The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

Posted on: 20/05/2021

A bold new future has been set out for rail in the UK with the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, promising a modern, sustainable railway with greater control for local communities and streamlined engagement for innovators.

Innovation is a cornerstone of this review, with a new public body, Great British Railways, set to integrate the railways, own the infrastructure (absorbing Network Rail) and collect fare revenue, alongside, “running and planning the network, and setting most fares and timetables.”

This offers potential exciting opportunities for innovators and SMEs within rail as Passenger Service Contracts will replace franchising, promising that:

“New opportunities for innovators, suppliers (including small and local partners) and funders will be created through streamlined contracts and more contestability.”

The review also highlights that Great British Railways will become the primary public funder of research, development and innovation (RD&I) initiatives across the rail sector, aiming to build, “stronger links with centres of industry and private sector innovators”.

A streamlined future for innovation in rail, reducing red tape and making it easier for SMEs to enter the market is promised, with, “RD&I schemes and funding pipelines… to break open the rail supply market, encouraging and supporting innovative new partners and incumbents” with a close focus on the benefits to the customer, where open competitions aim to incentivise innovation and efficiency across the rail supply chain. Transparency and open data is also included as a priority, where an ‘open by default’ approach will also be welcomed by innovators.

Further highlights include the close focus within the review on cleaner, greener railways, promising that, “Railways will spearhead the nation’s ambition to become a world leader in clean, green transport.”

KTN’s expert in Rail, Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, said:

“I welcome this push for decarbonisation, biodiversity and improvements in air quality.  Initiatives like this are key to supporting the UK’s aim of net zero by 2050, ensuring that our rail networks are a clean transport network. I’m also pleased to see the focus on innovation and the streamlining of the rail system to encourage and facilitate links with innovative SMEs.

“Crucially, an audit of network accessibility followed by a national accessibility strategy is a welcome feature, improving inclusion across the national network.  Innovation in this space, alongside in sustainable rail, will be essential to ensuring access for all and in offering the best possible value for customers regardless of access needs.”

KTN is extremely active in this sector, already working closely with Innovate UK to ensure the best innovators are supported in accessing funding and opportunities and facilitating collaboration between the private sector and government.  This report is something that KTN, in its support of innovation, can build on.

Read the white paper here.

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