Following the Referendum vote for Brexit, NATASHA LEVANTI of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering looks at some of the impacts and considerations for the UK rail industry

After much fallout from the decision of the UK voting population to leave the European Union, the UK rail sector is scrambling to ensure that the connectivity seen through the United Kingdom’s rail network is retained, and to ensure the continuity of the many improvements scheduled for the future. Worries range from the impact on large scale projects designed to connect vast areas such as Crossrail 2 and HS 2, to research or development projects, ERTMS, electrification, inter-European connectivity and EU initiatives impacting the rail industry.

Things within the UK rail industry will change. While such changes to the industry will be dependent upon what is negotiated during the withdrawal process, what is certain is that going forward we must work to ensure that the UK rail industry unites to build the competitiveness of UK connectivity.

The UK rail is renowned throughout the world as a historically connected network, not just servicing the UK, but also connecting beyond borders – particularly European Union member states.

Now more than ever internal developments within connectivity are important, as the UK strives to pull together as a country, progressing productivity through the efficiency in access that modern rail provides. As such we must ensure that ongoing projects are secured, and the various challenges overcome.

But what are the challenges ahead?
The majority of uncertainties exist regarding the conditions of UK rail operators, as well as project investments and follow through.

Many UK rail operators are concerned with their ability to bid for franchises, collaborate with or operate within the EU. Yet, while the ability of UK operators to participate in the EU tender processes is dependent upon the negotiation process, which would include amongst other topics a discussion of the UK’s continued use of the EU rail systems, it is unlikely that UK rail operators would be restricted in their access to tender. The simple reason why is due to the international trade rules that stress reciprocal treatment, meaning that the UK operators in the EU and EU operators in the UK will likely have parallel arrangements. That considered, UK operators will most likely have to continue to comply with the health and safety as well as tendering standards of the EU, in order to operate there.

Project investments and follow through have been a key areas of concern for many, particularly since current plans for rail to improve UK connectivity are extensive. The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, currently serving as Secretary of State for Transport, made a point on 28 June to assure the continuance of long term rail projects, emphasising the strong benefits of infrastructure in economic security and continued progress. He specified that ‘HS2 will rebalance our economy and generate colossal benefits of the supply chain’, along with the electrification of ‘over 850 miles of railway’, and other efforts to deliver ‘better service for passengers through a franchising system’. It is important that going forward such political support continues, as connectivity will be vital to ensure global competitiveness.

Laws and regulations
Legislative concerns will underline many challenges ahead. There is both direct and indirect EU legislation that will impact rail, from the Fourth Railway package (see page 21) to the Resolution on the competiveness of the European rail supply industry adopted on 9 June. Many of these will likely be transferred to UK legislation, particularly to preserve the business of cross borders operators.

As Prime Minister David Cameron reminded us in his 24 June address that the UK is ‘a great trading nation, with our science and arts, our engineering and our creativity respected the world over’. A large part of this prowess is within our infrastructure, including rail. It is such strengths that will allow us to face the challenges ahead and together as an industry not only meet these challenges, but exceed them.

Currently much work is underway by ACE experts and others regarding the challenges ahead for UK rail. ACE will continue to speak for industry concerns, and ensure that working together across the industry we are able to rise to the any challenges to UK connectivity.

For continued updates see: acenet.co.uk/eureferendum