techUK recommendations for rail modernisation

techUK has set out recommendations for ensuring vital work to modernise the UK’s rail sector is able to continue.  

We are concerned by the Department for Transport's (DfT) decision to delay the formal creation of Great British Railways (GBR). Doing so would bring cost and revenue into one place meaning that the rail industry, its technology supply chain, and customers can all benefit from far more effective strategic planning.  

We need swift and decisive action from government to make this happen and bring our rail system up to date with modern technology.  

techUK has outlined three key recommendations for addressing this today:  

1. Commit to the Plan for Rail  

The Plan for Rail is an effective blueprint for ensuring our railways meet today’s demands.  However, the uncertainty surrounding Great British Railways’ (GBR) transition is preventing urgently needed modernisation work from progressing at the scale and pace needed to grow the sector. The technology sector is calling for government to commit to the Plan and bring forward the necessary legislation as soon as possible. This should be supported by transparent engagement, setting out critical milestones and timelines to help suppliers understand the future landscape of the rail sector. This policy is affordable and effective in promoting confidence throughout the supply chain. It encourages investments in essential skills, training, and technology, resulting in better outcomes for businesses, the environment, and wider society. Without it, the technology sector will be left guessing how best to support rail or withdraw support altogether.  

2. Put customer experience first 

The railway industry's success hinges on its ability to attract customers by providing a modern and dependable experience. To achieve this, a forward-thinking approach that prioritises technology and data is essential. Any actions taken in the short-term that eliminate crucial services for customers in the name of cost-cutting, such as on-board Wi-Fi, would be regressive. The government’s current approach to cost-benefit analysis must be reformed to ensure it suitably captures the high-value customers place on experience, and the wider economic contribution that improving personal productivity onboard trains will make to the national economy. Rather than short-term cost reduction, any government decision-making should be framed through the lens of customers and long-term transformation.  

3. Support SMEs in procurement  

Technology is made up of a disproportionately high level of SMEs compared to other sectors. However, current rail procurement practices pose an existential threat to many businesses with a solution to bring to market. Procurement teams taking a risk-averse approach results in significant amounts of public funds and time spent evaluating technology requirements, instead of implementing essential upgrades. At the same time, the supply chain is being asked to accept ever greater levels of contractual and cost-based risk. If we are to succeed in modernising the sector, we need a wholesale rethink of this process. We must ensure that the reforms proposed by the Procurement Bill are actionable within the rail industry, supported by a bold and outward-looking approach that accelerates adoption and support innovation. 

Last year, techUK published a report "Putting data and innovation at the heart of Great British Railways transition". It set out seven ways the new organisation can become a world leader in technology adoption within rail. With decisive action, we can accelerate progress, using technology to shape our railways for the better.  

We hope that the government grips this opportunity, and we look forward to continuing our constructive engagement on this matter.  

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