Paul Plummer explains why Britain Runs on Rail

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Ahead of the launch of the new Britain Runs on Rail campaign, the RDG’s chief executive, Paul Plummer, is on a mission to get this positive message across – one that he hopes will boost pride amongst people working across the rail industry, as well as build support amongst the public for continued investment in rail.

‘The unprecedented investment going into the railway is a story I’m determined to take to the wider world,’ says Paul. ‘As an industry, we need to raise public awareness of how taxpayer and passenger money is spent. And with rail companies delivering over £50 billion of improvements as part of the Railway Upgrade Plan to build a bigger and better railway, it’s crucial we start getting that message out there.’

Britain Runs on Rail is due to launch in the autumn. Across the country, the general public – including rail passengers and non-rail users – will see a series of innovative adverts. The ads are designed to be thought-provoking, evoking a sense of ‘Britishness’ with symbolic representations of the railway. They’ll show the ever more vital role of the railway and explain why improvements are necessary.

The campaign has been developed by the RDG, which represents Network Rail as well as freight and train operating companies. Says Paul, ‘This is the first industry-wide campaign of its kind since the 1980s and it’s great to see all elements of the rail industry supporting it. The RDG has led the initiative, but Britain Runs on Rail is very much about bringing together Britain’s rail companies and this is reflected in the ads themselves.’

RailStaff is excited to support the campaign and readers will have seen features in the previous editions.

Paul Plummer was appointed last September and took up the position two months later, succeeding the widely respected Michael Roberts. He has the advantage of a long involvement with the rail industry, witnessing up close the industry’s recent transformation.

‘Having worked for the railway for much of my career, I’ve seen at first hand how the industry has changed in the last couple of decades. I’m focused on ensuring that this continues and we go on to build the bigger and better railway that the nation needs,’ says Paul.

Economic success

For Paul Plummer, Britain’s railway is an essential part of the country’s economic dynamic. Plummer read economics at Exeter University and went on to gain an MSc in economics at York.

‘Britain Runs on Rail explains the ever more crucial role of the railway,’ he says. ‘The Railway Upgrade Plan is the biggest programme of investment in the railway since the Victorian era. Investment is needed to maintain and build the railway passengers want and the country needs.’

It is a remarkable vote of confidence in an industry once seen to be in decline.

Massive growth

Central to Britain Runs on Rail is the ambition to throw a spotlight on the railway, not just as a means of transport but as an economic lynchpin.

Paul Plummer continues, ‘It’s an extraordinary story of transformation to meet massive growth in demand – both from passengers and freight; a story of how the railway enables housing, jobs and economic growth. The railway and its supply chain now supports 216,000 jobs nationwide and pays up to £4 billion in tax to the public purse, boosting the UK’s productivity by £10 billion a year.


‘Taxpayers are investing billions in the railway and passengers are paying an ever greater share of the day-to-day cost of running services. Our goal is to sustain support from the public, private sector and government for continued investment. In this way we can build the bigger and better railway that our growing number of passengers and the country need and want.’

Economics of success

The RDG under Paul Plummer is setting about telling the story of today’s railway, highlighting its increasingly crucial role. It’s a challenge the former group strategy director at Network Rail relishes. Plummer spent 13 years at Network Rail responsible for the development of corporate strategy. He has also worked for the rail regulator, the ORR, where he was chief economist and director of economics and finance. The economics of success form a common thread, from the quays down below Exeter University up through positions at Rothschild’s Global Financial Advisory division and NERA Economic Consulting, to a demanding leadership role at the RDG.

Paul lives with his family just outside London and commutes in to the RDG’s offices near the Barbican. In his spare time, he enjoys running and is a keen kayaker – he recently completed a canoe trip from Devizes in Wiltshire to Westminster, a distance of 125 miles.

The focus at the RDG is on enabling rail companies to succeed in delivering a successful railway, bringing together all operators with Network Rail and HS2.


Why launch a campaign now? ‘Research has shown us that the way to engage with the public most positively is to explain the role and purpose of the railway,’ says Paul. He stresses, ‘It helps define national identity. We use this engagement to then tell the story of the improvements.’

Plummer is aware of the hard work ahead. ‘We know we need to do more to raise public awareness of how money from taxpayers and passengers is improving journeys and why this investment is necessary.

‘We’re engaging across the industry with passenger groups and business organisations, all of whom have been really supportive of the campaign. The Department for Transport has been very encouraging, including the new Secretary of State,’ says Paul.


The ads have become something of a talking point at the RDG’s offices. Paul Plummer continues, ‘The images we’re using are intended to be thought-provoking. We have worked with leading creative directors and photographers to design the artwork. I’ve just seen the drafts and they’re looking great: unfortunately I can’t give away any more details as the images remain top secret until launch date. But readers should keep an eye out for them appearing in the autumn.’

The ads are underpinned by facts and figures fundamental to the campaign, highlighting how the railway is driving economic growth and investment in the industry benefits everyday lives.

Rail logo

Once again, the British Rail double arrow logo is being pressed into action – it has long survived as a symbol of rail identity and marker for railway stations.


Paul explains, ‘The other aspect of the campaign that your readers are bound to have noticed is the reworking of the national rail logo as the campaign identity.

‘We wanted to take this iconic feature of our railway, give it a modern twist, but most importantly use it as a way of demonstrating how rail companies are working together as one railway, to deliver for passengers and the country. The eagle-eyed amongst your readers will see how the different colours are symbolic of different rail company logos.

‘The ads will be displayed on billboards and posters around the country as well as digitally. They will also appear on the railway’s advertising spaces, on trains and in stations.’

No time like the present

Railways will always remain a much debated area of public life. Is this really a good time to be launching the campaign?

‘Maybe there’s never an ideal time to start this campaign but it’s needed now more than ever,’ says Paul.

He warms to his theme, ‘Our industry is seeing unprecedented amounts of change and investment which is why rail companies are working closer together to improve performance, tackle capacity issues and improve customer experience.

‘Yes, there are challenges ahead, but Britain Runs on Rail gives us all the chance to build on the passion and energy we have for the railway to a nationwide audience. Whether that’s friends, family or colleagues, Britain Runs on Rail is your opportunity to promote the railway: use the ads as a talking point, debate the issues they throw up – we want this kind of engagement to create interest and awareness.

‘Don’t worry if people don’t agree with you – we all know the railway is a highly complex industry that can provoke strong feelings!

‘On a more individual note, don’t forget to take part in the competition: tell us why Britain Runs on Rail and you’ll be in with a chance to win return Eurostar tickets to Paris! Readers of RailStaff will see the Britain Runs on Rail lapel badges featured on the front cover of this issue (many rail companies will also be stocking these). Do take one and wear it with pride.’


‘If we’re to succeed in doing this, we have to bring people with us – and Britain Runs on Rail is crucial to building and sustaining support for the railway.

‘I’m passionate about telling this story to the public, harnessing the massive enthusiasm for the railway across the industry to achieve this. And I’m looking forward to having that national conversation, painting a picture of our growing industry and the positive impact it has on all our lives.’

Britain Runs On Rail – achievements

  • By 2019 there will be 170,000 more rush-hour seats on trains into London: 20 per cent more than in 2014.
  • 30 per cent more seats on trains into cities across the north of England, with £1 billion invested to make room for 44 million more passengers a year.
  • Our work to electrify main lines connecting our cities will cut delays and increase capacity.
  • Better stations throughout the country – whether large city-centre stations such as Edinburgh, London Bridge and Birmingham New Street as well as many smaller stations such as Llandudno, Market Harborough and Rochester.
  • Plans to modernise train tickets will see the phasing out of the orange paper ticket as more and more people use mobile devices and smartcards.


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