The UK’s rail supply sector is resigned to a slowdown in 2024, according to a new independent survey taken on behalf of the Railway Industry Association (RIA). 

Responses to the Survanta poll suggest a “significant increase in negative sentiment among businesses across the [rail] sector,” the RIA explained. 

James Rentoul, Senior Director at polling firm Savanta said: “These results reflect the tumultuous year the rail sector has had, in light of both numerous rail strikes and the recent news of the scaling-back of HS2.” 

But the survey is not just a look back over the past year, but an evaluation of the coming year in UK rail. 

Only 24% of respondents assess the industry as growing in 2024, whereas 54% think the sector will contract. That’s the most significant negative sentiment among railway suppliers in at least five years. 

Darren Caplan, CEO of the RIA, contextualised that figure: “The survey’s conclusions are deeply concerning. They show rail business leaders in the UK anticipating a contraction in the rail market, at a time when Unife, the European trade association, is predicting 3% rail market growth every year around the world.”

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One key reason for this is the assessment that the rail network will experience a hiatus in 2024, with government rail reform worries and cancellations of major capital projects cited as major concerns. 

Without new contracts and active work, the industry leaders told the RIA they would likely freeze or slow recruitment (44%) and prioritise work outside the UK (42%). 

Caplan explained: “With many rail business leaders still reeling from the news that HS2 Phase 2 between Birmingham and Manchester has been cancelled, the findings from this survey support the need for more certainty from the Government on what national, regional and local rail work – both track and train – it wants the railway industry to deliver in the months ahead”.

This news will be a worry to railway stakeholders and investors, but the knock-on effects of the slowing in rail construction and reform have wider concerns. 

A mere 13% of those surveyed think the UK Government will meet its railway decarbonisation target of 2040 by removing all diesel-only locomotives. 87% think it will fall short.