Balfour Beatty sets out strategy to ensure UK economy continues to grow

Balfour Beatty has published a report which examines how a modernised, well-funded rail network can facilitate the growth of UK cities and boost the UK economy.

The report entitled ‘Fast Track to Digital Railway: Delivering the vision‘ analyses how retaining a high level of staff expertise and embracing new technology will substantially improve passenger experience and strengthen the economy. The Digital Railway is an industry-wide plan that hopes to encourage new thinking and a more collaborative way of working.

The initiative is described as much more than a signalling upgrade programme, the emphasis of improvements is based on providing a better passenger experience. This is said to be achieved by introducing new rolling stock, new signalling and control systems and better infrastructure put in place.

For the Digital Railway to be a success, Balfour Beatty has highlighted three key areas which will prove crucial. These include: 

  • Ensure the industry as a whole is engaged and that momentum is maintained: A fresh approach is said to be required with new collaborative contractual mechanisms and the development of new alliances including Network Rail, TOCs and suppliers needed to achieve effective programme integration. Network Rail and its supply chain is currently largely transactional which will need evolve to become a partnership one based on a longer-term strategic vision.
  • Funding must be in place: Balfour Beatty stress how the rail industry has suffered from in the past from a stop-start funding landscape which has led to an increase in costs and the loss of skilled people. To combat this the Department for Transport (DfT) is urged to consider whether the Digital Railway – or elements of it – be placed outside of the current five-year funding cycle, with the private sector playing a role in bridging the funding gap.
  • Skills need to be ready at the right time: With employees in the UK rail sector expected to rise dramatically over the coming years, the skill level of those working in the industry will also need to increase, it’s claimed. Workers will also need to be multi-skilled to succeed in the industry and ensure stay on top of fast-evolving technology. Experts state the next decade will be critical in delivering a skilled workforce to manage railway innovation and capability as the market continues to grow.

Commenting on the paper, managing director of Balfour Beatty’s rail business, Mark Bullock, said: “The Digital Railway will be transformative, bringing the UK’s railways into the 21st century. Making the Digital Railway a reality calls for a shake-up of the way the rail industry does business by better connecting the constituent parts, aligning the objectives of multiple stakeholders and bringing track and trains closer together. This will require robust planning and coordination, funding and a concerted effort to address the skills shortage.

The full report can be viewed here.

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