This is a sponsored post from the Railway Industry Association. Darren Caplan is its Chief Executive.
Earlier this week, rail trade body the Railway Industry Association (RIA) published a new report into the economic value of UK rail. The ground-breaking research revealed an industry significantly bigger than previous studies had suggested.
The report by researchers Oxford Economics found that rail generates more than £36 billion a year in economic value (3.5 times bigger than previous figures show), employs 600,000 people across the UK (2.5 times more than previously thought), and provides £11 billion a year in tax revenue (excluding capital investment, this more than covers the costs of the UK railway system).
In total, rail employs more people than the entire city of Birmingham and is up there with other major transport sectors, like automotive (£45 billion GVA and 700,000 jobs) and aviation (£52 billion and 961,000 jobs). The figures show rail is also a catalyst for economic growth that spreads across all regions of the UK, employs thousands of skilled workers, and generates tax revenues that help contribute towards public services – for every £1 spent on the rail network, £2.20 of income is generated in the wider economy.
All this illustrates that despite the often negative media coverage of rail-related issues there is a very positive story to tell about our sector too. Aside from the economic evidence, over the last 20 years passenger numbers have doubled, freight increased by 80 per cent, the safety record is strong (there have been no passenger fatalities on the railway for over eight years), and – despite those reports in the media – customer satisfaction levels are at over 80 per cent, second in Europe only to Finland which doesn’t have the same track use intensity of the UK. Furthermore, rail is forecast to grow by another impressive 40 per cent in the next 20 years.
Looking forward, government, policy makers and influencers need to see the rail industry for the economic and connectivity engine it is. It needs to utilise the scale and success of the rail sector when conducting trade deals and carrying out export activity as the UK leaves the EU; and it needs to agree a positive sector deal with rail as part of its industrial strategy agenda, helping to deliver a digital railway, increasing capacity on the rail system whilst also improving the customer experience.
For our part, we have a world-class rail supply chain ready to sell its products and services all over the world – regardless of Brexit, we should be making the most of the UK rail sector in any case. Whether track and station infrastructure, rolling stock, signalling, consultancy and the many other areas of rail expertise available in the UK, the Government should recognise and use the rail sector in the same way it uses aerospace and automative sectors – as world-beaters.
We’re not saying rail is perfect – we can all improve what we do. But rail is bigger and more successful than sometimes thought. If Government can recognise the size and strength of our sector, and deploy it in the right way for UK plc, it won’t just be rail GVA and jobs which benefit, but the UK economy will also be strengthened as we help sell our expertise abroad at this crucial time.