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Rail Technical Strategy requires scale and ambition ‘never seen before’

The Rail Technical Strategy (RTS) is of a scale and ambition that the industry has not seen before, but ultimately is not a massive ask and still doesn’t compare to other sectors, such as aerospace and automotive, in terms of the funding required, the RSSB’s Guy Woodroffe has argued.

Speaking at Railtex on Wednesday, Woodroffe, who leads on the RTS at the RSSB, emphasised his confidence in the plan, which the RDG’s Paul Plummer wrote about for RTM earlier this year – despite the fact that it will require an ambition and mass-scale delivery “that the industry has not seen before”.

This was in response to an audience question about whether the plan was simply a rewrite from the RTS released by the DfT in 2012, which outlined the ‘four Cs’ the industry would deliver within 30 years – and whether we’re any closer to achieving that vision, now five years old.

“This is not a strategy rewrite,” assured Woodroffe. “We’re very clear about that from the beginning. We’ve made a habit of revisiting, rewriting strategies in the past. This is a delivery plan – and it’s the means by which we deliver that strategy, we deliver that vision. It sets out how we step towards that.

“And we still maintain those targets that were first established when we worked up a strategy, and the plan delivers those targets. If we do everything in the plan, then I’m absolutely certain we’ll deliver against those targets, and more.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there were a series of “key risks” that the sector may face when trying to align the RTS with delivery programmes, especially those set to “change the way the railway works”, such as HS2.

“There may be occasions where we need to either delay a project of work so they take on-board the latest technology, or indeed accelerate our technical development to meet the demands of delivery programmes,” he continued.

“That is a risk to the plan. And although I’ve stressed that if we do everything in the plan we’ll deliver, at the moment it’s fair to say that what we’ve set out is a model programme.”

There is still the reality of limited resources and how public-private partnerships can pull funding from government matched by the private sector, added Woodroffe, as well as the need to upskill the industry’s workforce to ensure the strategy is powered by the right people.

“So there is a risk around that, which could, I guess, delay the delivery of the benefits that are there to be had. But I’m comfortable that what we’ve set out is credible. I’m confident that the ask we’re making is not a massive ask; it still doesn’t compare to aerospace or automotive in terms of the amount of funding to go into research and technology. We’re not looking for special treatment – we’re looking for equal treatment.”

Ultimately, he added, the RSSB and the industry at large recognises that the solutions that will be needed to deliver against the 12-point RTS will come from the supply chain, amplifying the need to work in partnership in order to make the vision a reality.

“To deliver this plan, what we’ll have in place are dedicated resources that will be leading the delivery of the 12 key capabilities that make up the delivery plan,” Woodroffe argued.

“And in recent weeks, this is all getting very real and all very serious as key organisations from across the industry commit to supporting this plan, not just in name but actually putting resources into this, putting people behind this. And indeed, we have some significant companies and businesses that are new to the rail industry that are going to be part of this as well, because we also recognise there’s a lot of technologies that already exist in adjacent sectors that we need to transfer in.

“It’s a serious endeavour: we have commitment, we have strong leadership from the top of the industry, we have support from the suppliers, we’re putting in place a number of key partnerships, and we’re improving the way that we can connect all of this together so that we can align everything, so that we have properly articulated, visible, transparent brands that set out the direction for the industry.”

This, he argued, will enable suppliers to develop solutions with a greater degree of confidence and clarity about the outcomes and outputs the railway is looking to achieve – a vital piece in the puzzle, with several leaders calling out for an end to the ‘famine and feast’ scenarios of the past.

In terms of money, the RTS is looking towards different avenues, including European contribution, partnering with Innovate UK and putting in place an industry-wide bid for the next control period specifically to support technology and development.

“That’s a significant bid and part of an overarching industry plan,” said Woodroffe. “That indeed is in itself a step forward, because the research development and technology activity is embedded in the industry plans. That’s the first time that we’ve had research and technology embedded in that way.

“We’re also supporting Digital Railway and HS2 – those are the programmes that will pull through and employ the technologies that we’ll be developing through this industry plan.”


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