We have hand picked some of the leading figures within the rail industry to present at this year's event. Find out a bit more about each of our speakers below.
After leaving Leeds University where he had been researching in organometallic chemistry, Gary Cooper joined British Rail in 1984 being attracted to it as a commuter because of the then Government's and BR Chairman’s policy to ‘run the railway as a business’ that focussed on its customers.
Starting as a station supervisor, Gary moved through the management grades before becoming one of the first Commercial Directors for British Rail and later the Deputy Managing Director at Network SouthCentral - the BR-owned forerunner to Southern.
After privatisation, Gary undertook a number of roles for Connex at TOC and Board level including Group Engineering Director, Group Planning Director and Group Major Projects Director. In 2002 he was invited, by the Strategic Rail Authority, to take the then full-time post of Business Director for the industry’s National Task Force Punctuality (NTF). While retaining his role with the NTF, in 2007 Gary became a change consultant to the rail and bus industries before being asked to become Head of Operations at ATOC in 2009.
He became Director of Operations Engineering and Major Projects in May 2012 and Rail Delivery Group Executive Director Planning Engineering and Operations in November 2016.
His non-work interests include real ales; cooking, organisational design; classic cars; the works of JB Priestly; and walking in the English countryside.
George Bearfield is the Director of System Safety and Health for the railway standards and research body RSSB. He is responsible for RSSBs’ work to support the industry in all aspects of its health and safety management and assurance processes and capabilities. This work is underpinned by a core capability in assessing and understanding risk so that it is undertaken in an informed and evidence-based way.
George joined RSSB in 2006 and prior to this worked as a senior consultant at Atkins Rail, following previous roles in the consultancy and railway supply sectors. George has a PhD in Computer Science, specialising in railway risk modelling and is a Chartered member of the IET, and a Fellow of the Safety and Reliability Society. He is the visiting Professor of Railway System Safety at the University of Huddersfield and is an independent expert advisor to the board safety sub-committee of National Air Traffic Services (NATS).
Ian is the chief inspector of railways and director, railway safety, and an executive member of the board. He is responsible for the work of the Railway Safety Directorate, which strives to ensure dutyholders in the railway industry manage health and safety risks effectively and thus comply with their statutory duties.
The Secretary of State appointed him to the board with effect from 26 September 2008. Ian was educated at Imperial College where he attained a first class honours degree in chemical engineering, followed by a Master of Philosophy in control engineering and operations research at Cambridge University. He has worked in safety critical industries for more than 34 years: originally in the chemical pharmaceutical and automotive industries, where the roles performed spanned a wide spectrum from works/production management to project and technology management, delivering improvements in safety and quality.
Prior to joining ORR, he worked at ICI for 17 years then he spent eight years in the rail industry, working for Amey Rail and Amey Operations as both technical director and Quensh director and then Metronet Rail, where he had the leading role in safety management; he was a director of both infraco companies.
Mick Whelan is general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union. He has spent more than 30 years on the railway, and more than 30 years as an active trade unionist. He began as a guard, on British Rail’s Midland region, in 1984. He was, first, a member, and then a rep, for the National Union of Railwaymen (now the RMT).
When Mick became a train driver in 1988, he joined ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, and was elected regional organiser for its Midland region in 2000. Mick was elected general secretary of ASLEF in 2011 and, in the last seven years, has worked hard to re-engage with the other rail unions, the TUC, and the Labour Party, as well as engaging closely with other stakeholders in the railway industry.
In 2016, Mick became chair of TULO, the Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation, which co-ordinates the activities of the 13 trade unions which affiliate to the Labour Party, and, in September 2017, he was elected to the national executive committee of the Labour Party.
A chartered Health and Safety professional, Nicola joined the Costain Rail leadership team in 2016 and has worked in the rail industry for over 20 years, predominantly in contracting roles but also with Network Rail.
Nicola has also diversified into other sectors to gain and share learning. While with Network Rail as a Programme HSEA Manager, she also spent some time seconded into the behavioural safety team, where she found her passion for this subject. Nicola continued this work in her previous role as a SHE Manager in the Costain Highways team to change onsite behaviours, improving health and safety by challenging perceptions and doing things differently. She has also assisted with the company’s third party accreditation in behavioural management, a first in the UK.
Nicola sits as deputy chair on the industry safety leadership group, with a specific focus on worker health within the infrastructure contracting community, she also leads an industry driven piece of work on mental health, working with industry partners including the RSSB.
Throughout her career Nicola has developed, implemented and administered behaviourally driven Health and Safety programmes which have shaped and improved the lives of her colleagues, clients and the public. She has worked on an array of schemes that have included HS2, Crossrail stations and tunnel fit-out, station. Upgrades (including London Bridge and Derby station redevelopment), new build highways schemes and water treatment works.
Dr Richard Peters is chief medical officer at Network Rail. He provides assurance to the board, the company as a whole, regulators and the wider rail industry on the occupational health and wellbeing management of its c39,000 permanent employees.
Richard holds an honorary position at University College London Medical School as a clinical senior lecturer and works with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine to ensure a benchmark of standards for the teaching of the occupational medicine at medical schools throughout the UK.
He is an elected member of ARIOPS (Association of Railway Industry Occupational Health Practitioners) and part of the Global Chief Medical Officers Network powered by BUPA.
Prior to Network Rail he was chief medical officer at Capita Plc.
Sharon joined Network Rail in 2014 in Route Services as a process manager and in addition to her role became a mental wellbeing champion and mental health first aider, delivering presentations, training more champions, raising awareness and supporting colleagues experiencing stress and mental health conditions around the country.
Sharon speaks candidly about her own experience of depression and what more needs to be done to address the issue of mental health within the rail industry. Sharon is also a diversity and inclusion champion.
Simon joined Network Rail Anglia as COO about a year ago, coming from a defence and security background. The early years of his career were spent in warships and helicopters before commanding destroyers and a frigate, and later an aircraft carrier-based task group.
He has lived and served in Hong Kong and more recently the Middle East, where he led maritime operations in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
He spent a fair amount of time in the Ministry of Defence, running a range of operations but also a fascinating two years as an assistant to a government minister. Until recently, Simon spent more than three years heading up international policy and planning as well as running global defence relationships.
His focus and experience is around critical delivery, people, teams, change, performance and excellence in the context of demanding deliverables and conflicting priorities; with safety at its core.
Simon French is a graduate of the London School of Economics and joined the railway industry in 1982 as a management trainee.He held a number of operational posts in British Rail and worked on number of major railway projects including the Channel Tunnel and Heathrow Express.
In 1998, he joined the client organisation for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now known as HS1) as the head of operations and safety.
In 2004, Simon joined the newly formed Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB). After six years as deputy, in 2015 he was appointed to the role of chief inspector.
The RAIB is the independent body tasked with the investigation of railway accidents in the UK.