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State of Industry Survey: Railway industry urges Government to ‘Build Back Rail’ as 61% of rail businesses say Coronavirus has worsened their outlook for the year ahead

Railway Industry Association

3 min read Partner content

The Railway Industry Association (RIA), the national trade body for rail suppliers, has urged the Government to ensure rail plays a key part in the UK’s economic recovery post-Coronavirus, following the publication of new independent polling of rail business leaders.

The survey of more than 250 rail industry leaders by independent polling company Savanta ComRes shows that:

  • Railway decision makers are almost split down the middle on the prospects for the rail supply industry in the coming year, with 35% saying the industry is likely to grow and 36% saying its likely to contract, with 25% saying it will stay the same;
  • When it comes to their own businesses, leaders are more likely to be optimistic about growth prospects, with half (51%) saying their business is likely to grow in the coming year. However, this has decreased from 59% who said this last year. One in five (21%) say their business is likely to contract in 2021.
  • On the impact of Coronavirus,  three in five (61%) railway business leaders say the Coronavirus pandemic has worsened their business’s outlook for the coming year. Amongst those who expect their business to contract, 74% said the pandemic had worsened their outlook.
  • Two in five (40%) railway business leaders say they are not confident the Government will promote the railway industry as one of the UK’s key economic sectors when negotiating future trade deals, while 28% are confident it will.

The polling was published on the eve of RIA’s Annual Conference 2020, taking place from 4-6 November.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “It is clear that the UK railway industry has been essential this extraordinary year, ensuring key workers and resources can get around the country to their places of work both during the Spring Coronavirus lockdown and as we approach the new lockdown in England this Autumn. As we consider how to reboot the UK economy, it is also clear that the railway and rail investment can play just as key a role

“However, new polling today published on the eve of our Annual Conference shows a mixed picture for the UK rail industry, providing cause for concern. On the one hand, in such turbulent times it is positive to see half of rail business leaders saying they expect their businesses to grow in the coming year, yet 61% said that Coronavirus has hit the industry hard and has worsened their business outlook for 2021.

“UK rail is a prime candidate for helping to spearhead the UK’s economic recovery, with the network touching towns and communities right across the UK, providing clean travel, and which can be used as a catalyst for further growth – for every £1 spent in rail, £2.20 is generated in the wider economy.

“So, we urge the Government, as it seeks to ‘Build Back Better’, to also help the railway industry ‘Build Back Rail’, utilising the dynamism and innovation of the sector to generate jobs, investment and economic growth across the country, at a time when the UK, and its town and communities, so vitally need it.”

James Rentoul, Director at Savanta ComRes, said: “These results reflect the enormous impact Coronavirus has had on the UK, and on the country’s rail sector in particular. With passenger numbers consistently peaking at a third of pre-virus levels, confidence in the rail supply sector has taken a hit, with firms just as likely to believe the sector will contract as they are to believe it will grow in the next year. However, it is encouraging that despite three in five firms reporting Coronavirus having a negative impact on their outlook, half still remain positive about the overall prospects for their company over the coming year. This implies a clear scope for the sector to make a recovery if the conditions are right.”


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