2021 has started with optimism but also some gloom. Whilst the scientists have performed miracles in fast tracking a number of vaccines through in less than 12 months, due to the high level of COVID infections and hospitalisations the UK have had to enter a 3rd lockdown, with possibly even tighter restrictions to come shortly. With around 2.5 million people now vaccinated there is a possibility that after Easter society once again can open up, and this time for good. So what does Post-COVID really look like for Rail?
- Quick passenger recovery?
- De-carbonisation agenda truly kicking off?
- Infrastructure projects such as CP6 forging ahead?
- Further Government investment in Rail to aid the economic recovery?
- Working from home remains an option?
Quick Passenger Recovery
Boston Rail believe that firstly passenger recovery could recover quickly, after all human beings are pre-dominantly social! There will be many people wanting to visit loved ones, go and actually meet people face to face for business meetings and some to go on holidays or visit a town, City or location they haven’t been in a while. This should help the Train Operating Companies recover, and strengthen balance sheets. Passenger recovery may actually go through a boom for a period as people and business re-connect.
De-carbonisation agenda truly kicking off
In June 2019, the UK became the first major country to legislate for a net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050. The UK Government needs to shape policies and regulations to create a market environment that increases consumer and business demand for low-carbon solutions and encourages sustainable private sector investment decisions. Policies across all areas of government interact to influence the transition of the whole economy towards net zero. Rail is one of the lowest carbon modes of transport, but more progress can be made on electrification on key lines and I’d expect the Government to make greater noise about it’s net-zero carbon later in the year as hopefully COVID fades into the background. Removing diesel trains by 2040 we believe is a realistic target and will help towards the net-zero goal of 2050. Back in 2015-16 trains were responsible for 3,590 tonnes of CO2 emissions. This can be cut through further electrification and future adoption of technologies such as Hydrogen (which is being tested in the UK), but is being used already in Germany.
Infrastructure projects such as CP6 forging ahead
Whilst CP6 has been ongoing there is much to be delivered between now and the end of the period – 2024. Quite a few Tier 1 organisations have said they expect the 2nd half of 2021 to ramp up, and 2022 could be the start of a very busy few years in Rail. Awards have remained slow, and it maybe that CP6 effectively morphs into CP7. The ramp up in projects is a particularly good time for the industry to consider new approaches to recruitment and look both outside the rail industry for new talent, and also look inwards to develop existing talent into the roles that will be needed. Investment in training is paramount to upskill personnel so they can meet future challenges.
Further Government investment in Rail to aid the economic recovery
Mr Heaton Harris – Transport Minister recently said “Network Rail’s operations, maintenance and renewals budgets have not been changed as a result of Spending Review 2020 and workbanks will continue to be based on the five-year regulatory funding settlement for 2019-2024.The Spending Review settlement means that the comparable figure for the enhancements budget over the same period would now be £9.4bn (it was £10.4bn). As part of SR2020 over £2 billion of funding has been confirmed in 2021-22 for rail services and builds on the estimated £12.8 billion of support for transport services that the government has already committed to provide in 2020-21.”
There are initiatives such as Project Speed as well as HS2, and in the future potentially Crossrail 2 that will see significant investments in rail going to at least the end of the decade and into the 2030s. The Rail sector has a huge part to play in the economic recovery from COVID, and by improving passengers experiences through investment in infrastructure, rolling stock and adding additional capacity it will encourage people to return to the railways and hopefully reduce less carbon efficient means of travel such as road, sea and boat.
Working from home remains an option
2020 saw the enforced adoption of video conferencing technology which has enabled many business to continue to operate but in a different way. Some organisations are permanently changing the way they operate by allowing a flexible part-office, part home-working solution. With globalisation creating a 24/7 culture, video conferencing enables better quality of contact wherever anyone is in the World (providing they have an all important internet connection of course!!) and can reduce the need of some organisations to spend money on office space, business travel and other ancillary expenses. Boston Rail welcomes some of these changes but still believes face to face interaction is still the best way of communication with others – internally, with customers or with suppliers. We believe the Pandemic has changed the way we work and interact forever.
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