A dedicated 'super group' for the rail industry has been officially launched - with the promise of providing the most comprehensive line-up of support ever assembled in the West Midlands region.
The West Midlands Rail Alliance is aiming to become a hub of activity for a sector that employs 35,000 people and has already reinforced its intentions by announcing networking breakfasts, interactive seminars, overseas trade missions and a web portal to £3 billion of contract opportunities.
Speaking at the launch event at the Windmill Village Hotel in Coventry, executive director Colin Flack also declared his interest in boosting the skills of people working within the industry, both from an operational perspective and through a groundbreaking management and leadership programme.
"When people talk about 'rail' they immediately think of the East Midlands, but the reality is that we have perhaps the widest cross section of expertise of any of the regions in the UK, including manufacturers, component suppliers, design agencies and even operators," said Mr Flack, who also runs Motorail, a railway engineering and logistics company.
He added: "The challenge for us is to bring all of these businesses together so that we can tackle joint issues, influence key decisions and make the most of the global opportunities that are undoubtedly out there."
Funded by Advantage West Midlands and hosted by the Manufacturing Advisory Service - West Midlands, the West Midlands Rail Alliance's first aim is to enlist members from all parts of the industry to add their expertise and commitment.
The future ambition is to raise the region's profile through the launch of a new website, the creation of 'ambassadors' and a new promotional DVD to promote the diversity of the sector.
"This is a great opportunity and one that I hope companies in the West Midlands will get firmly behind," said Mr Flack. "We are in the process of creating a steering group, which will guide our development, and then it will be a case of recruiting members.
"Ideally, we'd like to get about 150 companies involved in the first year and then who knows after that."
Backed by more than £300,000 of funding from AWM, The West Midlands Rail Alliance will signpost rail companies to appropriate support and guidance, encouraging its members to achieve world class manufacturing status, strive for innovation and boost skills through participation in regional and national initiatives.
The calendar of activities for 2008 is already starting to take shape, with the official launch followed by sponsor-ship of the InfraRail 2008 event at the NEC later this month.
This is only the start of what will be a busy period for the initiative, with trade missions to India and China in the pipeline, not to mention a major presence at InnoTrans 08 in Berlin - the world's largest railway exhibition. Mr Flack added: "We are a completely new organisation and this gives us the freedom to start with a blank canvas in terms of ideas and what we want to do."
David Wright, chief executive of MASWM, added his support for the new group.
He said: "We are delighted to see a specialist organisation set up to represent and boost the region's expanding rail sector so that it can reach its full potential and create strong job opportunities going forward."