How government policy is going to affect the rail sector
The British railway network is one of the country’s most valuable institutions, ferrying millions of people- and goods- from city to city every day. Employing more than 190,000 people and carrying out more than 1.3bn passenger journeys ever year, it’s a vital part of the UK’s economy- but it’s also changing. The number of people who travel on the UK’s rail network has doubled in the past twenty years, leaving Victorian-era infrastructure struggling to cope with more passengers than it was ever designed to handle.
Change is needed, and it’s on the way. In November 2017, Chris Grayling set out the government’s vision for the future in its Strategic Vision for Rail. The new policy aims to invest in improving all 20,000 miles of railway track in the UK, including introducing sweeping new projects aimed at transforming the rail sector. Set alongside huge political change such as Brexit, it’s clear that the future is set to be very busy for the rail industry.
Here’s our breakdown of what to expect.
Expanding the railways
The new vision for the rail sector, set out by Grayling, aims to end the operational divide between track and train. This means, ultimately, that the government wants the privatised companies which provide passenger services to work together with National Rail to manage the tracks they are responsible for- under one team. This public-private partnership is being touted as the future, with the East Coast Mainline becoming the first line to switch to this new service in 2020.
According to the government’s vision, track and transport departments will work together to create a faster, more efficient service with better targeted investment that will ultimately benefit passengers. This will no doubt result in huge changes in the way that the sector is run, contractors are sourced and projects managed; however, though the future is uncertain, it also holds massive opportunities for the construction sector, project management, engineers and more.
Indeed, a vital part of the government’s new vision is to modernise rail and expand the UK’s ageing network, creating thousands of new jobs in the process. Not only has the government signalled that it wants to reopen the 4,000 lines of track lost in the 1970s ‘Beeching cuts’, but it wants to modernise the entire railway line.
Network Rail has several ‘mega projects’ currently in the pipeline, from the Crossrail project, which is constructing 21km of new tunnels under central London, and is the biggest civil construction project in all of Europe, to upgrades to the TransPennine route and Thameslink services. The HS2 project has also been touted as the next big answer to the north-south divide, connecting Manchester to London with faster train times than ever before. This flurry of construction will, in turn, benefit the housing industry and the economy, with more people encouraged to live further away from main commuting hubs such as London.
For those in the rail sector, the future looks bright: with more projects and more lines opening, expect a healthy stream of work to continue over the next decade.
Government policy is also looking to the future when it comes to embracing technology, with plans for a new ‘digital railway’ set to shake up the sector and create hundreds of new jobs for developers, software engineers and more. The current plan aims to create a ‘digital railway’ to modernise the UK’s ageing system of train signals and signalling software- which, due to inefficiencies, means that up to 50% of railways in the UK are not running at full capacity.
Digitising the railways will aim to bring the UK in line with the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which will eventually aim to remove line-side signalling systems, replacing them with in-cab signalling. Naturally, the digital railway project is bringing together experts in ERTMS from around the world to work on it- with the end result projected to reduce delays, improve service performance and maintain safety standards across the country.
One of the largest political policies to indirectly affect the transport network is Brexit. Many projects now being considered for construction will take place over the course of Brexit, and this covers hiring, financing contracts, rolling stock supply agreements and more. Though the situation remains very uncertain, it’s sure to have ramifications for the rail sector in the future, whether that’s through changes in trade, regulations or procurement. With all of the above likely to be affected, it’s important that construction and rail companies prepare for what could potentially be a tumultuous period, affecting both upcoming projects and jobs.
Stay prepared with TRS Staffing
At TRS Staffing, we keep a close eye on what’s happening in the rail sector so we can continue to match the most talented employees to the best job opportunities. Whether you’re an engineer or a Project Manager, browse our latest vacancies for rail- or why not check out our blog for more insights?