Five key challenges facing the rail industry today

Adam Stead, Senior Consultant Rail Services, QinetiQ

The UK railway industry is undergoing a renaissance, with passenger and freight growing to levels not seen for almost 100 years. Coupled with rising customer expectations and a drive for efficiency, solving the industry’s future problems will require new solutions and smart thinking to offer greater value for money.

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Railway maintenance.

At the 2013 Railtex we surveyed attendees about what they thought were the top three challenges facing the rail industry today. Responses from 70+ UK delegates, from supply chain through to asset owner and operators, raised common themes reflecting the current tone of the industry:

1.    Innovation – and the challenge of bringing new products to market

The rail industry has been slow to change, focusing on strict standards and methodologies, tried and proven over many decades. However, we’re now in a world of rapid change and new challenges, with many previously unimagined technologies available.

Common challenges included time to bring new products to market, technology transfer from other industries, lack of innovation, challenging assurance regimes, and responding to changing needs.

2.    Running costs – meeting the growth on tighter budgets and delivering value for money

The cost of running Britain’s railway is a major political topic, with great media attention. To deliver an economically and socially sustainable railway it’s important to constantly drive towards lower industry costs to deliver value for money and sustain growth.

To ensure projects deliver their performance goals, rigorous application of requirements management, change management, data fusion, and information visualisation solutions are required so all project organisations work towards the same goals.

3.    Reliability and maintenance – minimising disruption to service and maximising availability

The economic impact of service disruptions is huge and passengers demand more frequent services and a 24/7 railway. Disruption to services negatively affects public image and train cancellations can cause significant losses in revenue.

Greater use of monitoring allows operators to see where assets show signs of wear before failure occurs. Where disruption does occur, robust recovery planning and resilient automatic route setting can enhance speedy return to regular service, minimising knock-on effects to adjacent railways.

4.    Expertise – the difficulty in resourcing and skills shortages

The industry has seen major decentralisation over the last 20 years but established industry-wide training schemes ceased to exist. Consequently, there is a largely ageing workforce, with major resource shortages likely to worsen. Additionally, with ever increasing investment into the industry, people are being spread ever-more thinly.

5. Network performance and capacity

Today’s technology solutions provide even more room for exploiting network performance and capacity without compromising safety. The industry’s Rail Technical Strategy is to ensure drivers receive accurate information to optimise speed, enabling trains to drive closer together, optimising accelerating and braking, and reducing junction conflicts.

The rail industry is at an ideal point in time to tackle all these challenges, with innovative technologies maturing, great investment and a number of schemes being launched to break down traditional barriers and encourage working more collaboratively.

Get more information on how QinetiQ’s rail services can help with these or any other challenges you face.

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