The Railway Industry Association (RIA) has set out six key priorities for the future of rail, which it is urging new prime minister Liz Truss to adopt.
It says taken together, these priorities would boost economic growth and levelling up, create jobs and facilitate the UK’s journey towards net zero.
RIA’s call comes after two challenging years for the industry, with the Coronavirus pandemic impacting both passenger and freight levels on the national network.
However, with demand for both passenger and freight journeys returning quickly and passenger numbers now regularly hitting more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels, RIA says continued government support and investment is essential to ensuring the necessary increase in rail capacity – both infrastructure and rolling stock – in the years ahead.
RIA’s six key priorities for the incoming prime minister to support the rail supply sector are:
1. Ensuring certainty of the work pipeline
A pipeline of work is the best way to keep costs down and deliver value for money for the tax and fare payer. The industry needs a clear investment plan for Control Period 7 (2024 – 2029), which, allowing for inflation, is funded to at least CP6 levels, as well as publication of the Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline, the last iteration of which was published well over 1,000 days ago, as at mid-July.
2. Committing to deliver major rail projects
The industry is ready to deliver transformational rail projects, but it needs commitment from the government to ensure the rail supply sector can gear up and ensure it has the capabilities to deliver. For example, projects such as HS2, including the Eastern Leg and the Golborne Link (or an effective replacement) needs to be delivered in full to get the full benefits of the scheme. Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub, East West Rail and Crossrail 2 all need to be delivered too.
3. Ensuring the transition to Great British Railways (GBR) is completed to schedule and there is no work hiatus
It is essential the government ensures that there is no hiatus in current work as GBR is completed. Doing so will ensure projects are delivered promptly and mean that the positive economic impact of the rail industry is maximised.
4. Supporting digitalisation
The industry needs the backing of the government to digitalise signalling – 65% of current signalling needs to be replaced in the next 15 years – and also to exploit digital opportunities to improve customer service.
5. Decarbonise rail by accelerating electrification, hydrogen and battery trains
For the industry to phase out diesel-only trains by 2040 and decarbonise the railway network by 2050, it needs a commitment from the government to accelerate plans on rail electrification, as well as support for hydrogen and battery trains on less intensively used parts of the network.
6. Invest in research and development and innovation roll-out
R&D and innovation funding and support for its rollout is essential to developing cleaner and more efficient ways of operating the railway. In particular, there needs to be a focus on the deployment of innovation to realise benefits.
Darren Caplan, chief executive of the RIA, said: “We congratulate prime minister Liz Truss on taking office. As she looks at industrial sectors which can help with the UK’s future success and prosperity, the railway industry is ready and willing to play its part in delivering her plans to generate economic growth, to level up and to help the government deliver its net zero targets.
“Rail is key to the UK’s future, not only connecting towns, cities and communities across the country but also in creating and supporting economic growth, hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in tax revenue. For every £1 spent on rail, £2.50 is generated in the wider economy.
“With passenger numbers now regularly hitting well over 90% of pre-pandemic levels, and freight back to high volumes too, it is clear that rail not only has a bright and prosperous future but can play a key role in helping the wider national economic recovery, in what we know are uncertain times.
“From providing certainty of work to delivering major projects and getting the delivery of GBR right, we urge PM Liz Truss and her top team to make progress on the six ‘asks’ we are setting out today. By doing this she can ensure the railway industry gets the support it needs in the coming months, to help it deliver for the UK, its economy and connectivity, in the years ahead.”