Rail investment is booming but lack of skills and materials could see us hit the buffers

Never before has the rail industry seen such vast levels of investment as in the last couple of years.

Never before has the rail industry seen such vast levels of investment as in the last couple of years. With some economies now on the road to recovery after the economic crash, investment in infrastructure – and particularly rail projects – has become an increasingly viable option, with funds in most parts of the world looking to the potentially high returns that such a long-term project can offer. This is a trend that we’re currently seeing on a truly global scale.

The likes of High Speed 2 have captured a huge amount of UK headlines, the US government have made large-scale commitments to upgrading their network and there’s also the massive projected investment in the Middle East over the next decade. Add to this the enormous demographic changes underway in Asia and you have all the ingredients for a very busy period for the rail sector right across the world.

Clearly, this predicted boom can only be good news for both the industry and those who’re to benefit from the better connectivity that it brings, but with this sort of investment comes an inevitable need for resources. There is no way around it; this is going to prove a massive challenge. However, what makes this hurdle even harder to overcome – aside from the well-publicised volatility in commodity prices – is the equally volatile nature of the required skillsets. Due to the versatility and enormous variation of live projects in this sector, no one type of skillset remains relevant for long. With one project quickly following another, developers sometimes find themselves in a position where they are continually playing catch-up, trying to secure the right people for each phase of the job.

It is all very well looking to the predictions of big investment and increasing projects, but if there are not the professionals in place to deliver them on time and on budget, we have a big problem on our hands. In order to take full advantage of the upturn, the sector needs to address what can only be described as a serious underinvestment in the next generation of talent. It’s fair to say that the elephant in the room has for some time been the industry skills gap. Dealing with this can safeguard the next generation of experts and engineers and ensure the industry meets its weighty expectations.

In tandem with the matter of skills is the matter of materials. With commodity prices regularly shifting, securing supply chains early on is essential. We need to give suppliers the chance to evaluate project targets and organize the required materials needed to undertake it. Due to an increasingly competitive market, these sorts of things need to be established sooner rather than later to prevent developers being left wanting in the wake of competitors. In short, a proactive approach in such an environment is paramount.

Really, this is a something of a golden age for rail investment. Success will be defined by those who take the opportunities as they come and being shrewd enough to maximize the potential of the ones that are available.

Bas Bollinger

Global Leader Rail & Urban Transport +31 6 27 06 04 14 Ask me a question
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