Chris Nash, railway operations expert, on the mould-breaking Heathrow Express, the beauty of Northern Ireland’s countryside, and being a hero, just for one day…
Interview by Steve Long
Chris Nash was born and raised in Hertfordshire, England. He began his railway career straight from school at London King’s Cross as a traction trainee. He has held several supervisory and managerial positions in the UK, including HQ Traincrew Officer for West Anglian and Great Northern Railway, and Deputy Route Director for Silverlink Metro in London. He spent over 10 years with Rail for London, including as Head of Operations, and more latterly Traincrew and Operations Strategist, where he was also the operations evaluator for Train Operator Concession bids. Chris currently lives in Stevenage Old Town, Hertfordshire.
Which project that you’ve worked on during your career are you most proud of?
It’s a close call between Crossrail and Heathrow Express. I have to go for Heathrow Express, as in many ways it was an operational mould breaker. It was one of the first, if not the first, railway undertaking to include customer service as an integral component of operations. I was particularly proud to be involved in the pro-active recruitment of female operations staff, including train drivers. Indeed, Heathrow Express became the number one UK employer of female operations staff, a legacy that continued for many years.
“I was particularly proud to be involved in the pro-active recruitment of female operations staff, including train drivers.”
If you could offer a client one piece of advice based on your specific area of expertise, what would it be?
Involve operations expertise at the earliest opportunity. Often on major rail projects, engineers can understandably be driven by design and build milestones, without the inclusion of the end-user voice. Operators informing the early design stages can often reduce change requirements later in the life cycle of projects with the potential for reduced project costs and delays.
“Operators informing the early design stages can often reduce change requirements later in the life cycle of projects.”
What is the biggest challenge that the global rail sector is currently facing?
Without doubt, it is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on railway patronage, in particular commuter travel. Globally, commuters’ working patterns have completely changed, and although I can foresee a strong re-emergence, in particular leisure travel as confidence returns, it’s going to take several years for a return to anything like pre- COVID levels. The challenge is how to react and forward plan for this game-changer, whilst remaining competitive and with the ability to flex the delivery of rail services appropriately as demand changes.
What was your most rewarding experience on the Crossrail project?
Working as the Shadow Operator, ensuring that the future operator had a voice during the project design stages, including stations, signalling, traincrew facilities and train depots. Working with Crossrail project engineers in a ‘one team’ approach proved the most satisfying method for delivering the infrastructure and systems for the future operator.
As the person responsible for benchmarking the Rail for London Traincrew Strategy, pre-concession appointment, this gave me an invaluable insight into the fulfilment of requirements during design, development, discussions and decisions.
If you could visit and travel on any rail system in the world you’ve never been, where would you go?
I would love to see Japan’s Tokyo Metro in the rush hour! It’s always fascinated me how they manage vast numbers of passengers. I would also like to feel the atmosphere and culture of the people travelling and those operating the train services during the peaks.
What is your favourite railway journey?
I particularly enjoy the journey in Portugal from Faro to Lagos. The route meandering through orange groves feels that you could almost touch them. However, by complete contrast and closer to home, I would plump for Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine, in Northern Ireland, starting off from the thankfully saved and recently re-opened terminal station, with its distinctive Italianate clock tower, through to Coleraine.
On the 40-minute journey, you are graced almost immediately upon departure by the line literally nestling alongside the River Foyle, opening up to panoramic views across the Foyle estuary, continuing through lush rural countryside, soaring cliffs, some of Northern Ireland’s most unspoilt golden beaches windswept by the North Atlantic Ocean with views that extend beyond belief. At the same time, you travel through one of Northern Ireland’s longest tunnels beneath the Mussenden Temple, eventually crossing the River Bann estuary via an impressive swing bridge into Coleraine.
My all-time favourite track is …
‘Heroes’ by David Bowie. I was lucky enough to have been given a tour of the Hansa Studios in Berlin, Germany, where the track and album was recorded, and stood at the window where Bowie looked out towards the nearby Berlin Wall and observed the couple that inspired the lyrics.