Darren James, CEO of Keltbray

Few rail professionals have had as illustrious a career as Darren James, Chief Executive of Keltbray. In the first ever #MyRIAStory blog post, we spoke to him about his career journey and his work with RIA.

Darren James began his career on a student placement with Costain where he worked on the A55 Conwy Crossing. After graduating from Surrey with a degree in civil engineering, he rejoined Costain’s graduate programme in 1990 and spent the next 20 years working on highway projects. He worked his way up the organisation, becoming Managing Director for infrastructure in 2007, with rail in his portfolio.

Around a year before, in 2006, Costain had joined RIA as a member, and Darren said he felt it was clear early on how much value there was in being part of a trade body: “one highlight [of being a member] is helping to understand the key customers and having access to relevant figures in each body, which helps prepare offerings to clients [allowing them] to be successful.”

Supporting the industry

Darren quickly joined the RIA Board, where he was a key part of setting the strategic direction of the trade body. In his role as Board Member, RIA’s work in acting as a bridge between suppliers and clients continued, or as Darren terms it in our interview - helping businesses “really get into the fabric of major customers”.  He is really positive about the role a strong voice in the industry can play - “if RIA asks, they’ll normally get an audience with senior figures in the railway industry”, he adds.

It is clear whilst we are speaking how passionate Darren is about the rail supply sector and the work it does. Darren has worked not only on RIA’s Board but has been the Industry Sustainability Champion for the Rail Sector Deal, an agreement between Government and industry to deliver the most value from rail investment. 

One highlight [of being a member] is helping to understand the key customers and having access to relevant figures in each body which helps prepare offerings to clients [allowing them] to be successful.

In his role as Champion he’s been supporting the Rail Supply Group’s efforts to increase the visibility of work in the sector, last year launching the Work Visibility Pipeline Charter. The Charter has seen over 340 companies sign up and agree to publish their pipelines of work, thereby helping SMEs to plan and succeed. 

A number of trade bodies continue to support the Charter, with Darren claiming it was “another example of RIA being in tune with its members”, showing it can help support members of all sizes, not just the large companies. 

Backing electrification

And it’s not just visibility that Darren cares about. In April 2020, Darren moved to Keltbray who have been one of the key suppliers of electrification work across the UK. Long before his move, Darren had been a strong supporter of the need to electrify more of the UK’s railways. 

It is clear that RIA works hard to benefit all its members not just the major ones.

He praised the role RIA has played campaigning to electrify the UK’s railways, saying the organisation was “instrumental in blowing away the myth that rail electrification could not be done affordably” - referring to RIA’s Electrification Cost Challenge Report, which showed electrification projects can be delivered at up to half the cost of some past problem schemes. The campaign continues to push for further electrification schemes to be rolled out, in order to decarbonise the network by 2050.

Helping during the pandemic

We conclude by touching on the past 18 months, where the industry has faced major changes under the Coronavirus pandemic. Darren joined Keltbray a week into the first lockdown and agrees that it was a hard time for the industry. However, many construction companies continued to deliver – at one point in the March 2020 lockdown, rail work accounted for 25% of all construction activity in the UK.

Darren speaks positively however about the role of trade bodies during the pandemic, saying rail came out well from it, with RIA sending almost daily emails to members to keep them informed of the fast moving situation. He highlights RIA and the Construction Leadership Council as two of the most active organisations during that time. 

Looking to the Future

As he looks to the future, he is positive about the role of the industry, highlighting large transformative projects like Crossrail and HS2 which are coming down the track. And he’s similarly positive about RIA’s role in the industry.

“RIA is respected as an organisation and is worth going to for the supply chain to get access in a fair and transparent way”, he concludes. “It is clear that RIA works hard to benefit all its members, not just the major ones.”


Interested in becoming a RIA Member?

Click here to see how RIA can support you , or contact RIA's Membership Engagement Manager Rose Garber:

Email: [email protected]
Phone: +44 (0)7824 665 007