Rail Minister writes for RAIL on the need to improve rail exports
“Delegates and visitors were particularly struck by the ambition of our rail programme in Britain.”
BRITAIN has a long history as a global exporter. From textiles in the early Industrial Revolution to television programmes today, British innovation and know-how has always found a willing market abroad. But perhaps our greatest export of all has been the railway.
After the first public steam railway opened between Stockton and Darlington in 1825, it didn’t take long for Britain to start selling its new technology to other countries. Within decades, British know-how had built new railway lines right around the world.
Rail technology may have moved on since the pioneering Victorian era, but the opportunities today for our railway industry to expand into global markets remain undiminished.
That is why, at the start of March, I travelled to Dubai for the Middle East Rail Exhibition and Conference, where I delivered a keynote speech and met with a host of influential regional leaders, including the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.
My message was clear. Britain has a huge amount to offer to Middle Eastern countries as they develop their rail networks. We can provide the world’s best rail designers and project managers. We are used to delivering projects in complex environments, and improving rail performance through new technology. And we have proven experience in bringing together public and private sectors to form successful rail partnerships.
Crucially, we operate one of the world’s most intensively used railways. And although much of our infrastructure is between a century and two centuries old, we maintain one of the best safety records, too.
Like Britain, the Gulf is going through a period of intensive rail investment. The Dubai Metro extension, which British firms are helping develop, will give the UAE the longest fully-automated metro in the world when the network is complete in two years. By 2021, it will be carrying 600,000 people a day. I was certainly impressed by the Metro when I travelled on it myself during the visit.
The Etihad Rail Phase 2 is expected to be going ahead again soon, after development was paused a year ago. This line will stretch westwards to the Saudi Arabian border and eastwards to the border with Oman, with branches serving Mussaffah, Khalifa and Dubai. British firms are also supporting the construction of metro systems in Saudi Arabia, and our designers have worked on stations for the Saudi Haramain High Speed Rail network.
It has been estimated that around $200 billion (£160bn) is currently being invested in the region’s railway. The fact that both the UK and the UAE are expanding their rail systems at the same time gives us a shared interest and common experience, so it was hugely encouraging to see a strong British presence at the Exhibition.
I particularly enjoyed visiting the smaller companies in the UK pavilion. These included AATi, which has a long history of supplying pedestrian services to London Underground, and Opinsta and ByteToken, which were showcasing their customer service and ticketing products. I also attended the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Unipart Rail and the Arabian Railway Company.
UK companies large and small have the expertise to play a big role in the development of rail in the Middle East, and I am glad that on behalf of the British Government I was able to promote their products and bring them to the attention of local decision makers.
Delegates and visitors were particularly struck by the ambition of our rail programme in Britain. I was able to tell them about Crossrail and HS2, and the rebuilding of important stations such as Manchester Victoria, Birmingham New Street and Reading.
Many of those I met were interested in the British experience
of rail privatisation. As projects in the Middle East start to be delivered with more diverse funding models, we are well placed to share our expertise, and for UK Export Finance to support the international expansion of our rail industry.
I spoke about our plans to train thousands of rail engineering professionals at the National Skills Academy for Rail and the National College for High Speed Rail, and how graduates of these institutions would not only help build our railway, but also rail schemes around the world. Indeed, we are now working with other countries with plans to set up their own skills and technical academies.
Like all the British exhibitors, I came away from Dubai enthused by the opportunities on offer, and confident that we are well placed to take advantage of them.
The Rail Delivery Group has set a tough target of doubling UK rail exports by 2025. Considering the growth of our railway at home, and the ambitions of our rail industry globally, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot achieve it.
During his trip to Dubai, Rail Minister Paul Maynard visited companies working on projects in the region as he looks for the UK market to grow its export business.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard delivers his speech in Dubai.