The UK rail industry is witnessing the biggest period of investment since the Victorian era. It is much needed given the network is carrying twice as many people as it did 20 years ago. Also Network Rail plans to spend £37.5bn to meet the predicted 400 million extra passenger journeys by 2020. Cross-rail remains Europe's biggest construction project and involves building eight new stations in central London and Docklands as well as upgrading many existing stations. When it opens in 2018 it will increase London's rail-based transport network by 10 per cent and cut journey times across the city.
However, engineering opportunities in the UK rail sector could be at risk simply because of a shortage of civil engineers in the UK. For example plans to invest in more than 200 major rail projects during the next six years could be in jeopardy because of the increasing difficulty to recruit suitably qualified and experienced staff. Projects most at risk include electrification schemes and the introduction of large fleets of new trains, including those for Thames-link, Cross-rail, the Intercity Express Programme and London Over-ground.
The current rail workforce is made up of around 85,000 engineers and nearly 70 per cent work in track. Furthermore a major concern is the high-age profile of people working in traction and rolling stock – thus railway engineering has an ageing workforce. NSARE estimates a need for between 1,600 and 2,000 new people in the next five years in signalling and telecommunications, with over 30 per cent of these people being at technician level or above, also 1,000 engineers will be needed for electrification and plant in the next few years. The shortage of skilled engineers will threaten the timetables for the UK’s ambitious rail projects.