George Bradshaw Address 2023: techUK welcomes renewed focus on rail innovation and reform

From: techUK
Published: Wed Feb 08 2023

The Transport Secretary Mark Harper used the address to set out the Government's vision for the future of the railways.

techUK welcomes the Transport Secretary Mark Harper's encouraging remarks that his priority is delivering the Plan for Rail.

As part of the annual George Bradshaw Address, he also confirmed the Government would formally create Great British Railways and enhance the role of the private sector to manage and direct to spur innovation, attract customers to the railways and drive-up revenue.

Technology to drive customer-focused outcomes

Mark Harper began his speech by acknowledging the industry as it stands is beset with challenges. The current system is not fit for purpose, he said, and Britain is yearning for a modern railway of the moment.

The pandemic impact means that revenue is around 125-175m lower each month and costs keep rising year on year. He highlighted that operating the railways is currently financially unsustainable and it isn't fair to continue asking taxpayers to foot the bill.

As one of his first major interventions he confirmed the extension of Pay-As-You-Go ticketing, with 52 stations across the south-east set to be completed this year including Chiltern, London Northwestern, and C2C services.

After LNER's successful single leg pricing trial they will extend it to other parts of the LNER network from the spring and then carefully consider the results of those before extending more widely. Demand-based pricing will be trialed on some LNER services too, learning from the aviation sector.

He promised to open up railways data and systems whilst lowering barriers to entry for the industry. That means a more competitive retail market, welcoming new players to spur more innovation and give passengers the services they need.

It was also acknowledged that passengers are not the only customers of the railway, pledging to grow rail freight capacity. A new Strategic Freight Unit, tasked with creating better safeguards, more national coordination and, later this year setting a long-term freight growth target will be established.

Great British Railways

We are pleased to hear that the Government will formally create Great British Railways (GBR), a headline recommendation of the Plan for Rail.

The GBR Transition Team will develop the guiding long-term strategy for rail which they will publish later this year and is hoped will provide strategic direction to the sector.

GBR will be an arm's length body ensuring a balanced approach to both infrastructure and operations as taking politics out of the railways is the only way to build a truly commercially led industry.

In October 2022, techUK published Putting tech and data at the heart of Great British Railways transition in which we outlined seven guiding principles for ensuring the very best of innovation can be adopted to deliver a modern, low-carbon railway fit for the future.

With confidence renewed in the future of GBR, we look forward to engaging constructively with the Department for Transport and the Great British Railways Transition Team to ensure our recommendations are enacted and the tech sector has a seat at the table.

Empowering the private sector

The final core message was that the private sector is to play its most important role in our railways yet. It will do so in partnership with GBR, which will help set the right commercial conditions across several key areas.

It was stressed that it should not be left to Ministers or civil servants to make operational decisions for the railway. Rather, the private sector should be empowered to take decisions that best serve customers through dynamic delivery.

Where next?

techUK looks forward to playing an active role in shaping how innovation and technology is adopted across our railways as we await GBRTT's long-term strategy.

We are also delighted that Russell Willans, Director of Data and Digital, Great British Railways Transition Team, will be speaking at techUK's Mobilise Conference, 29 March in Central London. Be sure to grab your ticket here.

If you would like to know more about our work in rail innovation, or transport and infrastructure more broadly, please contact

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