Leading lights in industry and academia join new EWR Advisory Group to help deliver a safer, better, greener and fully accessible railway for communities and customers 

A new advisory group has been established by the East West Railway Company (EWR Co), bringing together the brightest and the best across a range of industries to act as a sounding board for new ideas and initiatives. The group will particularly look for and encourage ideas which drive EWR Co’s pledge to put communities, customers and the environment at the heart of its work.  

Chaired by Cambridgeshire businessman, Richard Deakin, CEO of Stratospheric Platforms Ltd, the panel of seven leaders in the fields of customer experience, civil and mechanical engineering, environment, disability and accessibility, digital technology and rail, have been brought into the project to inspire and challenge the EWR Co team as they continue to design and develop the critical new rail link.  

Simon Scott, Engineering Director at East West Railway Company said:

“East West Rail presents an opportunity to bring once in a lifetime connectivity to communities who live and work between Oxford and Cambridge: we don’t want this to be just another railway. We want this group to share their vast experience with all our teams - whether it’s information about emerging technologies, inclusivity, innovation in environmental protection, or examples of exceptional customer service in other industries – so that we can develop and build a truly inspirational and different new rail connection for the local communities we serve. 

“As the East West Rail project progresses and East West Railway Company continues to expand, we’re keen to fulfil our remit of positively disrupting the rail industry – to be bold and different and to challenge industry norms with a focus on local communities and customers right from the beginning of the project.” 

Richard Deakin, EWR advisory panel chair and CEO of Stratospheric Platforms Ltd said:

“It’s wonderful to join with specialists from across the spectrum of industries to play our part in developing this transformational rail link”.  

“As a Cambridgeshire business leader, I am excited about the opportunities East West Rail will bring in terms of linking businesses like ours with the best talent as well as connecting people who live between Oxford, Bicester, Bletchley, Bedford and Cambridge with high quality jobs. The many academic institutions, businesses and communities along the route will benefit hugely from the new rail connection as it will open up opportunities for collaboration, building on the reputation of the region as a centre of excellence for research. I’m delighted to be able to contribute to such an impactful project.” 

Richard is joined by Rachel Skinner, 156th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers; Tim Houter, co-founder of Hardt Hyperloop, Europe’s first operational hyperloop test facility; Dave Shemmans who brings experience in the regulated sector of utilities as Non-Executive director of Sutton and East Surrey Water; Giles Thomas who is Engineering Director for Phase 1 of HS2; Mary Doyle who is Founder of Rocket Girl Coaching, was named as one of the UK's most influential disabled people in 2018 and 2020, and featured as one of Britain’s 50 most remarkable women in the Daily Mail; and Chris Brady who has extensive airline passenger experience is the founder of Unum Aircraft Seating.  

The group will meet every two months and will be asked to actively challenge and share ideas and advice with the team at EWR Co across several critical themes: 

  • Setting a new benchmark for customers in the UK 
  • Achieving its target of becoming a net zero carbon railway 
  • Delivering biodiversity net gain 
  • Making the best use of innovative and cost-effective techniques throughout the life of the project, including digitalisation 
  • Making sure the railway is inclusive for all  
  • Advising on EWR’s design approach 
  • Helping the project to drive down costs 
  • Bringing innovation, experience and expertise to teams working across the whole project 


Notes to editors  

Panel members are:  

Richard Deakin Bsc(Hons), MBA, HonDEng, CEng, FRAeS Richard joined Stratospheric Platforms in November 2018 and became CEO in February 2019. He was previously Global Head of Aerospace in PA Consulting.  From 2010-2015, he was CEO of NATS; a privately-owned company with a turnover of £925M providing air traffic management and airport operations around the world.  During that time, NATS delivered the best period of safety, operational performance, and financial results on record, whilst incorporating challenges ranging from volcanic ash, Olympic Games airspace management, international business development, organisational restructuring and wide ranging political and media engagement. 

Rachel Skinner BSc(Hons) MSc(Eng) FREng CEng FICE CTPP FCIHT who is 156th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), focused on her theme of “Shaping Zero: Towards Net Zero Carbon for Infrastructure”. She is also an Executive Director at WSP and led its UK Transport business until taking up her ICE role. Rachel is a Patron of Women in Transport (a not-for-profit) having been one of its founding board members since 2005. 

Tim Houter is one of the four co-founders of Hardt Hyperloop. Hardt has realized Europe's first operational hyperloop test facility and is leading the development, implementation, and standardization of the hyperloop in Europe. Tim has a background in mechanical engineering at the Delft University of Technology, where he built record-breaking electric race cars among other things. Prior to Hardt, Tim was the team captain of the Delft Hyperloop team, which won Elon Musk's hyperloop competition. 

 Dave Shemmans is Non-Executive Director for Sutton & East Surrey Water a UK regulated water utility and for ElectraMeccanica, a NASDAQ listed electric vehicle company based out of Vancouver. Former long-term CEO of Ricardo PLC, a global engineering and environmental consulting business. Previous experience with Wavedriver Ltd, an electric vehicle drive company, The Technology Partnership, an engineering and technology consultancy and Marconi Instruments, a member of the GEC group. A degreed electronics engineer from UMIST and a graduate of the Harvard Business School. 

Giles Thomas is HS2’s Engineering Director for Phase One of the HS2 route running between London & Birmingham. He holds HS2’s Principal Designer duties under CDM 2015 for this section of the route. Since joining HS2 in July 2014, he has had accountability for the technical specification of the system, leading to the procurement of the civil and stations structures and for developing and managing the technical integration of Phase One. He and his team are also accountable for carrying out environmental and engineering risk based technical assurance of the railway as it moves through the project phases. He is a Chartered Engineer.  

Mary Doyle is an Executive Coach and Inclusion Consultant and Founder of Rocket Girl Coaching. She was named as one of the UK's most influential Disabled people in 2018 and 2020, and featured as one of Britain’s 50 most remarkable women, in the Daily Mail. She also regularly participates on BBC news stories. Mary offers 25+ years’ experience in technology for billion dollar companies, as a service delivery leader. Mary is a wheelchair user and is founder of Rocket Girl Coaching which is dedicated to fostering inclusion and understanding in society through executive coaching, consultancy and disability equality training. Mary coaches leaders to take direct action on creating better workplaces and customer experiences. Mary also works as an accessible aviation consultant and is an advocate for women in STEM.  

Chris Brady is the founder of Unum Aircraft Seating, is a product-oriented, entrepreneurial leader and founder and former CEO of Acro Aircraft Seating, offering a fresh alternative for airlines in the business class seating market.  After training with British Airways he joined Virgin Atlantic in 1990 in a commercial role responsible for innovation across the entire passenger experience, from aircraft livery to uniforms, lounges, drive through check in, inflight entertainment and seats. Chris left Virgin in 2000 to co-found FlightStore, an inflight entertainment software business providing online shopping via seatback TV. A few years later, together with Acro’s two co-founders he began Acro Aircraft Seating making economy seats for low-cost carriers.  Acro began to grow rapidly and in 2011 Chris became CEO, with his two co-founders taking non-executive roles.  Over the following 6 years the business grew to more than £50 million turnover and employed some 250 people.  

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About the East West Rail project 

East West Rail intends to create a new direct connection between Oxford and Cambridge. Serving communities across the area, it intends to bring faster journey times and lower transport costs as well as ease pressure on local roads. 

East West Rail is planned to be delivered in three Connection Stages: 

  • Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes
  • Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford 
  • Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge 

Network Rail was responsible for developing the first part of the East West Rail, connecting Oxford with Bicester, and is a partner in a construction alliance to deliver Connection Stage 1 of the project, where East West Railway Company (EWR Co) and Network Rail are acting as the Department for Transport’s joint sponsors. 

EWR Co is now developing the route to enable services to run to Cambridge via Bedford and plans to seek statutory powers under the Planning Act 2008, following a period of extensive consultation. 
About East West Railway Company 

East West Railway Company (EWR Co) was set up by the Secretary of State for Transport in 2018 to develop East West Rail, a railway with customers and communities at its core. 

 We have a mission to innovate and challenge the status-quo in the rail and construction industries, leading to a more efficient and cost-effective project delivery, and a great experience for passengers and the communities we serve.  Our vision is delivery of a safe and secure railway that is better for the customer; cheaper for the taxpayer; delivered quicker than before and is greener for the environment.  

Our distinctive outlook and commitment to doing the right thing for our customers and local communities runs through everything we do and every decision we make.