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Social Innovation

Tracking high speed rail in the UK

What do the next generation of trains have in store for the birthplace of the railways?

The railways transformed Britain in the 19th century by connecting isolated cities and towns.

In today’s digital era, faster and smarter trains are bringing the UK closer together.

London is home to 12.5% of the UK’s population, yet it currently generates 22% of UK GDP. To help balance this disparity, the UK is working to improve connectivity between other major cities.  UK-based transport think tank Greengauge 21 has predicted that high speed rail connecting all the UK mainland by 2050 would put “rocket fuel in Britain’s economy” – much like the coal and steam railways of the 19th century which first revolutionised Britain.

Rail development zooming along at 250mph

High-speed rail is not new in the UK – HS1, connecting London to Kent with Hitachi’s high-speed trains, celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. Figures suggest that the railway line has contributed £3.8 billion in economic and social benefits. But high-speed rail isn’t grinding to a halt there! The UK government is paving the way for the next high-speed rail network, known as HS2, to connect London to the West Midlands and then on to Manchester and Leeds. Operating at speeds of up to 250mph, faster than any current train in Europe, this line will treble current capacity and encourage people to live further from London. It’s also predicted to reduce the number of journeys made by car and air by 9 million and 4.5 million respectively, helping to reduce our environmental footprint.

Are you smarter than a 1-year old train?

Trains on high-speed rail lines will not just be faster, they’ll also be smarter. By gathering data on everything happening along the railway – passenger numbers, maintenance issues, track conditions – through connected IoT devices, the UK rail network is getting smarter every day. Once analysed using big data analytics tools, the data can be used to improve the service for passengers – fewer delays thanks to predictive maintenance, live information in where the quieter carriages are, or greater flexibility thanks to smart tickets. The integration of smart technology will be the antidote to slow, overcrowded trains as we move into an era of quicker and more comfortable journeys for passengers.

Investing in the next generation of rail is bringing a host of benefits to people in the UK…and not just customers! Connecting major cities will enable economic growth to spread outwards from the capital and reduce the environmental footprint of transport. We take a look at the evolution of the railways here: