A lack of investment in public transport has stifled the desire to create a sector that is truly integrated across the different modes of transport. Transport companies continue to operate within their own domain and with only limited interaction with the organisations around them – not because the technology isn’t there to enable closer integration, but simply because there is no motivation or desire for change.
One area that has taken off – quite literally – is aerial mobility, and this has proven to be highly disruptive to the rail sector. Air taxis are able to outperform rail on speed, convenience, customer experience and even sometimes on cost in certain circumstances. Unsurprisingly, many people are now choosing air mobility services for journeys that they would traditionally have made by rail. In short, this scenario does not present a great time to be in the rail industry – the world has moved on and the rail industry has struggled to keep pace.
Preparing for an uncertain future for rail
It is unlikely, of course, that either of the future visions set out above will exactly match reality in 2040. The main point, however, is that the technologies available to us by then will only be part of the story. Just as important will be how the technology is applied, and how well business anticipates the future trends that the technology will enable.
The rail industry will need to closely monitor the general transport landscape for potential indicators of major shifts. Is public policy and public opinion turning against private car ownership? Are last-mile services becoming economically sustainable outside the big cities? Are passengers starting to value comfort and customer experience over price?
Rather than just passively observing these changes, it is essential that the rail sector is actively involved in pushing for positive change, and positions itself to take full advantage of the outcomes – whether through early collaboration with emerging technologies and services, the forging of even closer relationships with existing and future customers, the adoption of agile business practices such as those currently practised in the data and software sectors, or learning from the successes and challenges of other sectors.
While we cannot hope to predict the future in any great detail, we do at least know that it will be shaped enormously by the decisions we make in the here and now. The best way to ensure that we have a thriving rail sector in the year 2040 is to stay open, flexible and well-prepared in 2019 and beyond.