Kada Research were commissioned by the University of Birmingham to evaluate the ERDF funded DIGI-RAIL West Midlands programme which has helped to diversify the rail industry supply chain and bring more digital technologies to the rail sector.
DIGI-RAIL worked with SMEs to help them access opportunities in the rail industry in turn promoting innovation within the sector. The programme’s Get Into Rail events introduced SME suppliers to the sector who also benefited from world-leading facilities at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) to develop new products.
Interviews and roundtables with programme managers, delivery staff and PhD researchers complemented consultations with industry representatives and a beneficiary survey. The research allowed the Kada evaluation team to assess the strengths and successes of the different elements of the programme, explore its added value and identify lessons learned for future programme design and delivery after ERDF. It was important to understand the benefits not just to SMEs, but to academics at the University and the wider industry. The programme monitoring data was used alongside the beneficiary survey data to estimate the economic impact of the programme on the region.
The evaluation found that breaking down perceived barriers to SMEs entering the rail industry and working with academic institutions was important for success. Business-focussed support, industry connections and the technical expertise and facilities were strengths. New product development benefitted from longer collaboration projects which started after COVID-19 restrictions ended.
“It was interesting and exciting to see rail innovations first hand. Challenges facing the rail network are well documented, and by diversifying the supply chain and developing digital technologies DIGI-RAIL is part of making the network more efficient and resilient. Learning about the work the University of Birmingham and the BCRRE do around the world has given me a good understanding of how important a role the UK plays in the growing global rail industry and the need to continue supporting companies to innovate, stay competitive, and sell new products internationally”
Sam Nair, Study Director.
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