Change is imminent for UK rail, and technology is "critically important to the future of our nation." 27 leading figures in the rail industry have expressed the importance of improving train reliability, accessibility and affordability over the coming years. In a letter to The Telegraph, representatives from the likes of HS2, Network Rail and Bombardier emphasised that greater investment for rail technology needs to made. So far this year, there's been an average of 4.6 million passenger journeys per day. These figures have doubled in the past 20 years and are expected to double again in the next 25 years. This obvious increase means that more needs to be done to update the U.K’s rail industry in order to see improvements to the economy too. People’s expectations for their train service is increasing faster than the upgrade proposals which have been made across the country. According to the Rail Delivery Group’s report, technology is the only way to modernise the UK railways. Whilst it is expected to cost billions, it is a cost that needs to be incurred to deliver results for passengers, train operators and the UK’s output and productivity.
How will technology be invested to upgrade UK services? So far rail companies are delivering a £50bn-plus Railway Upgrade Plan to improve services, according to the Rail Delivery Group. SmartRail World reported back in January, around two thirds of London’s tubes are already undergoing modernisation in an attempt to keep up with the cities ever growing population. Additionally, it has already been agreed that London will see a huge signalling upgrade by 2022. Further investment is still needed however to deliver extra trains, improve services and anticipate the growing capacity across the whole of the country and not just the capital.
Some of the ways that technology can be used are as follows:
- Improve outdated signalling systems to deliver better reliability and passenger safety.
- Upgrade existing routes including: driver-signalling communication, track layouts, electrification.
- Smarter Ticketing.
These necessary changes will not only modernise the current customer service but also improve jobs for the economy. Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, ( @RailDeliveryGrp ) said: “Ten years into delivering a plan of sustained improvements, the railway is more important to the country’s prosperity than ever. Billions continue to be spent to deliver the modern services the nation needs. Getting the most out of investment means adopting new technology and changing outdated working practices.
“A modern railway will mean more reliable, more comfortable and easier journeys for rail customers. It will create thousands of opportunities for people who work in the industry in new, more highly skilled roles. A railway that doesn’t change will see customers missing out on better services, it will be a drag on the economy and, in the long term, it puts the very future of the industry in doubt.”
With smarter methods to harness new technology it will also make changes to the ways that staff work. Rather than replacing human work with machines, it will create more technical work opportunities. The Rail Delivery Group have estimated that train companies already employ 30% more staff than 20 years ago. Forecasts suggest that rail companies and the rail supply chain will need 100,000 new recruits over the next 10 years to take on new roles and to replace retiring workers.
Here is a copy of the rail industry's joint letter to outline the importance of rail modernisation:
After a period of extraordinary growth, our railway is at a crucial turning point. Starved of investment for much of the last century, it is 10 years into a sustained programme of improvement with even more to come. This is allowing the railway, the fastest growing in Europe, to play an ever more vital role at supporting our way of life and economic prosperity.
To respond to the challenge of a huge increase in rail journeys and people's expectations rising faster than the improvement in services, the railway must harness new technology and change the way we work. Other industries have been through these changes. Now it is the turn of rail, critically important to the future of our nation.
By exploiting technology and smarter working, we can make train travel more reliable, more accessible, more affordable and more comfortable, creating new jobs in the sector and enabling manufacturers to grow the British economy. If we do not move forward in this way, public and private investment will be harder to attract and these huge gains will be put at risk.
All of us in the railway and its supply chain are responsible for delivering a better railway. We look forward to every part of the sector working together to see through this change and improve the lives of customers and the nation, today and in the future.
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive, Stagecoach Group
Mark Carne, Chief Executive, Network Rail
Dominic Booth, Managing Director, Abellio UK
Malcolm Brown, CEO, Angel Trains
Sir David Higgins, Chairman, HS2 Ltd
Richard Hunter, UK Managing Director, Bombardier, Transportation
... To name just a few. You can read the full list of participants here.
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