Rail set to support rebuilding the economy

Featured story
Research is shows that the railways could  energise a more sustainable society post-Covid.

During the Covid-19 pandemic passenger numbers on Britain’s railways dropped to as low as 4%, due to the national lockdown that was set to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. This resulted in the UK economy shrinking by over a fifth in the first quarter of 2020-21.

A rail industry group is looking at how rail can contribute to rebuild social value. This will involve helping people get to and from work and school, but also by supporting improvements in health, reducing social disparity, tackling modern slavery and building back better communities.

The Rail Social Value Working Group has been set up by the rail industry body RSSB. The group brings together leading experts from Abellio, Avanti West Coast, Balfour Beatty, Colas Rail, Department for Transport, Govia Thameslink, Network Rail, Rail Delivery Group, Siemens and Volker Rail. 

Recent work by RSSB in this area includes the rail’s Air Quality Strategy Framework and the Common Social Impact Framework.

RSSB’s Lead Sustainable Development Specialist, Craig Hales, said: 

The GB rail industry is the artery that connects communities and has the ability to facilitate a healthy recovery in the UK following the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The industry can specifically focus the recovery to deliver maximum social value, fairly distributed across the whole country.

“Since the railways were privatised in the 1990s, we have seen passenger numbers more than double, leading to 1.8billion passenger journeys a year pre-Covid, alongside the internet revolution, increasing opportunity, social mobility, employment and economic growth. Rail isn’t just about customer-friendly low carbon transport, it brings communities together.

Jools Townsend, chief executive, Community Rail Network: 

Community rail is all about building positive relationships locally, so communities can derive maximum value from their railways and stations. This work shows the huge difference rail makes to people’s lives, whether it’s a young person feeling confident to use train travel for the first time, or volunteers feeling renewed pride in their area—and it holds vital insights on how we can build back better and achieve a sustainable, inclusive transport network that works for everyone.

Sophie Stephens, Head of Social Value & Sustainability (UK), Balfour Beatty: 

 “The Rail industry plays a vital role in supporting the economy by enabling the movement of people and goods safely and efficiently throughout the UK. At Balfour Beatty, we believe that by putting social value at the heart of decision making, we can ensure communities truly benefit from a sustainable rail network, by creating opportunities for people and business, improving wellbeing and in turn, strengthening Britain’s economy.

Kathleen O’Malley, Social Performance Manager, Network rail:

During the recent crisis the network has kept essential services going. Even more than usual, rail has been the lifeblood of Britain. Rail freight has kept our supermarkets stocked and passenger trains have helped key workers to get to work to deliver vital services, while rail workers across the country have worked tirelessly not only to keep the railway running but to support their local communities and colleagues in the NHS. A drop-in road traffic has introduced significant improvements to our environment, highlighting that rail has an even bigger role to play in the future as a green and healthy mode of transport. It can also continue to bring about social inclusion and regeneration to make rail a positive experience for all and to support the levelling up of Great Britain.

Gareth Williams, Head of Sustainability, Avanti West Coast:

The rail industry has shown great resolve during the pandemic by maintaining vital services to keep key workers moving and volunteering to help those most in need. As society begins to recover, we as an industry must take the opportunity to deliver real social value by connecting with the people and places we serve; together we can help build a greener, healthier more sustainable future.”

Editors’ notes


If you want to interview one of our experts about safety or have further questions, please contact us at or telephone 020 3142 5653 or 07711 001 907

About RSSB

RSSB brings industry together to deliver expertise, solve complex issues and provide the headspace for collaboration, all leading to a better, safer railway.

As a membership-based rail industry body, RSSB includes train and freight operating companies, infrastructure managers, contractors, rolling stock leasing companies and suppliers, and our work involves partnerships and affiliation with academia, government, and many other railways and organisations across the world.

We provide impartial, risk-based analysis and insights to continually improve health, safety and performance. We develop standards, setting engineering and operational requirements for safe interworking and to increase efficiency.  We also undertake research and development to enable industry to generate knowledge, technologies and operational solutions that individual players in the rail system could not pursue in isolation.

Together we form an industry support network, so that we all benefit from better safety, sustainability and service, and reduced cost and risk.

Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.