Press Release

Rail Industry Health Checker: Rail Sector Confidence returns to 2019 Levels

4 November 2021

New polling has revealed that confidence in the rail industry has returned to pre-2019 levels, in a positive sign of growing optimism about the future.

A poll of more than 260 rail industry leaders, conducted by Savanta on behalf of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), shows:

  • Optimism about the rail supply industry has returned to 2019 levels after a sharp dip in 2020, with 45% predicting growth in the coming year. The proportion predicting a contraction has fallen from 36% in 2020 to 31%;
  • When asked about their own businesses, optimism has also returned with three in five (60%) rail industry leaders predicting growth in the coming year compared to half (51%) in 2020. This is a return to the level of 2019 (59%);
  • Two in five (42%) say the easing of Coronavirus restrictions has improved their business outlook, while just 6% say the easing of restrictions has made their outlook worse.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive at the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: 

“Our annual Rail Industry Health Checker, published on the eve of our Annual Conference, shows a sector growing in confidence following the Coronavirus pandemic, with optimism returning to 2019 levels.

“With passenger numbers coming back to the network, reaching around 65% only a few months after restrictions have eased, and freight returning to 100% of pre-pandemic levels, it is clear that rail has a strong future ahead of it. The industry can play a key part in the Government’s ‘build back better’ agenda, supporting economic growth, investment and jobs at this critical time for the economy.

“However, we can’t take our foot off the pedal when it comes to rail investment – even in 2019, there was a significant amount of uncertainty for the industry, with an upcoming General Election, Brexit yet resolved and the status of projects like HS2 still uncertain. So, whilst we should welcome that optimism is returning, more can still be done to increase sector confidence in the months and years ahead. We urge Government to provide the visibility the industry requires, including publishing the Integrated Rail Plan and Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, setting out how it intends to decarbonise and digitalise the rail network, supporting rail exports and confirming the status of upcoming projects like HS2 Eastern Leg, Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub and many other schemes.

“On the eve of our Annual Conference our message to Government is clear – if you want to Build Back Better and Build Back Greener, then Build Back Rail.”

James Rentoul, Director, Savanta, said: 

“After sharp drops in 2020, when respondents predicted no overall growth for the rail supply industry, it is encouraging to see optimism return to the level of 2019, both for individual businesses and the industry as a whole.

"It is clear that the easing of restrictions has been of huge benefit to the rail supply sector, although the majority of railway business leaders say that this has yet to feed through to their own business’s outlook for the coming year. This suggests that many of them have been able to adapt and continue to work successfully during the past year’s restrictions."

In September, new research from Oxford Economics commissioned by RIA, showed that in 2019, the rail industry generated £36 billion in economic growth, supported 710,000 jobs and provided £14 billion in tax revenue to the UK. For every £1 spent in rail, £2.50 was generated in the wider economy.
Notes to Editors


  1. Savanta interviewed 265 railway business leaders in the UK rail supply chain between 12th and 28th October 2021. Previous research was conducted among:
    257 railway business leaders between 17th September and 9th October 2020.
    174 railway business leaders between 10th July and 12th August 2019.
    Savanta is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

  2. 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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