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Embrace technology or risk falling behind, rail leaders warn

Britain’s railway must take advantage of new technology in order to improve services, 27 rail industry leaders have urged today.

In an open letter to the Times, they argue that despite being midway through a sustained programme of improvement, making it the fastest growing in Europe, Britain’s railway is at a “turning point” and must change its working methods in order to make train travel more accessible.

The letter, signed by the likes of Network Rail, Virgin Trains and HS2 Ltd, mirrors the publication of a report published today by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which outlines the need for changes to address Britain’s growing need for increased rail capacity.

“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,” the letter reads. “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.”

Separately, the report by the RDG, ‘Our customers, our people: A railway for the digital age’, showed how technology such as new signalling and ticketing systems can benefit customers and change jobs in the rail industry.

There has already been a sharp rise in employees in the rail industry, with train companies employing 30% more staff than 20 ago. But it is predicted that rail companies will still need 100,000 new workers by 2025.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the RDG, 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 Getting the most out of investment means adopting new technology and changing outdated working practices.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.”

The RDG will write more about the need to innovate and tap into technology in the upcoming edition of RTM (December/January 2017).

Have you got a story to tell? Would you like to become an RTM columnist? If so, click here.


Noam Bleicher   22/11/2016 at 10:55

The problem is complex ticketing. Advanced payment systems, like smart cards and contactless payment, work fine with zonal urban metro and rail systems, where the tariff is based only on the time and place where the user touches in and out. On the national network, where someone paying £20 for a ticket can be sitting next to someone on the train paying £200, which fare would a smart system deduct?

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