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A rail system to deliver economic growth - Balfour Beatty launches its paper “Fast Track to Digital Railway: Delivering the vision”

30 October 2017

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 behavioural 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.”


To read the paper in full, please click here and get involved in the conversation using #ExpertEngineers

Image: Blackfriars Station


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Will Swan
Balfour Beatty
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Notes to editors:

  • Balfour Beatty is one of the UK’s leading rail infrastructure suppliers. From feasibility studies, planning and design through to implementation and asset management, we provide multi-disciplinary rail infrastructure services across the lifecycle of rail assets. Our expertise covers electrification, track, power, civils, specialist rail plant, railway systems and technologies.
  • As one of the UK’s oldest infrastructure firms Balfour Beatty has developed an in-depth understanding of the needs of the British railways and we constantly innovate to support our clients. We help to create better journeys by increasing the rail network’s capacity, improving reliability and making our railways more efficient and sustainable.
  • Balfour Beatty’s current portfolio of rail projects includes the £170m Track Partnership for London Underground, the £50m project for track re-modelling of London Bridge and Crossrail projects including the £130m Abbey Wood station, the £110m Whitechapel station and the £70m station at Woolwich. Its most recent contract award was for the electrification of the Great Western Mainline route between Cardiff and Bristol Parkway for Network Rail.
  • Balfour Beatty’s Rail Innovation Hub in Derby, which was visited by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling this year, has a team of the industry’s leading technical experts and engineers dedicated to research, develop and test the latest, ground-breaking technologies and working practices in the UK and overseas. These include High Speed Measurement Systems and Automated Inspection and Monitoring Systems which enable track maintenance to be done on passenger trains at high speed, allowing early fault detection and significantly reducing costs.
  • Balfour Beatty recently acquired Omnicom Engineering to enhance its innovation capabilities and Omnicom’s global reach. This unique company, which specialises in the development of vehicle borne software and hardware platforms for asset survey, inspection and monitoring, provides an unrivalled range of solutions to support the maintenance of roads and railways across the world.