train on its way to leeds

Greater investment in rail research could help level up the northern economy

A report commissioned by the University of Huddersfield and the University of Leeds, details how greater investment in rail research could be used to help level up the economy in the north of England.

The report ‘Rail Innovation Eco-System’ states that there is a “compelling case” for further investment in rail innovation in the region that could intensify “…economic recovery, and longer-term industrial advancement and economic growth.”

It also describes a “collective appetite among academia and industry to drive research” with numerous companies in the north of England already involved in rail industry research, development and innovation, and universities with advanced rail test facilities and expertise and a strong record of collaboration with the rail industry on research.

The drive to use rail innovation as a means of economic development comes as the Government makes a substantial investment in rail infrastructure through HS2 and advancements to the East Coast mainline, linking London to Yorkshire and Scotland, and the TransPennine route between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. That investment could accumulate to £200 billion over two decades.

Perspective Economics, the economics and policy analysts involved in the report, says the two universities could be the catalysts for future research with additional support from the Government, the research councils, industry and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

They also found more than 2,500 companies in the north of England that were working across the scope of the rail industry supply chain. In 2018, these companies generated more than £42bn in known UK-wide revenues and employed more than 150,000 people.

Around one-fifth was dynamically involved in research across the rail industry, including the design and production of railway rolling stock, track systems, remote monitoring and maintenance, digital workflow and safety management, electrification and signalling.

The rail industry supply chain has been identified by Leeds City Council and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership as a sector that could reinforce the economy in the Leeds City Region and lead to the creation of new high-quality jobs.

Professor Stephen Ingleton, Engineering Director at Unipart Rail, said: "This report demonstrates the huge potential for rail innovation within the region and emphasises the benefit of universities and industry working in partnership.

“As a company, we have strong research links with the higher education sector, and we are well placed to build on this to deliver benefits both within the region and to the whole industry."

Professor Andrew Ball, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise at Huddersfield, said: “These are very exciting opportunities presented in this report and the significant potential for rail innovation that can be driven by our two universities working collaboratively with industry and our public sector partners to deliver transformative growth in the region.”

Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation at Leeds, said: “By leveraging combined industrial, research and innovation strengths for the national and regional benefit, there is a unique opportunity for the industry to be a catalyst for economic recovery and one that can make a significant contribution to making the UK’s levelling-up agenda a reality.”

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