From starting his career behind the ticket window to becoming Managing Director of London’s newest rail line – and the country’s busiest, with up to 738,000 journeys per day – Mike Bagshaw has seen a lot in his 34 years in the railway industry.
Bagshaw was appointed Managing Director of MTR Elizabeth line, the operator of Transport for London’s (TfL) Elizabeth line service, in February 2023. And despite witnessing significant shifts from privatization to digitization throughout his career, he hasn’t lost sight of the basics that are key to a smooth operation.
These basics boil down to improving infrastructure and minimizing delays, which key partners such as Network Rail and Heathrow Airport, along with company’s client, TfL, have helped to achieve. According to Bagshaw, it is these technological advantages, along with innovation and agility, that set the Elizabeth line apart.
The inventive use of virtual reality programs for driver training, for example, reduces the time it takes to get a new driver up to speed with the job. Meanwhile, new systems enable control staff to pinpoint exactly where drivers are at any given time to get services back up and running as quickly as possible in the event of a disruption.
“We’re one of the highest-performing railways in the United Kingdom. We were the highest performing railway, and we need to get back to that top spot, but we provide the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the Transport for London group, which includes the London Underground,” Bagshaw tells The CEO Magazine.
“We monitor and track every element of our performance on an almost daily basis. We have a huge screen that says what the current performance is, and if it has fallen, what the cause is. This is so we can work with each of our partners to understand what’s going on, and how we can stop that from happening again.”
So close are those relationships, Bagshaw reveals, that Elizabeth line staff are even seconded to work with partners, and in turn, clients like TfL are invited to contribute to Elizabeth line decision-making. This collaborative approach has been so successful that Bagshaw and his team have received awards jointly with organizations such as facilities management company FES.
“If something’s going wrong on the day, we’d like people to be there on the ground, to understand what’s going wrong and how we can stop that particular thing from happening again. Then I can talk to my equivalent and think how we can resolve this together,” Bagshaw explains.
“Working hand in glove like that, and having integrated teams with common goals, is important. We provide the overall guiding mind between the various parties we work with, overseeing the delivery of the end-to-end railway through a number of third-party suppliers.”
Industry leaders that have inspired and influenced Bagshaw include Chris Green, the former Managing Director of long-distance passenger train company Intercity, and Adrian Shooter, who was the driving force behind Chiltern Railways after it was privatized in the 1990s.
Bagshaw admires Green, who has been supporting the Elizabeth line in a consultancy role, for his focus on customers, growth and encouraging more people into the rail industry, while cutting through bureaucracy to streamline processes.
Shooter, who passed away last year, was best known for leading Chiltern Railways between 1996 and 2011 after it was privatized, and for founding the Vivarail engineering company in 2012.
“He had an ability to drive growth and innovation, to look to the future and not be dissuaded by the many people or organizations that will try to stop you, or give you reasons you can’t do something,” Bagshaw recalls.
“In any industry, particularly one as complex as the British rail industry, you’ll always have people that say, ‘you can’t do that’. The successful leaders I work with have been people who have managed to cut their way through that and been able to have significant influence with their industry partners and make change happen.”
As a result, Bagshaw’s approach is to be visible to his employees, and talking to frontline staff daily to understand what can be improved.
“You always find out things you couldn’t possibly know if you just stayed in the office,” he says. “That gives us a culture of openness. People feel they can talk to me and my executive and management colleagues. We take that very seriously.”
That combination of industry experience and exposure to great leaders has given Bagshaw clarity on what he’s there to achieve.
“It is quite simple, really,” Bagshaw says. “My role now is to turn this into a high-performing railway that absolutely delights its customers. My focus is to provide a safe, boringly reliable service and an absolutely fantastic customer experience.”