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Balfour Beatty launches Fast Track to Digital Railway: Delivering the vision

Balfour Beatty, the international infrastructure group, has today published its paper “Fast Track to Digital Railway: Delivering the vision.”

The Digital Railway is a rail industry-wide programme encompassing a range of digitally enabled interventions to improve the passenger experience by unlocking much needed capacity in the network and delivering a railway system fit for the future, which will stimulate and strengthen the UK economy.

The paper draws on Balfour Beatty’s knowledge and expertise to propose a range of practical suggestions, which call for an integration of all elements of the railway system, and outlines three key factors necessary to make the Digital Railway a success.

1. Ensure the industry as a whole is engaged and that momentum is maintained. A new behavioral approach is required whereby the relationships between Network Rail and its supply chain will have to evolve from transactions to partnerships across the asset lifecycle, which are based on achieving a longer-term shared strategic vision.

2. Funding must be in place. The cyclical nature of Network Rail’s funding periods has meant that the rail industry has historically suffered from a stop-start funding landscape. To address this issue, the Department for Transport (DfT) should consider whether the Digital Railway, or elements of it, be placed outside of the current five-year funding cycle, with the private sector playing a role in bridging the funding gap.

3. Skills need to be ready at the right time. Initiatives such as the Digital Railway highlight the need to increase the number of skilled people employed in the rail sector, and the need for these workers to be more highly and multi-skilled. On top of these skills requirements there needs to be a culture of continuous improvement to ensure that workers stay on top of fast-evolving technology as the rail industry competes for skilled personnel with many other sectors.

Mark Bullock, Managing Director, Balfour Beatty’s rail business said, “The Digital Railway will be transformative, bringing the UK’s railways into the 21st century. Making the Digital Railway a reality calls for a shake-up of the way the rail industry does business by better connecting the constituent parts, aligning the objectives of multiple stakeholders and bringing track and trains closer together. This will require robust planning and coordination, funding and a concerted effort to address the skills shortage.

Above all, the new approach will have to be more collaborative and more inclusive. Although the challenges are significant, the potential prize is great. The industry must come together to unlock the benefits of the Digital Railway and Balfour Beatty is committed to making this happen.”