Rail Innovation Survey

1 December 2021


The Rail Innovation Survey compares the results of two surveys of rail professionals, conducted in 2019 and 2021, showing that:

  • 62% of respondents in 2021 believed rail is ‘extremely, very or quite innovative’, a 12% increase from 2019.
  • Rail was seen as less innovative than the automotive, transport, finance and defence sectors, but had seen the largest swing of those sectors from 2019 to 2021 in those saying it was ‘extremely, very or quite innovative’;
  • Procurement, sponsorship & champions and product approval were named as the three ‘priorities and processes’ that have the biggest impact on innovation in rail. Availability of rail funding, testing and trialling facilities and innovation advice were listed as the three ‘facilities and resources’ that have the biggest impact on innovation in rail; and
  • 56% of respondents said that the Coronavirus pandemic had had a negative impact on their planned innovation projects in 2020/21.

The Report

The Results

The following report analyses the results of two surveys undertaken 18 months apart in November 2019 and July 2021. The aim of the two Pulse surveys is to determine how the rail sector perceives itself in regard to innovation. The results examine what progress has been made within the industry to build up its confidence as an innovative, modern industry.

Both survey's have been conducted by the Pulse Business, an independent company. Respondents consist of those within the rail industry - suppliers, clients, industry groups and stakeholders. 

Innovation in UK Rail

Respondents were asked how important it was for the rail industry to be innovative, with responses showing relatively little change from November 2019 to July 2021. 

In both surveys, the significant majority of respondents said it was 'Very Important' - 84% and 80% in 2019 and 2021 respectively, with 16% and 17% respectively responding 'Quite Important'.

Respondents in Q2 were asked where the railway industry is on its innovation journey, with the majority, 57%, saying the industry is making 'some headway'. This question was not included in the 2019 survey. 
In Q3, positively, respondents felt rail was getting more innovative, with those saying rail was 'quite, very or extremely' innovative jumping by 12% points from 2019 to 2021.

Sector Comparisons

Both the 2019 and 2021 surveys asked respondents how innovative they felt other sectors are, including finance, defence, automotive and transport as a whole. 

The reason for asking these questions was to see how rail professionals view other sectors in comparison to their own. Interestingly, although rail was seen as less innovative than the comparator sectors, rail was seen as getting more innovative from 2019 to 2021, whilst sectors like automotive and defence saw a drop in the perceptions of those sectors as innovative.

The full results for the sector comparisons are as follows:

Factors for Innovation

Facilities, resources, policies and processes all have an impact on how innovative the rail sector can be. The survey asked respondents what they felt were the biggest factors for innovation in rail.

When asked which policies and processes had the greatest impact on innovation in rail, respondents said procurement was the main issue in both 2019 and 2021.

However, industry sponsorship and champions had risen by 7% points over the two surveys.

When it came to facilities and resources, respondents said the availability of innovation funding was the key factor, yet those responding this way had dropped 5% points from 2021 to 2019.

The availability of testing and trailling facilities, however, had increased as a factor, rising 7% points from 2019 to 2021.
Given Q9 asks respondents about funding, the survey also asked whether the respondent had received funding in the last three years.

The response was very similar from 2019 to 2021, with around three quarters responding no, and a quarter saying they had received funding.

Other Questions

Given the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted all parts of the rail industry, a new question was included to see how it had effected planned innovation projects.

The responses showed that 56% had felt the pandemic had had a negative impact on progress, with 23% saying it had sped up projects.
RIA's Unlocking Innovation programme seeks to bring rail suppliers together to promote innovation and the work they do. The survey asked respondents if they felt the programme was effectively communicating innovation in the industry.

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