Collaborative research efforts can keep the UK at the cutting edge of the rail sector

Collaborative research efforts can keep the UK at the cutting edge of the rail sector

5 July 2018


Siemens’ Head of Innovation, Jo Binstead, looks at how collaboration between industry and academia can help the UK remain a world-leader in rail.

The UK is one of the world’s leading innovators in rail, and this is in no small part thanks to its world-leading higher education institutions. The UK’s universities are central to accelerating advancements in technology - all of which have the potential to transform railways both at home and abroad.

As such, the success of the UK’s rail sector is intrinsically linked to the success of its academic institutions. We can’t expect our rail industry to thrive without the right talent, thinking and research, and universities play a crucial role in fostering that.

One of the key mechanisms through which universities and other higher education institutions can receive the funding they need to continue their work is the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) – a fantastic initiative which provides Government funding for major new research facilities.

But financial support for universities alone can’t ensure the rail industry maintains its world-leading position. What’s needed to really accelerate research and innovation is collaboration between these institutions and organisations in the industry.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to speak at the launch of the UK Railway Research Innovation Network (UKRRIN). The initiative marks a ground-breaking partnership between Siemens, the rail industry and eight universities across the country.

UKRRIN will deliver four world class Centres of Excellence, which will offer academics a research base covering rolling stock, infrastructure, digital systems and testing. The project will bring together expertise from the University of Birmingham, University of Huddersfield, University of Newcastle, Loughborough University, University of Southampton, University of Sheffield, University of Nottingham and Heriot-Watt University.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without £28.1m of capital funding from UKRPIF as well as a consortium of 17 partners from across the rail industry, including Siemens, who pledged to provide an additional £64m.

Funding from industrial partners will play a key role by supporting PhD studentships, the training and continuous professional development of academics, as well as their membership fees. Beyond supporting staff directly, the money will provide the access to facilities, equipment and time that underpins the research process.

The aim of UKRRIN is to provide a space for collaboration and the sharing of knowledge in new and unprecedented ways. The more rail companies and universities can work together, the more they stand to benefit.

Universities receive the expertise of industry professionals, who can work directly with students and professors on campus to bring a working knowledge. Students meanwhile gain an insight into life within the industry, plus access to facilities which will not only support their studies but inspire them to pursue a career in rail.

The rail industry benefits too. Rail companies who invest time and money to contribute to university research get unique access to world-class studies, developments and the next generation of talent. This is all in addition to being part of the essential investment needed to drive the technological advancements to develop the digital railway of tomorrow.

Siemens is proud to be one of the three founding supplier partners of UKRRIN and hopes it will become a model example of how industry and academia can work together to develop a successful and innovative supply chain. The industry must continue to look at ways to accelerate and amplify cross-industry initiatives like UKRRIN as they are key to its future success.