A cutting-edge rail research centre being built by the University of Leeds has the potential to contribute billions of pounds in added value to the UK economy, according to a report by economic development consultants GENECON.
The analysis says if the research output from the Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration can help improve the overall efficiency of the rail industry, the benefits for the UK could be huge.
Drawing on data from the transport regulator, the Office for Road and Rail, the economists estimate: “…just a 1 per cent improvement in UK rail operations could generate around £3 billion in value to the UK economy by 2050...”
The Institute will be one the most advanced experimental research centres in the world, with capabilities to test rail systems that operate at both conventional and high speeds.
It will be sited next to the Leeds Enterprise Zone at Gateway 45, on the edge of the M1 motorway.
The Institute will revolutionise the way new railway systems are invented, developed and brought into service, to improve performance and passenger satisfaction. The Institute will be one of the first in the world to investigate rail systems as an integrated whole: measuring how train, track, power systems and signals interact as a unified system.
One of the problems that has bedevilled the introduction of new trains and equipment has been incompatibility between the new technology and older systems.
The assessment of the economic impact of the Institute was commissioned by the University but conducted independently by Leeds-based consultants GENECON.
David Tuck, Managing Director of GENECON, said: “The Institute has the potential to deliver real benefits for Yorkshire, the Northern Powerhouse and the wider UK. It symbolises the region’s increasing role as an international centre for advanced research and its contribution to national economic growth and productivity.
“By improving rail network efficiency, the new Institute has a critical role to play in accelerating UK productivity growth, as well as acting as a catalyst to rail industry and related investment in and around the Leeds Enterprise Zone.
“The Institute is also helping to deliver the UK’s Industrial Strategy by facilitating collaboration between top-flight researchers and growing companies, supporting innovation across the rail sector and ensuring the country’s key infrastructure and services are fit for the future.”
The analysis looked at the impact of the Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration up to 2050 and did not take into account the effect of the HS2 project, which is currently subject to independent review.
Construction work on the Institute has just started.
The initial cost of building the Institute is £80 million, with £56 million coming from the University and industry partners. In addition, there will be £13 million from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (the LEP), delivered in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and £11 million from Research England, a Government agency.
The economic analysis looked at the value for money from the public sector investment in the scheme – the £24 million from the LEP and Research England.
The economic analysis estimates that the Institute could help generate around 300 additional new jobs and stimulate around £240 million in employment and wider research-related benefits for the economy over the next 30 years.
A number of the additional jobs will be directly linked to the Institute but many others will come through the rail-industry supply chain based on the potential of the Institute to spark further economic development on the Leeds Enterprise Zone site and wider City Region.
Professor Peter Woodward, Director of the Institute, said: “The economic analysis demonstrates the huge benefits the Institute will bring not only to the Leeds City Region but also the UK economy.
“From the outset, we will be working with the rail industry on the big challenges they face: how they develop, build and operate a system that will be called up on to move increasing numbers of people around the UK in a way that is efficient and sustainable.
“We will help the rail industry introduce new ideas and technologies more quickly and at reduced cost. That will add to rail industry efficiency.”
The economic analysis calculates that every pound invested by the public sector in the project could generate a return of between £5 and almost £7 with the scheme appearing to demonstrate “…excellent value for money.”
The centre received £13 million from the LEP, delivered in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, through the Leeds City Region Growth Deal - a £1 billion package of government investment to accelerate growth and create jobs across Leeds City Region.
Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said: “The impact analysis shows how the Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration can deliver significant economic benefits while also helping the Leeds City Region to become a UK centre for high speed rail engineering.
“There is no doubt that the facility will attract companies working in the railway supply chain, ensuring our region is not just at the forefront of today’s technology but is shaping the transport systems of tomorrow.
“By confirming HS2 will go ahead as planned, the Government will ensure the region can maximise the impact of complementary investments including the Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration.”
The HS2 project is subject to independent review to consider if and how it should proceed. The review is expected to report shortly.