Rail Minister meets with rail companies driving innovation across the sector

3 December 2020

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has joined an Unlocking Innovation roundtable, led by the Railway Industry Association (RIA), to hear from organisations developing leading innovations in the rail sector.

Held on Thursday 3 December, the roundtable saw the Minister hear from organisations across the supply chain, including RIA Members, Network Rail, TfL and HS2, RSSB and InnovateUK. The discussion, organised as part of RIA’s Unlocking Innovation programme – which seeks to drive technical developments across the rail supply chain - provided an opportunity to discuss how the rail industry can deliver new products and services in the areas of decarbonisation, reliability and accessibility, and customer experience, amongst others.

During the discussion, attendees highlighted:

  • The importance of representatives from across the entire industry working together;
  • The significant opportunities to collaborate on innovation in the areas of decarbonisation, reliability and particularly customer experience; and
  • That more could be done to maximise the impact of innovation funding, creating the environment for successful implementation, thus attracting further match funding from the private sector, and to procure for innovation including through “Innovation Partnerships”.

It was also agreed that the Industry Innovation Leadership Group would consider these questions further, and report back to the Minister in the new year.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP, said: “It is great to see such the scale of innovation taking place across the rail sector. The Government is always keen to work more effectively with suppliers and to support UK rail businesses to maximise their potential.

“I look forward to further positive work with RIA and the rail supply chain to help new innovations come onto the market and unlock the benefits of emerging technologies, as we build the railway of tomorrow."
David Clarke, Technical Director at the Railway Industry Association, chaired the event and said: “We welcome Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris participating in this roundtable and his support on accelerating innovation in the rail industry more widely. It is clear that there is now real opportunity for the industry to work collaboratively to improve the UK’s rail services and to build new capability and export value, as well as address some of the challenges posed by Coronavirus.

“We look forward to working with the Minister, officials and with partners from across the sector, as we innovate to build a greener, safer and more reliable network for our customers.”

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail Group Safety & Engineering Director, said: “There has been a massive increase in the amount of Research and Development which is being delivered by the rail industry. The Network Rail R&D programme is at £350m including the match-funding from our partner organisations.

“The discussion today was a great opportunity to consider how we can get the best value from these investments and involve all the creativity from across our supply chain.”

RSSB R&D Programme Manager Luisa Moiso, said: “To help drive innovation in the rail sector it is vital that industry and Government work closely together to enable new innovations to reach the market.

“The new Rail Technical Strategy (RTS) recently launched aims to bring the entire industry together, in order to align, drive and promote the UK's world-class rail expertise and its vibrant innovation community. So we were delighted with today's discussion which helped drive that conversation forward.”

Professor Clive Roberts, Academic Lead for the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), and Head of School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham said: “We were delighted to hear the enthusiasm that Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has for innovation in the rail industry, and the acknowledgement of the roles that government, large industry, SMEs and academia need to play to accelerate the development of innovative solutions.

“The rail sector is currently perfectly placed to deliver the digital transformation that is required in Britain and also developing solutions that can be used internationally to ensure railway networks deliver cost effective, dependable, low carbon services to customers into the future”.

Notes to Editors

  1. About Unlocking Innovation: 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. Find out more here
  2. About RIA: The Railway Industry Association (RIA) is the voice of the UK rail supply community. We help to grow a sustainable, high-performing, railway supply industry, and to export UK rail expertise and products. RIA has 300+ companies in membership in a sector that contributes £36 billion in economic growth and £11 billion in tax revenue each year, as well as employing 600,000 people—more than the workforce of Birmingham. It is also a vital industry for the UK’s economic recovery, supporting green investment and jobs in towns and communities across the UK. RIA’s membership is active across the whole of railway supply, covering a diverse range of products and services and including both multi-national companies and SMEs (60% by number). RIA works to promote the importance of the rail system to UK plc, to help export UK expertise around the globe and to share best practice and innovation across the industry. www.riagb.org.uk
  3. 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/
  4. About RSSB: RSSB brings industry together to deliver expertise, solve complex issues and provide the headspace for collaboration, all leading to a better, safer railway. As a membership-based rail industry body, RSSB includes train and freight operating companies, infrastructure managers, contractors, rolling stock leasing companies and suppliers, and our work involves partnerships and affiliation with academia, government, and many other railways and organisations across the world. We provide impartial, risk-based analysis and insights to continually improve health, safety and performance. We develop standards, setting engineering and operational requirements for safe interworking and to increase efficiency.  We also undertake research and development to enable industry to generate knowledge, technologies and operational solutions that individual players in the rail system could not pursue in isolation. Together we form an industry support network, so that we all benefit from better safety, sustainability and service, and reduced cost and risk.
  5. Find out more about the Rail Technical Strategy here
  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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