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Ben has over 25 years' experience in the heavy rail industry from traction and M&E apprentice to board director, with practical experience of working on and about the operational railway in both maintenance and investment project environments. Currently practice director of Energy Systems for Transportation at Atkins, Ben has considerable project and business management experience and has been involved in a variety of infrastructure projects including major programmes such as the Digital Railway, West Coast Route Modernisation, Thameslink and Crossrail.

Ben has a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Hons), a Doctor of Engineering Management (Bristol), and is a Chartered Electrical Engineer, and a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Ben is also a Non-Executive Director of EAL Ltd.

You can find out more about rail related career opportunities at Atkins here .

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MOST RECENT

I recently shared with the National College for High Speed Rail a blog post exploring my experiences as an apprentice, and how they have informed my career to date – please see the full article below. 

Apprenticeships are a fantastic way of starting your career. I am speaking from personal experience, as I began my career on the railway as an apprentice in August 1988.  This was at a time when apprenticeships were very unfashionable, and certainly if you were academic, it wasn’t the norm to leave school at 16.

Armed with a collection of mid-range GCSEs, I applied for and secured an apprenticeship with British Rail at their locomotive works in Stratford in East London. Little did I know on that first day, just what would develop in the years to come for me: the people I would meet, the experiences I would have and the life that I would go on to lead, working on large-scale infrastructure programmes such as the Channel Tunnel, West Coast Route Modernisation and Thameslink.

The apprenticeship taught me skills, lots and lots of them – how to work with a variety of materials, how to wire up buildings and machines, how to maintain and repair huge diesel engines and generator sets, and much more besides. However, in truth, just as important as building up my technical knowledge was honing my interpersonal skills. The ability to listen and learn, to build sustainable relationships, to ask challenging questions and importantly, to feel comfortable being challenged back, were just a few of the important skills I was taught.

Nearly 30 years later, I can look back and say that what I learnt in the workplace as an apprentice formed the bedrock of my career. These skills enabled me to work with complex technical information, negotiate challenging environments, understand what motivates people and build sustained relationships, based on trust. The apprenticeship also encouraged me to work independently and manage time effectively. I didn’t know it then, but looking back it was a perfect blend of formal training, work-based learning and life experience, shared with a very diverse cross-section of people.

So, what would I say to those considering starting a career in engineering as an apprentice in 2017? My advice is think about the way you like to learn, and if you choose this path

  • Keep an open and inquisitive mind, never be afraid to ask questions
  • Build sustainable relationships, some of them might turn into very good personal and professional friendships    
  • Take ownership of your learning, find opportunities to push yourself and develop    
  • Aim high but be patient, you are at the start of a great career and you are only young once!

If like me, you prefer to approach learning in a more practical and autonomous way and want to embark on a career in engineering, you should check out the website for the National College for High Speed Rail - new apprentices are joining the profession right at the start of the high speed rail revolution, developing future-focused engineering skills which will be in demand around the world for decades to come.

This article was written by Ben Dunlop, practice director - Energy Systems, Transportation at Atkins

 

UK & Europe,

Electrification holds the key. After two decades of very limited expansion, the GB rail network is increasing its coverage of electrified infrastructure at an unprecedented rate. £3 billion has been committed over the next 10 years to increasing the number of electrified lines nationally from 39% to 51% by the end of CP6.

Government/industry change

Unlike previous electrification campaigns, there is the added complexity of ensuring all future electrification projects are compliant with BS1192, the British Standard code of practice for the collaborative production of architectural, engineering and construction information. This provides a significant challenge for the sector which demands a step change in working methods.

The current skills shortage, coupled with a historic reliance on manual design processes, necessarily precipitated innovation to meet the requirements of the demanding programme of planned works, ensuring quality and timely delivery. Delivering a design of improved quality, increasing the use of digital data platforms, optimising design solutions, all whilst reducing timescales and cost, would not be achievable without automating large elements of the Overhead Line Equipment (OLE) design process. Finding ways to improve productivity and streamline processes is now an industry-wide challenge.

Atkins' solution

The decision to embrace technology was an easy one. Yet the absence of a commercially available integrated OLE software application, encompassing all elements associated with OLE design and which was not aligned to a specific supplier or system, posed a problem. Atkins' Transportation division' solution was to develop a suite of in-house integrated tools named TADPOLE (Tools Assisting Design and Production of Overhead Line Equipment).

The TADPOLE concept grew from the knowledge of many experienced Atkins' OLE engineers and software specialists and has been created by those same engineers. This has ensured the end product is user friendly, fit for purpose, easily adopted and successfully deployed on projects. It was developed as a modular system to provide the flexibility to customise and interchange modules according to project requirements. It also allows users to manually utilise the modules on other applications outside the TADPOLE environment.

TADPOLE allows the exchange of data utilising an open source data file (XML format) to automate repetitive design processes. It standardises outputs to remove risk and optimises design solutions.

TADPOLE has grown organically in response to project needs, prioritising the OLE design modules which return the greatest benefits. These modules of TADPOLE provide a firm footing from which further modules and systems can be developed.

Additionally, Atkins was successful in securing funding from Innovate UK for a research project to develop the application of Digital Engineering in the Railway Industry. The two-year Digitally Enabling Electrification (DEE) research project, which was part of the government innovation strategy for digitalising the railway, focused on railway electrification. The team, including Laing O'Rourke, dhp11 and Imperial College London, developed approaches that increase the efficiency and validity of data passing through all stages of the lifecycle, from survey, design and manufacture through to construction and operations. By exploiting digital technologies, the project team has demonstrated how the industry can benefit from the establishment of an integrated Building Information Modelling (BIM)-compliant environment, which enables common methods of exchanging and structuring data throughout the lifecycle of an OLE asset.

Success so far

Atkins' Transportation division is currently employed on the majority of key electrification projects which make up the National Electrification Programme. Various modules of TADPOLE have been utilised to varying levels on the majority of these including, but not limited to, Great Western Electrification, North West Electrification and Midland Mainline Electrification, by an established team of engineers dedicated to best practice in OLE design worldwide.

Given the scale of the projects and the steep learning curve the entire industry has been on, due to the significant step-change in electrification expansion, the level of delivery would not have been possible using conventional methods. The modular nature of TADPOLE and the in-house ownership of the tools has allowed Atkins' OLE team to react quickly to change and be flexible in response to client requirements.

The future of DEE is also now being taken forward at an industry level through Atkins' chairmanship of the Digital Data Exchange working group for Electrification, which is bringing together an expanding group of stakeholders to help shape and define the protocols to the next level.

Call to action

The industry needs to embrace new technologies while retaining existing knowledge and competence. TADPOLE provides a familiar interface for the engineers to design with, which comes together in a modular nature to provide a highly customisable, consistent and detailed design output in line with current BIM methodology.

The next challenge is actually to adopt the same philosophy that has been employed with TADPOLE by interfacing outside of the design team into other disciplines, construction teams, asset management, maintenance etc. This would mean that the information can be shared consistently and between different systems.

Our work with TADPOLE, combined with discussions with Network Rail and the supply chain, has highlighted a number of key strategic improvements that could be made. This would allow electrification design to move into the digital world and help promote innovation in design tools across the supply chain, rather than being tied to a particular supplier. The improvements would include developing a common data exchange format, maintaining a controlled central database for design ranges, the standardisation of asset tagging and a revised, consistent BIM strategy.

Implementation of the above would provide the industry with a baseline upon which to develop. As demonstrated by the DEE research project for example, vast efficiencies can be achieved with customised systems using hierarchical data models, such as OLEDEF.xml. This also opens up the market to limitless innovative software across all stages of the product lifecycle.

The next evolution of this will be to start to repeat the process for other engineering disciplines, so they too have digital data models which integrate together to create a whole infrastructure model. Once this vision becomes a reality, we will start to genuinely be on the road to a digital railway.

To find out more about how Atkins is helping its clients to shape the future of transportation at this year's InnoTrans, visit the Speakers’ Corner (Hall 15.2) at 11.30am on Wednesday 21 September and come to stand 225A, CityCube A to speak to one of its consultants.

UK & Europe,

We value the depth of ideas and breadth of experience that recruiting new team members from many different backgrounds brings to our creativity, decision-making, ability to build strong client relationships and delivery capability. At Atkins, when we talk about diversity, we really mean inclusion, and we work hard to be representative of the society in which we live.  To design and implement the best possible solutions for our clients and to enable them to enhance the passenger experience, as a business we have to be able to speak for the needs and concerns of people in the UK.

Our people are a mirror for the world outside our offices: they come from a range of socio-economic background, educational experiences, genders and sexual orientations; they are global citizens and understanding what’s important for them makes our business better.

So, why is diversity important to the future of rail?  Record investment in the industry over recent years and the advent of schemes such as High Speed 2, Digital Railway and the Northern Powerhouse is creating enormous demand for skilled engineers.

It has been estimated that engineering companies will need to recruit around 56,000 engineering technicians per year between 2012 and 2022 to cover demand and embed the skills of the future.  Apprentices help to meet this demand, but there is currently an annual shortfall of 30,000.  (It is worth noting that salary expectations are good too, with the average salary in 2014 for engineering technicians significantly higher than the UK mean wage.)

As an industry, if we are going to adequately respond to the challenges catalysed by the unprecedented number of passengers travelling on our railway and the forecast growth in capacity, then bringing in new talent is a business-critical issue.

Today, there are 1.7billion passenger journeys made every year, which is a 34% increase in the number of annual journeys when compared to five years ago.  This is more than double the figure for 20 years ago. We need to cast our net wider as an industry and appeal to budding engineers and STEM enthusiasts.  The industry needs to dispel preconceptions and stereotypes about what it means to work in rail; after all, the engineer of tomorrow (and increasingly today) is far more likely to work using digital tools and a laptop, than in overalls and with spanners.

It must also be recognised that the UK railway in 2016 offers a fantastic array of opportunities.  Construction is currently underway on the new High Speed Rail colleges in Doncaster and Birmingham, the Crossrail Tunnelling Academy is going from strength to strength and Alstom is forging ahead with plans to open a new training facility in Widnes.  The sector has no choice but to get smart in line with market forces.

Individual organisations are offering dynamic apprenticeship, graduate and industry engagement initiatives in an attempt to lure the best candidates.  This move represents a seismic shift in terms of recruitment in rail and reflects the awareness that there is currently a shortage of candidates.

The industry cannot afford to be half-hearted; a business is only ever as good as its people.  The onus is now on the rail sector to attract the best school, college and university leavers into rail and to provide them with opportunities for professional development that mean they are retained within the industry.

Conversely, part of the appeal of a good grounding in rail engineering is its potential application to other industries: rail opens, rather than closes doors.  This has to appeal to young people who don’t want to limit their options early in their career.

The historic move to transition parts of the UK network from a conventional to an IP-networked railway means that the skills of the future will not be purely hardware-focused.  Software engineers who can operate and devise centralised digital control systems will be in huge demand and experience unprecedented opportunity.

So, what is Atkins doing to help attract and retain the next generation of engineers who will shape the future of transportation?  As a business, we are proud to have over 500 STEM ambassadors.  In the financial year 2015/6, Atkins’ people participated in 350+ school-based outreach activities reaching over 5,000 students. 
There are currently over 240 apprentices being trained at Atkins.  Atkins is a committed member of the 5% club, and pleased to be surpassing this target. 

The UK business takes on 300 new graduates a year, and has been shortlisted by TARGETjobs as the most popular graduate recruiter in the construction, civil engineering and surveying sector for 2016.

The business is proud to be aligned to WISE’s 10 steps to promote gender diversity and sponsored the Design category at this year’s STEM awards.  Atkins continues to work with the Royal Academy of Engineering to develop engineering talent.

To learn more about why these initiatives are important, watch our short film telling the story of our apprentices and graduates experiences of Rail Week and why they recommend working in rail. 

UK & Europe,

The digital layer of the railway is a common information and processing architecture, which creates the need for digital interfaces between systems that have never been previously connected. As information for the digital railway takes many forms (e.g. to support operations, infrastructure performance or provide real time information to customers) it is one of the most effective ways of creating fast-growing intellectual capital assets. As a result, the system-wide effect of the huge investment required to implement the digital railway, is unprecedented.

The BIM layer of the railway supports whole-life design and requires an interface to the sensors that monitor the behaviour of built assets in order to predict their maintenance needs. The asset data around the maintenance schedule is then able to inform the data in the operational timetable. Therefore the database of railway operations will affect multi-modal timetables and the pricing structures of integrated “smart” ticketing.

The digital railway’s customer-facing information connects to the information of the wider transport and retail industry at one end. At the same time, the digital railway’s asset performance information connects to the maintenance industry’s supply systems, while the system’s traction power requirements interface with the flows of power in the national energy grid -  whilst the ability for each of these systems to communicate is reliant upon the connectivity in the telecoms grid.

Many industries built around critical national infrastructure, such as nuclear and water, have already recognised that this interconnectivity of information systems represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Risks such as those arising from power supply interruption and extreme weather events demonstrate to us how multiple systems can be impacted simultaneously. The digital railway’s information architecture will be the common layer on which these impacts will be most visible – and the one where a view across the system will demonstrate the most benefit.


Digital railway revolution LinkedIn group  

UK & Europe,

Passenger numbers on the UK rail network climbed to a record high in 2015 with travellers clocking up a record 1.6 billion journeys. Demand for rail shows no signs of slowing: at current growth rates, the journey total is set to hit the three billion mark within 15 years and those extra journeys – around 1.3 million per week – will need to be accommodated within the existing network.

Britain is not the only country where demand is on the rise. France and Germany are also witnessing growth, with passenger kilometres up around 20 per cent over the last ten years. Luxembourg, meanwhile, has seen the biggest increase, with demand rising by more than 60 per cent. To help cater for this, the French government is investing €15 billion in renewals and capacity upgrades, while Germany has earmarked €28 billion for rail modernisation over the next four years.

Birth of the digital railway

Catering for such an upsurge presents big challenges – how can operators set about squeezing more out of networks that are already stretched to the limit? Ambitious plans for new railways – from Crossrail and HS2 in the UK to the Tours-Bordeaux high speed line in France and Switzerland’s trans-Alpine Gotthard Base Tunnel – will ease the pressure but more needs to be done in the long term.

Shifting to a “digital railway” model could be the answer. The concept, developed by the UK’s rail infrastructure owner Network Rail, is a railway in which everything – from signalling to trains, infrastructure and ticketing – is managed digitally with the aim of boosting capacity, efficiency and the customer experience. And it has the capability to change the way railways are designed and planned around the world.

“It shakes to the core the existing working practices and methods that the industry has relied upon for the past 180 years,” says Ben Dunlop, director of Digital Railway at Atkins. “And it challenges almost every facet of the industry.”

According to Dunlop, delivering the digital railway is not only about new technology, but also new attitudes.

“The global rail industry struggles with innovation and rarely embraces technology quickly. It tends to stay with what it knows and keeps itself going based on its traditional thinking rather than looking to the future,” he says.

Signalling is a case in point. In addition to guaranteeing safety, signalling governs capacity. Yet most conventional signalling simply replicates the 19th century “block” system – the principle of distance separation between trains based on fixed geographical points. Because the speed of each individual train is not taken into account, gaps between trains on the same stretch of track are often much bigger than they need to be. The result is lost capacity.

This is not the only limitation. Conventional interlocking, the safety critical “brains” of the railway, cannot easily be re-purposed to meet changing needs. This will increase the costs of implementing the next generation of signalling known as European Rail Traffic Management System/ European Train Control System (ERTMS/ETCS) Level 2 – a high-performance digital system that will soon be standard for new schemes.

“Generally, the signalling technology we have today is late 20th century at best – most of it is far older. It hasn’t really moved on,” says Dunlop. “If you think about the speed at which digital data, software and microprocessors have evolved, and what you can do now compared to what you could do then, we’re miles apart.”

Delivering the digital railway

Intelligent signalling is urgently needed. In the UK, Atkins worked with Network Rail’s heads of signalling to pinpoint exactly what was essential: “They gave us a list of requirements. We then set about identifying and developing a suitable interlocking product to navigate into the UK market. That product is now ready,” says Dunlop.

The new interlocking module differs from its predecessors in a number of important ways. First, it’s future proof and smarter.

“The product works not only in a conventional signalling setup, but also in an ERTMS/ETCS Level 2 environment and beyond,” says Dunlop. “You can connect it to the internet, so you have a signalling system that you can remotely analyse through an IP network. For the first time, maintenance teams will know about signalling problems before the operator does.”

Meeting the rising demand for rail will require big changes in just about every facet of operations. But can those changes be delivered quickly enough? And is it really possible to deliver change on the massive scale required while minimising risk?

One nation with experience in this arena is Denmark. The national rail infrastructure owner – Banedanmark – is now midway through a ground breaking modernisation programme to replace every signal, level crossing and signal box in the country – the first re-signalling scheme to cover an entire country.

The system chosen as a replacement – ERTMS/ETCS Level 2 – underlines the gains that can be made by switching from analogue to digital technology. Among the benefits are extra capacity, improved reliability and lower operating costs. The system uses cab signalling, so there’s a dramatic reduction in lineside equipment.

There are wider benefits. Data generated by the system assists in building new capabilities such as conflict resolution – the ability to predict and prevent snarl ups. Energy savings are possible through better scheduling.

Swift and seamless delivery is a priority. To ensure this, test labs are used to check everything before installation, minimising the need for engineering shut downs. And the customer and suppliers share office space, maximising the opportunities for teamwork.

Atkins is providing multi-disciplinary signalling expertise for the Denmark project and is now working with Norway’s national rail administrator, Jernbaneverket, on a similar nationwide scheme.

Intelligent signalling is the bedrock of the digital railway because it improves fluidity and capacity. But as well as transforming the way railways are operated, digital technology has a decisive part to play in the way new infrastructure is built.

BIM – Building Information Modelling – is one example. BIM is a collaborative three-dimensional tool that is used not only to create designs, but also to assist in the procurement, construction and maintenance of assets. In short, BIM provides digital lifetime support for infrastructure.

The Crossrail tunnelling project in London was one of the first major infrastructure schemes where BIM was used effectively in the UK. And BIM is integral to the design and delivery of the UK’s rail electrification programme where Atkins has created its own automatic electrification design tool over the last three years. Furthermore, Atkins has been in collaboration with industry partners to deliver an Innovate UK funded project to Digitally Enable Electrification (DEE) to bring the project lifecycle of an electrification scheme into the digital age.

“We have been leading the agenda on BIM in certain areas of the railway and we’ve seen significant production increases as a result,” says Dunlop.

In the long term, the rise of intelligent infrastructure is likely to help improve the reliability of assets and reduce costs. Remote condition monitoring based on predictive analytics is already a reality. This allows maintainers to predict problems with vital equipment – such as point motors – before they go wrong.

But this is just the start, believes Dunlop: “There is a good chance that in the future, we will see physical infrastructure being constructed out of materials that have a far greater level of connectivity and self-analysis.”

The rise of advanced composites with self-sensing capabilities – such as fibre-reinforced plastics and smart concrete – paves the way to bringing buildings, bridges, tunnels, retaining walls and even the track itself under the digital umbrella.

“Routine maintenance and inspection would no longer mean shutting the railway down,” says Dunlop. “It’s about building a railway that is data intensive rather than labour intensive.”

Allied with this will be the ability to gain insights from the deluge of data generated by smart assets. “There’s an opportunity for organisations that have strong domain knowledge, understand how assets need to work and have expertise to add value with data analytics.”

Changing trains

Making the digital railway a reality will require root and branch reform of the industry, stresses Dunlop. “While technology is the enabler, business change is probably the most significant part of the digital railway,” he says.

An integrated approach to business change will be needed that spans planning, building, operating and maintaining the infrastructure as well as the train services that run on it.

The need for change is complicated by shifts in the balance of power between train operators and infrastructure owners. In part, this is because the advent of cab signalling means intelligence (and hardware) is migrating away from the trackside and onto the trains themselves.

This process is likely to gain momentum as high-capacity ERTMS/ETCS Level 3 signalling comes in prospect. The costs associated with train control will shift decisively from infrastructure providers to train operators.

Improvements in the reliability of infrastructure can only be good news for the industry.

“What would a zero delay railway look like?” asks Dunlop. With no delay compensation payments to operators and much lower levels of customer dissatisfaction, does that increase or decrease the attraction for private operators to invest in their services? The answer should be increase but in the somewhat opaque world of revenue apportionment and delay attribution it might not be so clear cut.

One thing is for sure, argues Dunlop: the improved customer experience would set expectations to a very high level, and that positive pressure could only drive increased collaboration and efficiency.

Dunlop also questions whether the current regulatory regime is the right one to promote a truly digital railway.

“The legal and commercial framework we have now was set up in the early 1990s when passenger numbers were declining,” he says. “Twenty years on, rail is a growth engine. Is the existing framework an enabler or a blocker?”

Devolution could also jeopardise the digital railway: “If you lost the ability to drive policy from a national perspective, you could end up in a situation where delivering a digital railway could be almost impossible,” he adds.

Despite the headwinds, Dunlop is optimistic about the prospects for a digital railway – provided the strategic steer is right.

“Success hinges on linking everything to the customer experience, so it needs to be easier for train operators and freight operators to contribute – not just the infrastructure operator,” observes Dunlop.

“The programme should probably be split out from Network Rail and given a landing point somewhere it can act as a policy driver. That would be the best enabler the digital railway could have.”

To find out more about how Atkins is helping its clients to shape the future of transportation at this year's InnoTrans, visit the Speakers’ Corner (Hall 15.2) at 11.30am on Wednesday 21 September and come to stand 225A, CityCube A to speak to one of its consultants.

Digital railway revolution LinkedIn group

UK & Europe,

The growth in demand for rail services in the UK is soaring, with over 1.6 billion passenger journeys recorded by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the highest recorded figure since the series began. With continued growth of 4% per annum anticipated, there is an urgent need for affordable solutions that will help improve reliability and reduce delays, while improving the experience for passengers who also expect greater value for money.

So, standing still is not an option. By innovating now and selecting the right solutions, using proven technology that’s flexible, increases effectiveness, and adds value we can take confident steps towards the signalling systems of the future.

To do this well requires delivering both significant improvements to the sector’s technological capability, while transforming future delivery methods so we are better equipped to support a positive and lasting cultural change across the industry that can deliver greater benefits for many years to come.

New digital technology and delivery methods provide the opportunity to re-engineer the whole signalling system so future rail services can offer greater efficiencies and transform the way in which services are managed to meet the growing demands.

For example, by adopting modern software techniques with progressive assurance ‘in-built’ and standards aligned to the right technologies, it is possible to implement signalling systems on complex railways with a greater level of confidence than has previously been experienced. High levels of automated testing can also save time to commission projects, while reducing the amount of resource required and associated risks. These digitally enabled signalling systems are fit for the future, more reliable and easily reconfigurable to adapt to changing demands.

To work in this way requires a totally new approach, you can’t just take your old processes and improve them. Which is why successfully delivering this level of change raises something of a dilemma that needs careful consideration by clients and the sector.

Working collaboratively with Network Rail and a range of leading suppliers to drive innovation, requires us to overcome barriers and challenges such as:

  • Not wanting to go first
  • Using the railway as a test bed for new technology
  • Innovating without affecting performance of the railway
  • If the railway does not innovate, how do we improve performance?

By analysing the industry from a cultural level to understand the issues preventing the deployment of modern, multi-industry open technology, we can devise programmes that meet both the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ needs of the customer to deliver future signalling systems to the rail industry.

Using partnering principles we can deliver the best possible outcome for the customers, the industry and our businesses increasing the potential to deliver change and to leave a lasting legacy that can overcome cultural issues such building trust in an open system and safety critical environment, shifting the socio-political environment of the UK and Europe so we can manage innovation and by gradually introducing change.

Building on our experience in other sectors such as nuclear and defence, deploying similar technologies and delivery methods, at Atkins, we are combining the expertise of our people with the latest technology and ways of working to create signalling improvements today to enable and deliver the digital railway services for tomorrow.

Atkins has chosen to invest now – to develop and design integrated signalling systems that can deliver change and offer real improvements. 

 
To continue the discussion on Digital Railways, please join our dedicated LinkedIn Group

To find out more about how Atkins is helping its clients to shape the future of transportation at this year's InnoTrans, visit the Speakers’ Corner (Hall 15.2) at 11.30am on Wednesday 21 September and come to stand 225A, CityCube A to speak to one of its consultants.

UK & Europe,

At the beginning of February, the Rail Supply Group launched its strategy to build growth in the UK rail industry and support exports and 124,000 industry jobs. The Digital Railway is at the centre of this push towards generating exportable capability that will be in demand for decades to come. The 4,000+ suppliers in the rail supply chain will have to come together as never before to deliver innovative products and services which are distinctly different. These will be drawn not just from traditional industry sources, but from increasingly diverse industries from aerospace to financial services – and digital technologies will provide the common layer in translating much of this expertise.

Innovation has never been more important to delivery. InnovateUK, the national innovation agency, is delivering its third multi-million pound portfolio of projects, focusing on digital technologies that improve customer and Atkins’ own “Digitally Enabling Electrification” project is already setting the pace for BIM standards. The industry’s “Unlocking Innovation Scheme” is now deploying a digital matchmaking platform to bring together collaborative consortia. The EU Horizon 2020 programme’s recent €26.1m call, through Shift2Rail, focuses strongly on developing the capability to deliver the digital railway, with RSSB’s “Future Railway” programme provides support and managing funding.

More money is being invested in digital innovation in the railway than ever before, with the level of funding available reducing the risks of capability development. The only question is who will be first to take them up – will it be you?


To continue the discussion on Digital Railways, please join our dedicated LinkedIn Group

UK & Europe,

By 2050, it is expected that nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. By 2030, there will be more than 40 so-called “mega-cities” worldwide with populations of more than 10 million, such as Delhi, Shanghai and Tokyo, tipped to be the world’s largest urban agglomerations. 

Future-proofing these cities will bring new challenges, from mitigating climate change to managing huge spikes in demand for transport capacity. One of the most important features of the urbanisation of human society is the creation of new and complex relationships. Increasingly, cities will have to directly understand and manage their relationships with other cities. 

The relationship between London, Birmingham and Edinburgh and, now, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull for HS3, are critical issues for the digital railway. If such multi-city networks as the “Northern Powerhouse” are to reach its potential, the brakes on growth will come from limitation on the growth of city hubs. In the absence of a solution to the housing crisis, demand for intercity travel will continue to surge, creating increasing need for operational optimisation, multimodal integration (of both passenger travel and particularly last-mile freight solutions) and capacity management. 

In my opinion, railway capacity around hubs is already dependent upon integration between high-speed, metro and light rail. This shows the impact of urbanisation on demand for rail services; and the experience of rapid urbanisation in the developing world will be a crucial contribution towards understanding these challenges – and will drive new collaborative partnerships. 

I can see this transforming the digital railway’s interfaces at the city-level – whilst the benefits will only be realised by those who can demonstrate the ability to understand macro-level demand and the integration of city-to-city business processes.

UK & Europe,