The UK public believe that investment in the rail network will play an important role in efforts to level-up the country’s economic prospects, and that it will play an important role in efforts to reduce future carbon emissions.

However, the vast majority of people don’t believe that the rail network is state of the art or future proof, and cost remains the most significant limiting factor to travelling by train.

These are some of the findings of the latest round of Attitudes research into public perceptions of infrastructure, conducted by Copper Consultancy, the specialist infrastructure communications agency.

Key findings of the research are:

  • More people expect to use the rail network following the Covid pandemic than before, with the number of people who never travel by train falling from 34% to 26%
  • However, usage patterns will change, with the number of people using the rail network at least once a week, falling from 24% to 22%
  • Less than 10% of people think that the UK’s rail network can be described as state of the art or future proof, yet only 30% think that it is outdated or poorly maintained
  • 64% of people agree with continued government investment in improving the rail system, compared with 7% who disagree
  • 66% of people agree that rail travel is a green form of transport, and developing new rail infrastructure would support the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions
  • 51% of people believe that developing improved transport links is important to level-up the economy, compared with 7% who believe it’s not important

Discussing the findings, Ben Heatley, Managing Partner at Copper said: “The UK’s rail network is critically important to our transport system, to our long term economic prospects, and it plays a unique role in our national psyche. There are few countries who are as proud of their role in developing rail transport, or are as critical of the state of their rail system today.

“The findings of our research are encouraging and demonstrate significant support for investment into the rail network, ongoing commitment to use the system, and understanding of the role it can play in both levelling-up and the transition to net zero. The challenge facing the industry, however, is how it can simultaneously address customer demand for improvement in order to become ‘state of the art’, without increasing cost to the passenger.”

“Ongoing developments in new rail lines, improved station infrastructure and more integrated transport will almost certainly help, but there remains a continued need to promote the positive effect that rail investment can have for communities across the UK.”

This research was conducted as part of Copper’s ongoing Attitudes to Infrastructure series, which focuses on understanding the public’s perceptions of the social and economic infrastructure that serves them. Copper has conducted Attitudes research for over five years, and has previously considered the public’s views on subjects including the transition to net zero, infrastructure plans post Brexit, and public transport.

Copper is hosting an industry webinar to discuss the findings of this research and to consider ‘How the rail sector can be a catalyst for change in the communities it serves’. Registration is still available and people can sign up here.