The coming years are going to be big for the UK rail sector. At the moment an unprecedented boom in orders for new trains are in the pipeline, with more than £10bn being invested in 5,670 trains that will come into service between now and 2020.
That investment which will see 25 new vehicles hit the tracks every single week comes in a couple of different forms. Firstly, there’s a need to replace the rolling stock on the busy east and west coast main lines with some 40-year-old high speed trains (HSTs) due to be replaced. Then, on top of that, there are the completely new routes in the Thameslink and Crossrail projects, which require about half of the total new rail vehicles.
The benefit of such a glut of orders will be felt in a variety of areas.
Firstly, the investment should rightly be seen as good news for commuters. The new stock ought to make the experience of using the UK’s rail network a better one. The trains in question will eventually deliver superfast Wi-Fi, a greater level of information for passengers, better air conditioning and more plug sockets. Better still, it should mean more seats and fewer issues with overcrowding. It will benefit commuters right up and down the east and west coast routes, as well as people who currently rely on the First Trans Pennine Express, Merseyrail and Hull Trains – important routes that connect together the so-called Northern Powerhouse.
When it comes to completely new services, this investment can also provide a boost to a whole location. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that transport links can have on the vitality of an area. Making it easier for people to connect with other towns and cities can attract new residents and new businesses to move there. You only need to look at the impact that Crossrail has had on house prices around the new stops to see the effect of rail investment. Thamleslink and Crossrail should, therefore, change life for people on the outskirts of the capital and increase the ease with which they can access central London.
Business in the sector…
Those physical orders are, in the short term, really good for manufacturers, especially Bombardier, Siemens and Hitachi, which are taking on the the vast bulk of the orders between them. That’s welcome news for places such as Derby, where many of the Bombardier orders are handled and thousands of people rely directly on jobs with the firm. Buoyed by this, Bombardier is even weighing up a big contract as part of the HS2 rail project to design, build and maintain trains that will travel along the high speed line.
…and those indirectly linked
But, of course, this building frenzy also has a ripple effect. From those who make individual parts through to those involved in practices such as shot blasting and preparing and finishing parts, big orders such as these are good news for a large number of people. When Siemens took an order for the new Thameslink project, for example, it ordered hi-tech electrical components in Hebburn near Newcastle, pantographs in Somerset, cab radios in Dorset, flooring in Hertfordshire, lighting in the West Midlands, warning systems in Cheshire and CCTV in Tyne and Wear.
Investment in the rail network is, therefore, not just good news for those that ride on or build trains and we can expect the ripple effect to be felt across a number of different industries and locations in the next three years.