The Railway Industry Association (RIA) London & South Group is launched to champion for rail investment in the South East
With 57% of all rail journeys in England being taken in the South East, the pressure on the network in the region is already high, and that’s before factoring in the estimated 10% growth in population growth that is forecast over the next eight years.
Delivering reliable and sustainable public transport options is vital to support the region’s businesses, deliver a high quality of life and meet the country’s net zero ambitions.
The South East has the lowest proportion of public transport use and the highest proportion of commuters who use cars, but encouraging people to change their behaviour requires attractive alternatives.
To support further investment opportunities and drive much-needed change, a new group has been created to foster collaboration among industry stakeholders, provide strategic direction, and advocate for the continued growth and development of the railway sector in the region.
The Railway Industry Association (RIA) London & South Group forms part of a network of communities with RIA, a national membership body representing a range of companies within the rail supply industry.
To lead its work, the body has recently elected chair Ryan Anderson of global engineering consultancy Ricardo (itself headquartered in Shoreham-by-Sea) specialising in clean energy and environmental solutions. He is joined by co-chair Bryony Goldsmith from design and engineering consultancy Arcadis. As they took up their new roles, we caught up with them to explore their vision for the South East’s rail industry.
Congratulations on your new roles! Can you tell us why RIA London and South has been formed?
Ryan: “RIA London and South has come together at a vital time to make the case for investment in the region. Over the past few years, we’ve seen public and private sector investment fall in the South East, when we really should be ramping it up to meet growing demand and decarbonise transport in line with expectations. We intend to make that case.”
Bryony: “The South East is the most populous part of the country and the busiest part of our national rail network. You can see the success of new infrastructure with the success of the Elizabeth Line in London, which accounts for one-sixth of all rail journeys in the UK. The demand is there – we just need the infrastructure to meet it!”
Why do you think there’s such high car use in the region, particularly amongst commuters?
Bryony: “Understandably, people want to get to their destination as quickly and cheaply as possible. For a lot of people across the South East, that means driving. We want to make the case for rail, but that means delivering more frequent services, new trains and better connections.”
Ryan: “It’s also in part due to the way the rail network has been developed historically. If you need to get to and from London, then the train is usually the best option. However, if you want to travel laterally across Kent or Sussex, then the connections just aren’t there.”
There has been a lot of talk about net zero recently. How important is the role that rail can play in reducing carbon emissions?
Ryan: “Rail is critical as a green mode of transport. The rail network across the South East is largely electrified, but there is more to do. We need to electrify lines that still rely on diesel and increase the network’s frequency and reliability to make it a more attractive alternative to driving.”
Bryony: “Thinking about how the rail network can help reduce emissions isn’t limited to just thinking about trains. If we are to truly rethink how we embrace travel, then rail is only one piece in a multi-modal journey. There is a huge opportunity in the land occupied by the rail network. Thinking about how we can reimagine stations to reflect post-pandemic behaviours or installing EV charging – it all plays a part.”
Is there really the need to invest much more in the rail network when behaviours have changed and lots of people now work from home?
Bryony: “There’s no doubt that behaviours have changed since Covid, but we are seeing passenger volumes return, just in different patterns. We are regularly exceeding pre-pandemic levels, and that’s comparing it to the second busiest year ever on the network in 2019-20.”
Ryan: “We’ve seen demand for rail bounce back really significantly. The drop in some commuter services has been offset by a rise in demand at non-peak times and at weekends, showing rail remains an attractive option for people even if how they use the network has evolved. This change should be met with a change in how the rail is operated and maintained, which requires investment.”
It’s no secret that public finances are quite squeezed right now. How realistic do you think it is to call for more investment in the region?
Bryony: “We need to stop seeing infrastructure spend as a short-term cost – it’s long-term and creates a fantastic return on investment through enhanced productivity, tax receipts and connectivity.”
Ryan: “Totally agree. It also doesn’t have to be exclusively publicly funded. There are huge opportunities to leverage private investment into infrastructure, which can deliver all the benefits without constraining precious public resources. To meet the challenges, we’ve discussed that we really need to innovate how we approach these things.”
Finally, what advice would you give to businesses who would like to see better rail services in their area?
Ryan: “Help us make the case for investment! The more people we can get talking to their MP, the government and the media, the better. The South East is home to some of our most high-profile businesses. The more we can get the message out the more chance we have of success.”
Bryony: “Help us make the case to use the railways! The more demand there is for rail services, the more people will have to sit up and listen.”