Winds of change: What does a pandemic, HS2 and GBR mean for the UK rail network?


The UK rail network is undergoing huge changes, some planned and some unexpected. However, it needed to change – overcrowded trains, delays, cancellations, and operational inefficiencies were all taking their toll. But what will make a new, refreshed rail network a success under the new GBR umbrella and, with the urgent need to decarbonise transport systems, a viable, practical alternative to road haulage?


Positive impacts of the pandemic

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed travel patterns. Office workers are now used to a hybrid workplace, where commuting to the office everyday is no longer the norm, and this is unlikely to revert. However, this has created breathing space in the timetable with up to one in five trains not in service. Previously, the network was running at full capacity, giving control operators little room for manoeuvre if a train was cancelled or delayed. With services removed from the timetable, there is a better chance of minimising the impact of unscheduled events and more chance for the network to recover quickly, enhancing customer experience.

The reduced number of commuters has also increased seat availability and enabled TOCs to better manage peak times. This presents an opportunity to cascade rolling stock but also means there is a lot of rolling stock just sitting around, creating unnecessary overheads. However, could this too be a benefit?


The rail network could contribute a great deal to the country's decarbonisation efforts. A freight train can carry up to 3,000 tons and take the equivalent load of around 76 HGVs. This would mean fewer lorries on the roads, lower emissions, and benefits to a highly congested road network. But how can the track become a more viable option to road?

HGVs present a particular challenge to decarbonisation strategies. While increasing ‘e-mobility' is a key target to reduce emissions, the weight of battery required for a long-distance HGV is currently simply too heavy and would have too much impact on the size of load these vehicles could transport. Trains offer a way around this. Some companies are already scooping up the older stock that is just sitting around, updating it with newer technology and creating new logistics solutions. Fitting a diesel engine underneath dual voltage trains creates the flexibility to transport goods into the heart of cities at 100 mph. In the future, these diesel engines could be replaced by new energies such as hydrogen or batteries to meet decarbonisation targets. Indeed, some companies are already using older stock to experiment with these technologies. To support the last stage of transport, hubs could be created close to city centres and smaller, electric power vehicles used to take goods to their final destination. Overall, such a logistics network could be achieved relatively quickly and would have a significant positive impact on national emission levels and air quality around cities.

HS2 the future

Concentrated on the west side of the country, HS2 will reduce journey times to cities such as Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow and aims to ‘level up' the country. It will also release capacity on the busy West Coast main line and provide a fast, electric freight route from Liverpool to Felixstowe, freeing up pathways for local urban or inter-urban services. These additional pathways will make rail more attractive and flexible to businesses, including those with time critical cargo, such as supermarkets.

Success will require innovation

The rail network has challenges but, with all the changes and investment, it is also a time of rare opportunity. With the right approach, changes could result in an improved, more reliable, and more efficient network, providing increased freight capacity and flexibility, reduced national carbon footprint, geographical levelling up - and all from a profitable organisation. However, this will only happen with innovation and more efficient management of resources. For example, better data management and analysis has been shown across different industry sectors to be a pathway to greater efficiency. Data is already widely available across the rail network and beyond, but the value it holds is not always captured and it is often kept in disparate, siloed locations. By bringing the data available into a single location and analysing, understanding and learning from it, improvements can be identified and the impact of events causing delays or cancellations minimised. Manual processes can also be replaced and made more efficient and operators armed with the information they need to make better, more informed decisions.

Specialist vendors, including agile and responsive SMEs who are thinking about and investing in the future of rail, offer a great opportunity for the rail sector to cash in on innovation. These smaller players are offering solutions as services, rather than giant, CAPEX-intensive projects, and could provide rail operators with the flexibility and agility they need to capture all the benefits a reformed rail network could offer.


The rail network is at a pivotal junction. If the right base constituents are put in place, the cost of change could be a relatively minor investment, spread as OPEX. The opportunities are real and, by looking to technology partners that are taking the time to understand and address the unique challenges of the network with innovative, forward-thinking solutions, the rail network could prove to be a winning combination of better customer experience, decarbonisation, and profit.

Original Author of article: Derrick Bilsby, CEO at ITAL

The Latest News, Brought To You By
Winds of change: What does a pandemic, HS2 and GBR mean for the UK rail network?
Modified on Wednesday 2nd March 2022
Find all articles related to:
Winds of change: What does a pandemic, HS2 and GBR mean for the UK rail network?
TaaS Technology Magazine
Porsche Acquires Stake In Fazua And Plans Joint Ventures With Ponooc
SES Expands In South Korea To Facilitate Commercialization Of Li-Metal Batteries
First Teaser For The Future Renault Concept-car
Fisker Opens Reservations For Its Second Product, The PEAR
Hertz Expands Global EV Commitment With New UFODRIVE Partnership
Hyundai Motor To Integrate Green Energy Into Charge MyHyundai Service
Juice Technology AG Lands In The British Isles
Mina Launch Essential Guide To Support Businesses In Their Transition To EV
Wallbox To Be An EV Charging Partner Of Polaris In The U.S. And Canada
Electric Assisted Vehicles Completes Funding Round To Scale Up Production
Volta Trucks Confirms €230 Million Of Series C Funding
Polestar 5 To Be Faster, Lighter And More Dynamic Thanks To Brand-new UK-developed Bonded Aluminium Platform
Faraday Future Announces Partnership With Myoung Shin For FF 81 Production
New Mercedes-Benz Wallbox Charges Electric Vehicles Connected And Intelligently
Snow Lake Lithium To Develop World’s First All-electric Lithium Mine
Nissan To Build Two All-new, All-electric Models At Mississippi Assembly Plant
Autonomous Movers Set For US Launch In 2024
Winds Of Change: What Does A Pandemic, HS2 And GBR Mean For The UK Rail Network?
EQT Infrastructure To Acquire InstaVolt, One Of The Leading Rapid Electric Vehicle Charging Network Operators In The UK
Eurocell Building A European Gigafactory
The First Fully Electric BMW XDrive System In The BMW IX And The BMW I4 M50
Hyundai Announces Battery Enhancements And Specification Changes For IONIQ 5
Tritium Announces Partnership With Wise EV
CUPRA Celebrates Its Fourth Anniversary With An Ambitious Vision For 2022
Search the news archive

To close this popup you can press escape or click the close icon.
Register - Step 1

You may choose to subscribe to the TaaS Magazine, the TaaS Newsletter, or both. You may also request additional information if required, before submitting your application.

Please subscribe me to:


You chose the industry type of "Other"

Please enter the industry that you work in:
Please enter the industry that you work in:
Live Event