RIA-commissioned survey reveals value of rail industry innovation – more needs to be done

20 April 2020


A survey of around 300 rail business representatives has revealed the importance of innovation to the sector, but that far more needs to be done to get innovation into the industry. 

The survey revealed that:

  • The majority of the respondents, 84%, consider innovation very important within the rail industry; 
  • None of the respondents felt that the rail sector was ‘extremely innovative’, with only 4% saying it was ‘very innovative’ and 46% saying it was ‘quite innovative’ – 50% said it was ‘hardly innovative’ or ‘not innovative at all’; and
  • In comparison, when thinking about other sectors, 73% of respondents thought automotive was either extremely or very innovative. The equivalent figures were 52% for defence, 31% for finance and 27% for transport in general. 

Additionally, 1 in 3 respondents said procurement processes had the greatest impact on innovation in rail, whilst 41% said availability of innovation funding would.

The results are published on the day RIA is launching a series of one hour Unlocking Innovation webinars taking place each weekday from 20 to 24 April, held in partnership with Network Rail’s R&D Portfolio and the UK Rail Research & Innovation Network (UKRRIN). 

David Clarke, Technical Director of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “The survey published today shows the railway industry recognises the vital need for innovation within the sector, but that far more work needs to be done to unlock innovation in the months and years ahead. Whilst the industry is currently facing a difficult period with the outbreak of Coronavirus, we need to ensure in the long term that we continue to focus on innovating, bringing new ideas and solutions to market. The findings should act as a rallying-call for the industry – that we need to redouble our efforts to spur innovation across the sector.

“The rail sector is ready to meet this challenge. Network Rail now have more than £350 million available for R&D over the coming four years and the industry has initiatives like the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), a £92 million partnership between academia and industry, to develop innovative products and services. At the Railway Industry Association, we will be holding a number of virtual Unlocking Innovation events, to bring key industry players together, help the people with challenges meet the people with the potential solutions, with the aim of increasing the successful uptake of innovation. 

“Over the longer-term, we hope to see perceptions of innovation in the sector improve, so we can make rail even more of a world-leading, innovative and dynamic industry in the future.”

David Rowe, Head of Strategy at Network Rail Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I), said: “This survey demonstrates that the rail industry wholeheartedly believes in the importance of innovating, but that we’re not yet confident enough in our ability to do so – something we at Network Rail are keen to change.

“The mission of the Research, Development and Innovation team within Network Rail is to ensure we can get new, innovative products and services to market quickly, utilising agile processes to assess how we can best develop these solutions. 

“There is a fantastic opportunity for the rail industry to get involved in this work. Network Rail is investing £245 million into R&D over the five years to 2024, and with match funding from industry, we expect there to be over £350 million available to companies looking to innovate. We’d encourage all to look at our challenge statements and engage with our competitions and to think how we can work together to bring innovation into the sector, ultimately for the benefit of all those who use our railways.”

Luisa Moisio, R&D Programme Director of RSSB said: ‘It is a recognised priority for the research and innovations programmes in RSSB, NR and UKRRIN to work together as one team and make the landscape easier to navigate, so that we obtain tangible benefits for both the industry and its customers. Our joint efforts to update the Rail Technical Strategy and to closely coordinate pipelines are helping to clarify the key technical challenges, the developing solutions and the gaps. Events like Unlocking Innovation are essential to extend the reach of such initiatives, and help stimulate increased activity in the innovation space.”

Jo Binstead, Chair of UKRRIN, said: “It is clear from the survey that innovation is needed within the rail sector, 84% of respondents have stated it is very important. UKRRIN, as a £92 million partnership between academia and industry, has a central role to play in supporting innovation in the industry with a focus on getting products to market quickly, and effectively. We look forward to working with the industry to support its technical and innovation work through our Centres of Excellence across the UK.”

Read the findings

Notes to Editors

1. The results of the survey can be found attached. The survey was conducted by independent polling company The Pulse Business. Further detail on the survey can be provided on request – please email Max Sugarman at max.sugarman@riagb.org.uk 

2. About the Unlocking Innovation programme: RIA’s highly regarded Unlocking Innovation events bring together the people with ideas and ambition to drive change within the rail industry. The events create a platform for large and small companies, academics and innovators with the aim of developing productivities that will drive invention in the industry. Unlocking Innovation events also aim to create new supply chains, to build value and benefit the UK economy, rail suppliers and ultimately the customers, the rail users. 

The next event, themed Digital Journeys for Passengers and Rail Freight, due to take place in Leeds during the Leeds Digital Festival, will now take place online in the following daily webinars:
Monday 20 April, 2-3pm: Working in rail for the first time, with Network Rail looking at how companies can enter and work in the rail industry;
Tuesday 21 April, 2-3pm: Better journeys for Passengers, with Birmingham University looking at how data can improve the passenger experience;
Wednesday 22 April, 2-3pm: Better use of rail freight, looking at how data can improve logistics in rail;
Thursday 23 April, 2-3pm: Implementing Mobility as a Service (MaaS), with Connected Places Catapult looking at how we engage Rail as MaaS develops; and
Friday 24 April, 10-11am: A better transport system in Leeds, with West Yorkshire Combined Authority looking at how the city can build more connected local travel.

You can register for these webinars here

3. About RIA: The Railway Industry Association (RIA) is the voice of the UK rail supply community. RIA operates to drive and promote the significance of the rail system to the UK plc, to aid export UK expertise around the globe and to share best practice and innovation across the industry. As a trade association RIA also promotes and represent our member’s interests to policy makers, clients and other stakeholders in the UK and overseas.  RIA has 300+ companies in membership in a sector that contributes £36 billion in economic growth and 11 billion in tax revenue, whilst employing 600,000 people. https://www.riagb.org.uk/

4. About the Network Rail R&D Programme: Network Rail have made an investment £350m into the R&D portfolio in a bid to enhance invention and creativity in products, systems and equipment that will develop the industry and ultimately benefit rail users. https://www.networkrail.co.uk/industry-and-commercial/research-development-and-technology/research-and-development-programme/

5. About RSSB R&D Programme: Research, analysis and insight delivered by RSSB help industry to tackle the issues of today and enable the railway of the future to be better, safer and more sustainable. 

Our research programme, mainly funded by the Department for Transport, is uniquely placed to tackle cross-industry challenges and make system interface improvements that could not be addressed by individual organisations. This may be due to market and incentive failures, or simply because a strong, independent organisation is needed to bring together multiple stakeholders. https://www.rssb.co.uk/

6. About UKRRIN: Formed in 2017, the UK Rail Research & Innovation Network (UKRRIN) brings the leading Universities in Rail with the industry to collaborate on ideas and drive aspiration and innovation. RIA is a founding member.  https://www.ukrrin.org.uk/

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