Dr David Pugh: Value of emerging technologies

The UK has a rich history of innovation and advancement in the rail industry, from the pioneering days of steam locomotives to the high-speed trains we see today. 

However, in today’s globalised world, maintaining a competitive edge requires the embrace of emerging technologies. Digital Catapult continues to work with businesses in all sectors to identify innovative solutions that can improve efficiency and solve industry challenges, by leveraging emerging technologies such as digital twins, artificial intelligence (AI), and the ‘internet of things’ (IoT). 

With the UK rail industry serving as a key component of connectivity across the country, and with businesses looking to rail as a means of cutting their carbon emissions, the industry must adopt emerging technologies to enable long-term success in the future. 

Doing so will not only keep the UK’s rail industry ahead of global competition, it will also be critical to paving the way for a more innovative and sustainable rail network. 

Rail as a mobiliser 

The rail industry plays a vital role in driving the UK’s economic growth. It serves as critical transportation infrastructure, facilitating the movement of goods, services and people across the country. The industry directly contributes to the economy by generating employment opportunities, attracting investments, and fostering innovation. 

A recent report commissioned by the Railway Industry Association and carried out by independent researchers at Oxford Economics found that rail supports £43 billion GVA in economic growth, 710,000 jobs, and £14bn in tax revenue. 

For every £1 spent on rail, £2.50 of income is generated in the wider economy, demonstrating how the rail industry is a key mobiliser of economic growth in the UK. 

Britain’s rail network further enables businesses to connect with customers and suppliers, subsequently promoting trade and commerce, and boosting tourism by providing convenient transport options for domestic and international travellers. 

It should also be noted that the rail industry’s contribution extends beyond its operations. The UK rail industry is key to the success of other traditional British sectors such as manufacturing, construction and logistics. 

In fact, the UK’s rail network is increasingly touted as a solution for businesses across industries that are looking to cut their carbon emissions and improve the sustainability of their supply chain. 

While the UK rail industry is a key mobiliser of economic growth, it’s also key to helping businesses of all sizes cut their carbon emissions. More decision-makers are considering rail as a means of transport for their business, preferring the environmental advantage of rail freight over vehicles on the road. 

For example, rail freight produces 76% fewer emissions than the equivalent heavy goods vehicle (HGV) journey, with each freight train removing up to 76 HGVs from roads, resulting in 1.66 billion fewer HGV kilometres a year. 

As such, more businesses are recognising the value that rail can have on their operations, and the importance of the country’s rail network and infrastructure on long-term business growth and success. 

This is particularly the case as businesses expect full transparency on carbon emissions as a prerequisite for commercial partnerships and collaboration. 

A growing number of businesses are taking this even further, by expecting to see potential business partners taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) where possible. 

Rail is therefore being increasingly used as an effective means for industry to improve the results of their carbon accounting, achieve their sustainability goals, and act as the foundation from which successful business partnerships can be established. 

The economic impact of the rail industry on a national and international level is clear. But success on the global stage will rely on the industry’s embrace of emerging technologies, to remain competitive and sustainable in the long term. 

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