The UK rail sector needs change without crisis

Posted: 16 April 2018 | | No comments yet

Anthony Perret, Head of Sustainable Development at the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) discusses possible reasons for Britain’s rail sector’s perceived foot-dragging with respect to sustainable development. Is the lack of a more ambitious approach to the subject due to the absence of a ‘burning platform’?

The UK rail sector needs change without crisis

A few years ago, I was discussing with a sympathetic senior industry executive the difficulties of getting the rail sector to take a more pro-active and ambitious approach to sustainable development. His assessment of the issue was the lack of a ‘burning platform,’ and, to a large extent, he was right. Rail is generally viewed as a ‘green’ option, with a steady growth in the region of 5-6 per cent per annum and, even in the age of austerity, public investment continues.

Burning platforms can be an effective way of achieving change; the disastrous level of plastic in the oceans is perhaps the most recent example of the need to reach crisis point before we change our habits. However, by the time the platform is burning it may be too late to get off.

There is an increasingly well used cover of Forbes magazine from September 2007 featuring Nokia and the tagline “1 billion customers – can anyone catch the cell phone king?”. This was published three months after Apple first launched the iPhone. That year Apple sold 1.4 million phones and by 2012 that figure reached 125 million. When change happens, it happens fast.

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