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Lords warn post-Brexit rail standards could stop UK firms winning work abroad


The House of Lords has urged “caution” from the rail industry when post-Brexit standards come in to play, warning that diverging from current standards could limit UK contractors ability to win work overseas.

In its report Brexit: road, rail and maritime transport, the House of Lords European Union Committee has warned the government and the rail industry about pitfalls of diverging from current European Union (EU)-wide rail standards.

The government has already ruled out participation in the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) after Brexit, meaning it will be free to set its own rail standards, in terms of construction and operation of the railways.

And while the report concludes that there are “many benefits” for the UK in setting its own standards, it adds that “divergence should be approached with caution”.

In particular, the report warns that failing to reach an agreement with the EU on recognising standards could have a negative impact on UK contractors ability to win work in abroad.

The report states: “Future divergence on standards must also be considered in the context of the wider rail industry. Rail manufacturers benefit from the economies of scale and export opportunities associated with standardised products. We agree with the weight of evidence that large-scale divergence would decrease the UK’s attractiveness as a base for overseas manufacturers.”

It adds: “The government should clarify if it intends to seek arrangements for the mutual recognition of rail certifications and licences with the EU post- Brexit.”

Despite the warning, the report adds that “there are, however, circumstances where divergence from EU standards would better suit local conditions on domestic routes”.

It adds: “The UK will not enjoy the same level of influence on European rail standards and cooperation but will have greater freedom on domestic standards.”

Giving evidence to the committee, transport secretary Chris Grayling said “greater freedom” would allow the UK railways to be more inclusive.

“The European Rail Agency wants us to amend the platform heights on High Speed 2. Doing so would mean we could not provide level access for disabled people to the trains,” Grayling said. “I do not expect or want us to remain part of the European rail regulatory body. I see no need at all.”

He added: “Why we would want to be part of something that sets standards internationally [when instead] we can follow the standards we choose to follow.” 

In response to the report, Railway Industry Association senior policy manager Damian Testa said: “As the UK seeks to leave the EU, RIA and its members want to see trade with EU and non-EU countries as frictionless as possible, with technical standards as harmonised as possible, and which enables direct access to a skilled workforce.

“We also want to take advantage of future export and trade opportunities, meaning there needs to be strong visibility of rail in trade deal negotiations and a drive to take advantage of developing new markets around the world.”

  • To get the full update on what’s happening in the rail sector join us at New Civil Engineer’s Future of Rail conference 26-27 June 2019. Call Ben Joudar on 020 3953 2623 to find out more.

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