry in York, not just York Central. Perhaps the better question (that the title of this event) would be “Is there a future for the Rail Industry in York?”’

Next steps

  • Develop an advocacy process for the rail industry in York
  • Explore an event on alliancing opportunities and an event asking ‘Is there a future for the Rail Industry in York?’

Build university contacts in this area