Shaped by industry priorities and government strategies, the current areas of focus are:

Reducing train accident risk

As evidenced by recent incidents, the industry cannot rest on its very strong safety record of preventing train accidents. Research is key to improving the management of train accident risk and in particular better understanding and mitigating the risk from SPADs and derailments.

New safety capabilities

In a safety critical industry, research is needed to strive for continuous improvement in the understanding and management of safety risk. This is particularly important to ensure safe introduction of new technologies and inform measure to mitigate emerging and changing risk factors such as extreme weather events.

Optimised cross-system operations

To improve service reliability, which is essential to customer satisfaction, novel insight is needed to ensure that railway operations make best use of existing assets and capabilities and strike the right balance between multiple priorities.

Technical interfaces optimisation

New insights and solutions to better manage the interfaces between technical systems maximises service reliability and helps drive down the cost of operating the railway.

Enhanced freight capabilities

Increasing the proportion of freight transported via rail has a financial value for the industry and importantly also societal value in term of reduced environmental impact. Research on a range of engineering and operational topics is needed to inform freight growth aspirations to deliver better and greener logistic connectivity.

System integrity and resilience

Research is needed to deliver a better understanding of how individual assets and whole system vulnerabilities are changing as a result of an increasingly digital railway, and what the implications of these changes are. This will enable future-proofing enhanced rail integrity and resilience.

Enabling data exploitation

Across the rail industry, a wealth of data is collected and stored by a wide range of systems. Together with contractual and cultural barriers, the absence of standardised formats and protocols, means much of the potential value in this data remains difficult to unlock. Evidence is needed to underpin the creation of such standards and guidance.


The introduction of battery trains and bimodal trains on the network is gathering place. This creates the need for new knowledge to ensure intelligent procurement and management of these assets, and to look into new issues and opportunities in managing the supply and demand of electricity from the rail grid.

Cutting across all of the technical areas, we foster collaboration across industry and academia, and provide strategic thought leadership for industry:

Foresight and strategic support

Keeping the Rail Technical Strategy (RTS) up-to-date and contributing to wider industry strategic planning, as well as monitoring future challenges and opportunities in the adoption of emerging and cross-cutting technology is essential to future proof technical progress.

Academic and international collaboration

Strong collaborations with universities ensure academic capabilities specific to rail and beyond are appropriately linked with the needs and opportunities in the rail sector. Partnerships and knowledge exchanges with academic institutions in Great Britain and international research players worldwide allow leveraging additional effort and avoids duplication.

Research - priority workstreams 2023-24 - diagram


Research - priority workstreams 2023-24