Q and A with Grant Harley of Petards Rail

Industry Insights

Q and A with Grant Harley of Petards Rail

26th June 2023

Horizon Works is proud to support industry innovators, so we’re very excited to be working with Petards Rail – a global provider of intelligent train technology. We recently developed a marketing strategy and new brand for the Gateshead-based company, and we’re now supporting Petards Rail on an ongoing basis.

Petards Rail’s eyeTrain solutions deliver digital on-train surveillance subsystems to maximise passenger safety, optimise train performance, and meet ever increasing passenger and industry demands.

The company is continuing to evolve with the sector… and with a heritage in rail dating back to 1992, it has certainly seen some changes too!

We sat down with Petards Rail’s General Manager, Grant Harley, to talk about the company’s journey, how the rail industry is embracing new technology, and where the sector is headed…

Petards Rail recently launched its new brand – why was it important for you to undertake a rebranding exercise?

We were coming to the end of a very hectic delivery phase with multiple fleets and multiple customers.  And we did this through COVID. Yet, no one really knew who we were, despite us having equipment on more than 53% of UK trains.

The rail world had moved to technology and software solutions, and we needed people to see we were part of that, not just a ‘commodity supplier’ of boxes.

We also needed to understand our customers much better – and what they wanted now.

The relaunch provided the opportunity to reposition us within the marketplace, generate awareness, and to refresh ourselves internally in the next stage of the Petards Rail journey.

Petards Rail has been active in the rail industry since 1992. What key changes have you witnessed during this time?

Firstly, the step change in the advancement of what you can now do with cameras and the supporting systems.  For example, edge processing allows us to increase what the camera can do at the same time as reducing the data needed to move on / off the train, which reduces cost to the operator.  Camera technology is evolving rapidly: cameras can achieve things now that weren’t feasible just 12 months ago!

Secondly, data and the desire for Network Rail, the train owners, operators and train builders to leverage that data for operational and commercial use.  Our cameras were originally there if there was an incident.  Now they can collect data for many different purposes.

The extended life of fleets is also a significant change. The economic uncertainty in the UK rail market and the delays in transitioning to Great British railways, means decisions are pushed back or fleet lives are being extended longer than planned.

In addition, it’s been interesting to see how the rail industry – which has traditionally been slow moving in terms of integrating new technology – is starting to adopt more innovative solutions and embrace the smaller, more agile companies that can solve its problems through collaboration.

Looking at Petards Rail’s achievements, what are you most proud of?

Our intelligent train technology can and does make trains have modern capabilities.  When a train is bought by the rolling stock company it may need to be supported for up to 35 years, so Petards Rail have been supporting fleets from before the iPhone had been invented. However, the expectation is the cameras can perform to today’s standards. With our eyeTrain system, we have been able to develop and adapt solutions to give trains that are more than 30 years old the same capability as modern trains.

Many companies have solutions, but they are not operational. We do it!

However, that brings its own challenges.  We faced a complex delivery phase in the late 2010s/ early 2020s, delivering to multiple customers on multiple fleets under pressure to resolve project issues.  We got through that as a team, during the COVID 19 pandemic and we stuck to our core values. Everyone played their part.

An example of our work during that time was a £1.3 million project for Porterbrook, for the supply of eyeTrain systems for 19 Class 769 Flex trains. The project was awarded in October 2020 and the equipment needed to be delivered, in one drop, just over four months following the contract award.

The entire project was undertaken during the pandemic, which meant we had to adapt to the restrictions while delivering to the rapid project schedule. It was fantastic to see the team pull together on the project, especially under such challenging circumstances.

What do you feel are the key emerging trends in the rail industry – and how are you responding to these?

A key emerging trend is DaaS (Data as a Service). The industry now understands the power of data. The ability to use data is becoming more and more important to the infrastructure owner, train owners and operators.  We have developed eyeTrain Connect to allow Petards Rail to connect data from our systems or other systems to many different users. eyeTrain Connect software is designed to maximise a fleet’s availability, security and maintenance schedule. It provides a real-time, accurate analysis of vehicles and on-board equipment, including status, usage, positional data and condition data on a train-by-train level, through any internet enabled device.

Cost is also in the headlines. As finances tighten in the UK, our modular system allows train owners to upgrade their fleets to the latest technology, reducing the need for substantial new build programmes that will not deliver trains for many years. Because eyeTrain is modular, they can do this upgrade in stages to spread the investment too.  Our Spares and Services team can help maintain equipment in the field longer, again reducing the life-time cost of the train.

CSR is an important consideration too. Our existing systems can be upgraded at the component level, rather than replacing the entire system, which reduces the carbon footprint.  It also allows us to reuse the components to support other fleets without the need to purchase additional spares, extending the life of the components further.  If there is no use for the components elsewhere, our plan is to give them to STEM programmes within schools and colleges, to help develop the next generation of engineers.

Petards Rail recently joined the UN Global Compact membership scheme – a voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to take steps to support UN goals. Why did you decide to become involved in this?

We believe it is our responsibility to operate in an ethical way – that is very important to how we manage Petards Rail.  It forms the basis of our commitments and values.  In fact, rail itself is one of the best sustainable modes of transport for passengers and freight so just being in rail is important ethically to all our futures.  UN Global Compact is a way we demonstrate our commitment on a local and global scale, and allows us to link our goals to a common set of global goals.

What does Petards Rail have planned for the rest of 2023 and beyond?

Our solutions are rail-approved safety systems and we are developing the current systems to address a key passenger safety issue. The next generation of the system will make rail travel even safer for passengers and help drivers at the same time.

We are also working on the capabilities of our core hardware, processing power, storage and HD as standard.  However, while increasing the capabilities, we are also looking at how we do this in a sustainable way and at lower cost to the public finances.  Again, these solutions can be used on older fleets, making them intelligent trains at relatively low cost to the train owners, and efficiently, so not affecting the operators and the passengers as the trains are upgraded.

In addition, we are looking to work collaboratively on longer-term developments with academic institutions such as the BCRRE (Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education) at Birmingham University and the IRR (Institute for Rail Research) at the University of Huddersfield.

These are exciting times for Petards Rail!


Read how we supported Petards Rail with a rebrand and marketing strategy – check out our case study.

For more information on Petards Rail, visit the website