Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by Rail Research UK (FOR 23A)



  Rail Research UK is a centre of excellence established by the EPSRC in May 2003. It consists of a core of twelve research groups from seven universities who specialise in railway research. Other universities collaborate on specific projects and the centre is supported and advised by the railway industry.

  Professor Chris Nash (ITS Leeds University) submitted initial evidence to the Committee on behalf of RRUK. RRUK has now been asked to offer additional views on the current state of rail research in the UK and to make comparisons with other countries. Information on current RRUK research projects was also required.


  There is a general concern throughout Europe about the state of railway research. Railways were invented in the UK and over the next 150 years an industry grew up that provided everything the railways required. But as with most industries, railways are now truly international and the process of specialisation, concentration and competition has begun to take effect. The developed world has seen a reduction in manufacturing with more outsourcing to the less developed countries with lower labour costs. The result is that the railway manufacturing industry in developed countries will only survive if it is knowledge led.

  In addition a number of other trends can be seen:

    —  The move away from state owned railway systems to a greater involvement of the private sector.

    —  A separation of responsibility for track and train systems.

    —  The introduction of regional or global standards particularly in the EU.

    —  Change led by new legislation eg interoperability and environmental requirements.

    —  A move away from in-house research to independent or academic based research.

    —  Concerns at the costs of railway operation.

    —  Design and manufacture on an international scale.

  Even with the international dimension, the railway industry is still very small compared with automotive, aerospace and the pharmaceutical industries and the incentive to invest in research is not strong.


  Prior to 1995, the majority of railway research was undertaken by BR Research at Derby; an organisation that established an international reputation over many years. BR research had a budget of some £5 million pa. Following the privatisation of BR Research, the majority of research is undertaken in the private sector. The privatisation of BR created a vacuum within the industry for research funding since few of the new companies considered it their responsibility to promote research. The Railway Safety and Standards Board has now been set up with a budget for research of £15 million pa. but this only covers the safety area. Others—including Network Rail—are funding some research but on a very limited scale. In particular research concerning the interfaces between rolling stock and infrastructure suffers from the current fragmented regime.

  In response to this situation, the then Department of Transport Environment and the Regions established a Rail Research Strategy Steering Group, including representatives of the industry and the research community, which commissioned a report entitled a Strategy for Regeneration of Rail Research in 2001. The report concluded that, although good research was being undertaken, its volume was inadequate, and it was too much concerned with specific short-term issues concerning components of railway technology. It did not provide the sort of fundamental long-term work at a systems level that was needed to secure real advances in the rail sector.

  University based railway research has always been a minor and fragmented player. It was in response to this report that EPSRC sought both to strengthen university research and provide continuity and momentum with the creation of RRUK. The formation of RRUK was based on a process that sought to bring together the key research teams rather than promote competition for the centre. It was considered that too few research groups existed at university level to enable any realistic competition to occur. RRUK is funded by EPSRC at the rate of £1.4 million pa over five years with the challenge to secure matching industry funding.


  The European Commission has also been concerned about the need to strengthen railway research and a lack of commitment from the railway industry. It encouraged the creation of the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) early in 2002 to provide a focal point for policy and collaboration. The UK is represented on this council and its first report, the Strategic Rail Research Agenda 2020, was used to influence the EC's Framework 6 programme of research, launched late in 2002, and provision was made in that programme for a limited number of railway research projects.

  An initial success has been the approval by the EC of the European Railway Research Network of Excellence (EUR2EX) funded by 6 million euros over four years by the FP6 programme. RRUK assisted with the development of the network that will involve some 60 universities and research centres. The EC is looking for signs of strong support and co-operation from the railway industry and has indicated that more funds for research could be made available if the industry gets its act together. The UIC and UNIFE (European associations of railway operators and manufacturers) are supporting the network that will facilitate exchanges of knowledge and encourage co-operative research. In the meantime there is a general concern within the railway industry about the small numbers of dedicated research staff and the lack of stable funding to enable the growth in knowledge needed to meet the current challenges of reliability, cost effectiveness and safety.


  The following tables have been based on preliminary information collected by UIC (the European rail operators association) and UNIFE (the European rail industry association). The information must be treated with some caution due to the speed of collection and analysis but we believe it gives a good indication of the situation in the UK and other countries.

  Table 1 gives general background information so that the Committee may understand the role of the railway network in these countries. It is always difficult to compare different countries but a useful indicator is to use the amount or revenue collected by the railway companies. Most governments use a percentage of GDP to compare research expenditure and the EC recommends that EU countries need to invest 3% of GDP in research and development if we are to keep pace with the USA.

Table 1
CountryNetwork in track km StaffPassenger/km carried (M) Freight Tonne/km (M)Passenger revenue
M euros
Freight revenue
M euros
M euros
Austria7,50048,500 8,24017,346543 1,0291,572
Finland6,50012,335 3,3059,664230 324554
France45,500177,685 73,55250,0364,761 2,3917,152
Germany 53,700181,314 69,29472,4229,188 3,09012,278
Netherlands4,70026,123 14,2883,6911,342 2001,542
Spain16,00032,868 19,47411,668812 3201,132
Sweden11,80010,091 5,25917,930623 328961
UK32,000100,000 38,60019,7003,412 7234,135

  Table 2 shows what the value of 1% of total revenue and 2% of passenger revenue would be, and compares it with the identified amount of government expenditure of railway R&D. Limited information for Japan is also provided and is expanded upon below.

Table 2
CountryPassenger revenue
M euros
Freight revenue
M euros
M euros
1% of total revenue
M euros
2% of passenger revenue
M euros
funded research
M euros
Austria5431,029 1,57215.710.8 3
Finland230324 5545.54.6 3
France4,7612,391 7,15271.595.2 40
Germany 9,1883,090 12,278122.7183.7 n/a
Netherlands1,342200 1,54215.426.8 6
Spain812320 1,13211.316.2 40
Sweden623328 9619.612.4 10
UK3,412723 4,13541.368.2 22
Japan26,000 91

  It must be acknowledged that getting accurate information on government funded research in other countries has been difficult but Spain stands out as the only country exceeding either indicator. In addition to government funded research should be added industry funded research, but this has been impossible to estimate.


  Japan is the only country we know that has created a link between railway revenue and railway research funding. The Japanese National Research Laboratories were retained, reformed, and refinanced following the privatisation of Japanese National Railways (JNR) in 1987, and became known as the Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI). Its aim is to develop basic technology and research applications; to promote technology transfer to railway companies; to promote the Maglev (magnetic levitation) system with the technology inherited from JNR; and to study safety measures. RTRI receives funding from the private railway companies as an agreed percentage of 0.35% of their ticket sales. Since rail travel in Japan is much greater than in European countries, this formula produced £65 million pa (91 million euros) income for RTRI in 2002. But this only forms 50% of the RTRI income. The other 50% comes from direct funding from the private railway companies.

  The bigger railway companies, JR Central, and JR East have recently established their own research centres to target research that benefits their core business. These were opened in 2002 and 2001 respectively. Most of the other companies have retained their own R&D branches providing solutions to specific problems. Thus the railway industry carries out its own direct research as well as commissioning RTRI.

  Overall RTRI had an income of £128 million pa in 2002 and a staff of 513 researchers to undertake national research.


  Railways in the USA are not a key feature for passenger transport but are important for freight. It is estimated that about 50% of public funding has been allocated to Transportation Technology Centre Inc. (TTCI) as an exclusive railway research and testing centre. TTCI is owned by the American Railroad Association. It should be noted that several ex-employees of BR Research now work for TTCI and that TTCI were called in by Railtrack for advice following the Hatfield accident. It is clear that TTCI have a significant and stable funding base from the US government and the railway industry. They also have an extensive test track.


  Whilst RRUK was being planned in the UK, the creation of a national university based centre of excellence for railway research was announced in Australia. A consortium of six universities was assembled together with strong support from the Australian railway industry. The centre will receive over £3 million pa for seven years—more than twice the level of funding guaranteed for RRUK and in a country with a population 1/5th that of the UK. The announcement of the centre emphasised the partnership with industry and the bringing together of key railway research staff throughout Australia.


  A little known fact is the existence of a major government railway centre in Iran. The Iranian Islamic Republic Railways Research Centre was established in 1991 and has a staff of 250. RRUK is able to employ about 20 research staff.

  East European countries have very strong railway research groups at university level. There are three university centres in Poland and it is understood that Russia has seven universities specialising solely in railway engineering.


    —  A key feature of some countries is the close working relationship between research institutions and industry. In Germany there are a number of regional research centres based at universities that work with the regional railway companies. A recent ERRAC report stated that "Austria is the only European country to have a specific programme dedicated to rail research. Austria clearly advocates modal shift away from road towards rail. Austria's `Innovatives System Bahn' (ISB) is designed to enhance scientific skills as well as the competitiveness of the rail sector."

    —  Sweden also has close links by designating specific universities to support railway research. It appears that one university in Sweden has more railway funding than the whole of RRUK. Strong university/industry links have also been established in France, Spain and Italy.

  The rail industry in the UK does not have the same kind of proactive collaborative programme used by other industries: eg:

    —  Rolls-Royce (similar annual turnover to that of the UK rail business) has 20 University Technology Centres, each provided with core funding for 4-6 staff. (Estimated funding for the 20 centres is £5 million pa.)

    —  BAE Systems has clearly identified "Strategic Capability Partners" at a variety of universities, and for a number of years has funded research centres like the DCSC at York. The company is currently embarking upon collaborative funding initiatives with EPSRC in the area of Aerodynamics and Systems Engineering.


  Brief details of current RRUK projects are set out in the attached appendix.

  The definition of research themes and the choice of this first portfolio of projects was influenced by:

    —  The DETR report Strategy for Regeneration of Rail Research published in 2001.

    —  The need for early results—projects are derived from previous research programmes.

    —  The aim of providing continuity and stability for key research staff of core members.

  It was also decided that, where possible, each project should involve at least two core members to encourage joint working between different universities. RRUK has been called a "virtual centre of excellence" since its membership is dispersed. A key test of RRUK is whether it can operate in a multidisciplinary way and develop effective team working from a dispersed membership.


  Research requires a stable base of funding to enable new knowledge to be acquired and development applied. The knowledge base in the UK has declined in recent years and the establishment of RRUK and RSSB are both positive steps to enhance research. The establishment of EUR2EX demonstrates recognition of the problem by the EU and the involvement of RRUK demonstrates a willingness to collaborate at an international level. The level of government funding for railway research in the UK is similar to the average in the EU on a pro-rata basis but less than half of that in Sweden and would need to multiply by eight times to equate to Spain.

  However the most interesting comparison is with Japan where dedicated funds, (based on revenue from customers and an agreed contribution from industry) together with the creation of a national research facility, have underpinned the dramatic transformation of railway technology and the delivery of a safe and reliable system. The Japanese example provides consistency of funding over many years and has much to commend it.

  Research in the UK needs additional funding and there must also be a commitment from the railway industry for close collaborative research with academia. Centres of excellence such as RRUK should be given long term support and encouraged to invest in the necessary equipment and facilities. There must be a satisfying career for research staff. The railway industry should be challenged to support RRUK directly and with a range of special technology centres similar to those employed by Rolls Royce.

Submitted on behalf of RRUK by Professor Keith Madelin



University of Birmingham

9 January 2004




Theme Manager Prof William Powrie, (University of Southampton)

  A1—Appraisal of track and sub-base performance using modern instrumentation and geotechnical engineering principles. Leader Prof William Powrie assisted by Prof Keith Madelin, (University of Birmingham).

  A2—Predicting the life of various grades of steel railway track. Leader Dr Claire Davis (University of Birmingham) assisted by Dr Ajay Kapoor (Sheffield University).

  A3—Railway noise: curve squeal, roughness growth, friction and wear. Leader Dr Chris Jones (University of Southampton) assisted by Dr Simon Iwnicki (Manchester Metropolitan University).


Theme Manager Dr Colin Goodman (University of Birmingham)

  B1—Decision support system for dynamic re-scheduling of trains under disturbance. Leader Dr Colin Goodman assisted by Prof Mike McDonald (University of Southampton).

  B2—Integration of Human Factors across the Railway Network. Leader Prof Bob Hockey (University of Leeds) assisted by Prof John Wilson (Nottingham University).

  B3—Human factors modelling of driver and signaller/controller behaviour in train operations. Leader Prof John Wilson assisted by Prof Bob Hockey.

  B4—Development of system-level cost framework for assessment of sub-system trade-offs. Leader Prof Roger Goodall (Loughborough University) assisted by Prof Chris Nash.

  B5—International Benchmarking of railway systems. Leader Prof Rod Smith (Imperial College).


Theme Manager Prof Mike Griffin (University of Southampton).

  C1—Train environment simulator for optimising passenger comfort. Leader Mike Griffin .

  C2—Delivery of user needs. Leader Prof Mike McDonald assisted by Prof Chris Nash.

  C3—Future role of rail in integrated transport policy. Leader Prof Chris Nash assisted by Prof Mike McDonald.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 May 2005