UK rail industry and universities launch network to shape future railways

The UK rail industry has launched four Centres of Excellence with UK universities that are expected to help shape the global future of railways.

rail industry
IEP train built at Hitachi Rail Europe Newton Aycliffe plant, County Durham.

Covering rolling stock, infrastructure, digital systems and testing, the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) has been established to give the rail industry access to purpose-built facilities and skills to support research, development and innovation for new technologies and products.

Southampton University will lead the Centre of Excellence in Infrastructure. Three other centres will focus on Digital Systems (led by Birmingham University), Rolling Stock (led by Huddersfield University) and Testing (led by Network Rail with their Rail Innovation & Development Centres).

Prof Clive Roberts, director of the Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education at Birmingham University said: “This launch is the official beginning of an innovative partnership, and we look forward to reinforcing the UK as the world-leading centre of rail innovation.”

UKRRIN has been established following a successful £28m bid to the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is backed by a commitment from the rail industry to invest over £60m in research, development and innovation activities at these Centres over the next ten years.

Rail Minister Jo Johnson said: “We are investing in the biggest modernisation programme of our railways since Victorian times, delivering what passengers want – more frequent trains and quicker and more comfortable journeys.

“In doing so, we are utilising a range of new technologies across the network and Britain is now at the cutting edge of digital signalling, high speed transport and railway infrastructure.

“New centres of excellence, bringing together experts, universities and the wider rail industry will be essential in achieving our ambition to get all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040 as well as delivering the advanced railway network that passengers deserve.”

UKRRIN’s key objectives:

  • Support and build UK rail sector capacity and capability to develop, deliver and deploy new technologies
  • Deliver a step change investment in rail innovation through a world-leading network of UK- based research and testing centres
  • Radically increase UK rail productivity and performance by delivering transformational innovations and accelerating its uptake
  • Develop new strategic relationships with the SME supply chain, rail industry and wider transport sector

Jo Binstead, head of innovation at Siemens Rail Systems and chair of the UKRRIN Steering Group, said: “By bringing together leading UK universities and industry, we can ensure that developments being made through academic research can be commercialised to deliver transformative changes across our railway network.”