Press Release

New survey shows increasing confidence in rail as an innovative sector, but more to be done

2 December 2021

The Railway Industry Association (RIA) has published the results of a new survey, finding increasing confidence amongst rail professionals that the industry is innovative.

The new report, which compares the results of two surveys of rail professionals, conducted in 2019 and 2021, shows:

  • 62% of respondents in 2021 believed rail is ‘extremely, very or quite innovative’, a 12% increase from 2019.
  • Rail was seen as less innovative than the automotive, transport, finance and defence sectors, but had seen the largest swing of those sectors from 2019 to 2021 in those saying it was ‘extremely, very or quite innovative’;
  • Procurement, sponsorship & champions and product approval were named as the three ‘priorities and processes’ that have the biggest impact on innovation in rail. Availability of rail funding, testing and trialling facilities and innovation advice were listed as the three ‘facilities and resources’ that have the biggest impact on innovation in rail; and
  • 56% of respondents said that the Coronavirus pandemic had had a negative impact on their planned innovation projects in 2020/21.

David Clarke, Technical Director at the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “Innovation is vitally important for the rail sector - helping ensure the industry continues to provide the best possible services for passengers and freight users, whilst delivering more cost-effectively, reducing carbon emissions and with less disruption to the public.

“As part of RIA’s Unlocking Innovation programme, we surveyed professionals from across the rail sector, gauging how innovative they believe the industry is. The results give reason to be optimistic, showing a significant jump from 2019 to 2021 in the number of respondents saying the rail sector is innovative, from 50% to 62%. Yet, it also showed that more work needs to be done, particularly in areas like procurement and rail funding, to ensure rail suppliers have all the tools they need to bring new products and services into the market. Although moving in the right direction, rail professionals still see their industry as less innovative than some others. Whilst it is unclear how objective this assessment is, it suggests that there is more to be done in celebrating and promoting rail industry innovation.

“So, the sector is making progress, but we simply can’t rest on our laurels. At RIA, our Unlocking Innovation Programme, supported by strategic partners Network Rail and UKRRIN, continues to bring innovators together and promote the good work of companies across the sector. As we approach 2022, we will continue to support the rail industry in its efforts to deliver state-of-the-art rail services across the UK and overseas.”

David Rowe, Head of Rail Technology at Network Rail, said: “It is good news to see the industry’s confidence growing in its ability to innovate. Through the Network Rail Research & Development Portfolio, we’ve been investing some £245 million for innovative products and solutions including using new, lightweight products and automation processes – with examples like the Prometheus drone and FLOW Bridge. And through the Accelerated Innovation Programme, we’ve been taking a new approach to procuring innovation, taking ideas from proof of concept to first deployment within 12 months. What’s more, all of our work is aligned with the industry-wide Rail Technical Strategy and the key priorities within it.

“There has never been a better time to get involved – whether you’re new to rail or a well established company already, the rail sector is the perfect place to develop new technologies, providing greater benefits to all who use our railways.”

Jo Binstead, Chair of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), said: “This survey is a welcome contribution to the debate of how we best promote innovation in the sector. Since its establishment in 2018, UKRRIN - the £92 million partnership between academia and industry – has led the way in supporting new products and services to get into the industry. Through the four Centres of Excellence, we are bringing the commercial knowhow of the private sector with the research capabilities of universities to supercharge innovation in rail.

“Through UKRRIN, we now have the facilities, capabilities and expertise that will not only make a significant contribution to delivering on the aims set out in the Williams-Shapps White Paper, but also to export and adopt UK technology on a global scale.”

Notes to Editors


  1. The 2019 survey saw 295 responses, with the 2021 survey receiving 321. The Rail Innovation Survey report can be found here

  2. About the Unlocking Innovation Programme: RIA’s Unlocking Innovation events bring together the people with ideas and ambition to drive change within the rail industry. The events create a platform for large and small companies, academics and innovators with the aim of developing and implementing improved products and services to meet the needs of industry clients. Unlocking Innovation events also aim to create new supply chains, to build value and benefit the UK economy, rail suppliers and ultimately the customers, the rail users.

  3. About the Network Rail R&D Programme: Network Rail have made an investment £245m into the R&D portfolio in a bid to enhance invention and creativity in products, systems and equipment that will develop the industry and ultimately benefit rail users.

  4. About UKRRIN: The UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) is designed to create powerful collaboration between academia and industry, aiming to provide a step-change in innovation in the sector and accelerate new technologies and products from research into market applications globally. The initiative was launched in 2018 and has four Centres of Excellence, covering Digital Systems, Rolling Stock, Infrastructure and Testing, formed by a consortium of universities, in collaboration with existing industry testing and trialling facilities such as Network Rail’s Rail Innovation and Development Centres. Centres were created in Digital Systems (led by University of Birmingham), Rolling Stock (led by University of Huddersfield, in partner-ship with Newcastle University and Loughborough University) and Infrastructure (led by University of Southampton, in partnership with the University of Nottingham, the University of Sheffield, Loughborough University and Heriot-Watt University). Some £92m of total funding was committed to the centres by the UK Government and leading industrial partners.

  5. About RIA: The Railway Industry Association (RIA) is the voice of the UK rail supply community. We help to grow a sustainable, high-performing, railway supply industry, and to export UK rail expertise and products. RIA has 300+ companies in membership in a sector that contributes £43 billion in economic growth and £14 billion in tax revenue each year, as well as employing 710,000 people. It is also a vital industry for the UK’s economic recovery, supporting green investment and jobs in towns and communities across the UK; for every £1 spent in rail, £2.50 is generated in the wider economy. RIA’s membership is active across the whole of railway supply, covering a diverse range of products and services and including both multi-national companies and SMEs (60% by number).

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