Marleen Van De Kerkhof Wins IRJ’s Young Rail Leaders Award

Marleen van de Kerkhof, International Affairs Manager at Dual Inventive, is one of the winners of the International Railway Journal’s Young Rail Leaders Award for 2023!

Marleen’s enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge will hopefully inspire a new generation of people.

A woman with red hair smiles wide at the camera. Her skin is fair, she has winged eyeliner and red lipstick

The global rail industry is experiencing two concurrent human resources challenges: the impending retirement of a significant proportion of its experienced and knowledgeable workforce; and an ongoing battle to secure a new generation of talent versed in the digital skills the sector requires to progress.

Losing years of experience and industry know-how could set the sector back by many years just when it is under pressure to get more trains onto track. Rail also has a reputational issue. It is often perceived as a dirty and dangerous working environment that is not particularly innovative, meaning attracting the most talented people is proving difficult.

One of the Industry’s Best and Brightest

Scratch below the surface of these perceptions and you find a growing cohort of talented and highly regarded young people who are doing remarkable things. With the Young Rail Leaders Award International Railways Journal aims to bring many of these individuals to light by telling the stories of their careers and most noteworthy experiences.

Marleen’s nominator states that she knows better than anyone how important it is to build international relationships. And her burning passion for the cause means that it is likely that she will become an ever-greater presence on the European stage in the future.

Her nominator writes:

“For me, Marleen is the best rail ambassador that I have ever come across. She is still young, but is super ambitious. I really think she deserves the Young Rail Leader Award.”

Rail Ambassadorship

Marleen van de Kerkhof plays a key role in the international activities of Dual Inventive, to make working on the railway safer and more efficient while also boosting the capacity of existing infrastructure.

Marleen has supported the company’s growth. However, she is also steadily building a profile as a passionate rail ambassador in Europe, particularly to support growing rail’s market share to achieve carbon neutrality.

Indeed, Marleen says she was inspired to enter the rail sector by the need to address climate change. She worked on a Hyperloop project while studying systems engineering at Delft University of Technology. And while impressed by the concept, she felt work to reduce transport emissions should focus on improving the extensive infrastructure that we already have, including Europe’s railway network.

With a European Perspective

Marleen believes that growing rail’s market share is crucial for helping Europe achieve carbon neutrality and is a strong proponent of the Single European Railway Area, delivery of which she says is critical to achieve these ambitions. She is convinced this can be facilitated by accelerating the cross-border implementation of digital technologies. For example, she cites Dual Inventive’s digital systems for safe track access, which enable infrastructure managers to offer instant and safe track access, minimising disruption to rail operations by reducing the duration of temporary capacity restrictions.

Encouraging Innovation

Among the company’s innovative approaches to encourage innovation is the opening of research and development centre, FieldLab Rail. Here young graduates are encouraged to pursue their own projects often in the digital technology space but with a focus on rail using the facilities at their disposal. The company has also established a partnership with the National Rail Educational Centre (Railcenter) based in Amersfoort where new innovations are tested and advice can be sought from experts.

Unfortunately, Marleen has found that Dual Inventive’s approach is the exception rather than the rule and believes that such initiatives should be extended more broadly to other European research and educational institutions.

Inspiring Young Talents

As well as boosting the uptake of new technology, she believes that such an approach will help the rail industry increase its appeal to young people, helping to address a looming skills shortage. At present she does not see enough people making the same career choice as herself, despite rail being environmentally-friendly, now an important criterion for young people selecting a career. She says that rail should promote itself to the next generation by pushing the sustainability message much harder, alongside promoting itself as a place where digital skills and expertise can flourish.

Marleen has positioned herself at the vanguard of this cause by chairing the board of Jonge Veranderaars (Young Changemakers), a Dutch networking group for young people working in the public transport sector. The group promotes cooperation between organisations, arranging company visits, study trips and conferences.

Promoting Rail Freight

In addition, Marleen is a board member of Rail Cargo Information Netherlands, a public-private initiative aimed at promoting rail freight. The group also works to improve rail freight’s image and inspire the next generation with its campaign Rail Freight: the Future is Ours.

Securing Skills and Diversity

Marleen’s extracurricular work has had extra resonance during 2023, the European Year of Skills. She brought rail’s skills challenge into the limelight with her address to the European Parliament last month where she identified three actions critical to secure future industry skills and diversity:

  • keep increasing visibility and improving rail’s image. “We must boost visibility by promoting diverse role models,” she says
  • the need for a European skills strategy following the outcome of Rail Staffer, the European programme to enhance rail-related training programmes, which is due to conclude next year and
  • the formation of a cross-border partnership between rail educational institutions and infrastructure managers in Europe, following Dual Inventive’s approach. Marleen says that demonstrating and sharing innovation at an early stage allows for the early identification of training needs.
Marleen feels excited about winning a Young Rail Leaders Award and the journey ahead and says:

“I’m ready to continue working with all my amazing colleagues to leverage the latest digital technologies, making railways more efficient, safe, and attractive for the new generation.”

This article was originally published by DualInventive.

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