Kelly Warburton, Managing Director UK & Europe, Unipart Rail

Unipart Rail started its journey with RIA some 25 years ago when the rail manufacturer and supplier first joined membership. Kelly Warburton, Managing Director UK & Europe of the company, and a RIA Board member, talks about the benefits she’s seen from membership, in her #MyRIAstory.

It is clear from Kelly that she’s had an extensive career working in the rail sector. Starting at Alstom in 2001, Kelly joined NRS, now Unipart Rail, in 2004 and worked her way up through Unipart’s commercial division.  Today Kelly sits on the Unipart Rail Board and the Unipart Group Leadership Team and is hugely passionate about the rail industry.

Joining the Board

Since starting, she’s been a keen advocate of the rail sector, the careers it can provide and its importance for the UK - both Kelly and Unipart Rail are leading the way in a number of areas. Appointed a RIA Board member in 2020, Kelly feeds into RIA’s strategy and direction, directly impacting the work of the association.

You really can get all you need, and I encourage all organisations in the sector to join.

“It was a real honour and a privilege to be asked to be on the Board – it is a really impressive team with lots of experience. It goes to show that RIA is there for everybody - there is a role for people of all backgrounds”, she tells us. She says it given her the “feeling that I can have a voice.”  

She’s equally proud of the work RIA does, urging companies to get involved. As Kelly explains, RIA membership is often a matter of what you make of it: “you can use your membership as much or as little as you like. There is no end to the amount you can take it from RIA – it is like a vast library – you can pick out what you want to do”.  There is so much!

Leading the way on innovation
During Kelly’s time at Unipart, the company has become one of the leading organisations in promoting innovation in rail. 

A member of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) – the £92 million partnership between academia and industry to support innovation in the sector - Unipart Rail opened the Technology and Innovation Hub on behalf of UKRRIN at their site in Doncaster in 2021. The hub is supported by leading universities including Huddersfield, Southampton, and Birmingham, and other organisations including, RSSB.

What was clear to me from the beginning was that we didn’t have enough opportunities to engage with all the key players in rail on a global scale

The site offers a location for companies to see the latest thinking in the sector and a space for new ideas and collaboration. It was supported by RIA, the Network Rail R&D Programme and a number of other organisations.

Kelly stresses this kind of partnership between academia and industry is going to be absolutely critical going forward, and that RIA has a role to play: “[RIA] can bring some of the best brains with new ideas and solutions to develop new products. It will really help develop that kind of innovation.”

Engaging the community

During 2021, RIA helped raise Unipart’s profile through its Rail Fellowship Programme, organising for local MP Dr Kieran Mullan to visit their site in Crewe and meet with staff. The visit was followed up by a press release covering the day and posts on RIA’s social media accounts. 

For Kelly, it was an important part of Unipart’s work to engage with the community: “It was a really good day from a local community perspective – showing to people that Unipart is a really strong part of the railway.”

L to R: Dr Kieran Mullan MP, Kelly Warburton, Max Sugarman from RIA

Working with RIA’s Functions

Unipart Rail works with all of RIA’s functions and teams and Kelly is clear about just how valuable the membership has been. 

It [Kieran Mullan's visit] was a really good day from a local community perspective – showing to people that Unipart is a really strong part of the railway.

For Dr Mullan too, it was a useful day to understand more about a local employer – and he left impressed: “It was great to meet the team at Unipart who are clearly focused on developing their staff and investing in and growing their businesses.”

He was equally impressed by Kelly as a role: “I met experts who have been given fantastic opportunities and they have a Senior Director who has worked her way all the way to the top as a role model,” he added.

Kelly was equally proud of how the day went. “It went really well for colleagues on site. Unipart is a big employer [in Crewe], so to get local MP is a strong message, showing the importance of the business.” 

It was a real honour and a privilege to be asked to be on the Board – it is a really impressive team with lots of experience. 

Kelly tells us how various members of the Unipart team have been able to access many different Groups and networking opportunities, including RIA’s Technical Interest Groups on issues such as signalling and safety - enabling connections with different companies and organisations.  Similarly, on exports, Unipart Rail have exhibited at RIA-organised pavilions at InnoTrans and Dubai’s Middle East Rail, finding both experiences useful.

Representation to Government and those who make the decisions on the railways is also a major function of RIA, which lobbies Governments and politicians both UK-wide and across the nations and regions of the UK. Kelly says this is a key part of its role: “It gets the Government to hear the voice of the supply chain, and they get the whole picture, which is really important”.

She concludes with a reflection on the challenges ahead for rail – “an amazing form of transport with a real role to play in the green economy.” But Kelly is honest that there “may be a few bumps in the road” with the industry needing to get on with delivering efficiently in a tough economic environment.

Whatever happens next, though, RIA will support the supply chain, she says. “You really can get all you need, and I encourage all organisations in the sector to join”.

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