Comment

14.07.16

Making the railway truly sustainable

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 1

Sustainability must be at the heart of the rail industry’s decision-making, says Shamit Gaiger, head of national programmes at the RSSB.

When the rail minister, Claire Perry MP, launched a new set of Sustainable Development Principles earlier this year, she told her audience of senior rail managers that the principles would be the foundation for all future rail franchises let by the DfT. 

The 10 principles (see box out) are underpinned by a belief that responsible social and economic behaviour can boost performance, and will enable the industry to operate in an increasingly immediate economy where customer needs and convenience are paramount. 

Progress is already being made. For example, in the north of England disused assets at some stations are being put into service for local communities. Some train operators are helping people get back to work with free travel to interviews and two months’ free travel when they find a job. And 60% of Crossrail work has gone to SMEs, with the project creating nearly 3,000 local jobs. 

In addition, the industry is on target to reduce traction carbon emissions ppm (parts per million) by 38% by 2019. All routes now have climate change adaptation plans in place for increased instances of extreme weather. And all new franchises include ambitious traction and non-traction reduction targets, zero waste to landfill and a commitment to delivering community and social benefits. 

Challenges to meet going forward 

But, as expectations change, the rail industry must change, too, if it is to build on the success of the past 20 years. Here are some challenges that need to be met: 

First, there should be a renewed focus on customers and the communities we serve, with a deeper understanding of the travel behaviour of passengers and non-passengers at a local level. 

At a time when local government is under pressure, rail can take a wider view on how stations serve customers, particularly where assets are not being fully utilised. Acting more like supermarkets, to understand an area’s potential, will enable rail to offer a better service. 

Second, we must move from low-cost, short-term decision-making, focused on quick payback to long termism that benefits rail as a whole. Our industry is not unique in this, but we do face particular issues due to structure and funding and its public service nature. 

Skills are a prime example where a lack of investment, an ageing workforce and competition from other sectors for similar skills have combined to have a damaging impact. There is a critical need to upskill the current workforce and bring in new talent. This, of course, is a long-term investment where returns may not meet the requirements of finance directors, but without it the sector faces costs of nearly £700m a year by 2024. The cost to the economy could be more than £1bn. 

Government and the industry are addressing the challenge by developing a coherent skills plan to enhance productivity and reduce skills shortages in response to targets for apprenticeships set by government. This is welcome but delivery needs to be supported by leadership, collaboration and investment.

Third, and the most difficult challenge, is the potential threat to rail’s modal share from disruptive technologies that could jeopardise future ridership. 

In a rapidly changing economy, passengers demand immediate, personalised information and options. Apps like Citymapper and businesses such as Uber are changing travel behaviours in a way not seen before, capitalising on the sharing and information economy. 

At the same time autonomous vehicles are no longer science fiction; they have the potential to increase road capacity by up to six times and, according to insurance industry reports, cut accidents by a staggering 80%. With the UK set to be a world leader in this emerging technology, a recent survey showed that 39% of people would consider using driverless cars. 

A combination of autonomous vehicles and the spread of an Uber-type immediate door-to-door service has the potential to offer convenient, value for money, on-demand travel. Add to this the likelihood that electric cars will become more carbon efficient and the threat to rail becomes very clear. As a sector we have yet to respond to the challenge of disruptive technologies, but we must before it is too late. 

Sustainability, therefore, is about rail’s survival as a commercially viable sector. At the heart of a sustainable railway we need to put three key ideas: customers, current and future; decisions that serve us in the long term; and the fact that we operate as a system and within a wider transport and economic system that is changing. As a sector that is so focused on timetables, let’s hope we’re not too late.

Ten ways to make railway sustainable: 

  1. Customer driven – putting customers at the heart of the railway
  2. An accessible railway – creating an inclusive, affordable and accessible railway that provides good information to its customers
  3. Providing and end-to-end journey – work with other transport modes to provide an integrated, accessible transport system
  4. Being an employer of choice – respect, encourage and develop a diverse workforce, support its wellbeing and actively consider and address the challenges of the future labour market
  5. Reducing the industry’s environmental impact – operate and improve the business in a way that minimises the negative impacts and maximises the benefits of the railway to the environment
  6. Carbon smart – achieve long-term reductions in carbon emissions through improved energy efficiency, new power sources, helping others make more carbon efficient journeys
  7. Having a positive social impact – focus on local impacts and communities through better understanding and engagement, engaging in local plans and asset use
  8. Supporting the economy – boost the productivity and competitiveness of the UK, at a national and regional level, through efficient services and by facilitating agglomeration and catalysing economic regeneration
  9. Optimising the railway – maximise the rail networks capability, improve efficiency through working practices and new technology to deliver a transport system that offers good value for money
  10. Being transparent – promote a culture of open and accountable decision making and measure, monitor and report publicly on progress towards sustainability

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

 

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

€1bn investment into Ireland’s rail network

02/12/2019€1bn investment into Ireland’s rail network

The Government of Ireland has today (Dec 2) a... more >
Rail Delivery Group responds to 2020 rail fares proposal

02/12/2019Rail Delivery Group responds to 2020 rail fares proposal

Saturday (30 Nov) saw the rail fares for 2020... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Year with brand-new infrastructrure to... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

14/11/2019Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

Rail Technology Magazine’s Matt Roberts explains the significant role data can play within the future development of the rail industry. Standing as a cornerstone of the UK transport network, the rail industry is forever striving to innovate and maximise efficiency in all aspects of its work. Data is just one such way of achievi... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >

interviews

Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he wo... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projec... more >
Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

12/03/2019Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

RTM sits down with Samantha Smith, sole female member of the TransPennine Route Upgrade Alliance Leadership Team, to find out more about encourag... more >
TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

22/01/2019TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

Peter Molyneux, Transport for the North’s (TfN’s) strategic roads director, has been leading on the development of the seven economic... more >