Did you know..? A passenger rolling stock perspective

16 January 2018

By Ashley Goddard, Senior Statistical Analyst.

Each year ORR publishes statistics on the average age of rolling stock for each franchised rail operator in Great Britain.

The train fleet in Great Britain

Ashley GoddardThe national railway fleet comprises around 13,000 vehicles. These range from those built in the 1930s, currently in use on the Island Line on the Isle of Wight, to brand new trains recently built and put into service on Great Western Railway.

In the current fleet, half of the vehicles have been built since privatisation in the mid 1990’s, while only around one in ten were built prior to the 1980s.

Rolling stock in the 2000s

At the earliest recording point (2000-01), the average age of stock in use in Great Britain was 20.7 years. At the beginning of franchising (mid 1990’s onwards), a significant amount of new rolling stock replaced old fleets nearing the end of their life, including complete fleet replacements on the West Coast, Cross Country and c2c, and replacement of the Mark 1 slam door rolling stock. These changes brought the average age down to 13.0 years in 2005-06. Since then the average age has risen, to 21.1 years in 2016-17. During this time some older fleets have been refurbished to improve accessibility and interiors.

What drives the changes in average age?

A rail vehicle typically has a useful life of around 30-35 years. Therefore, after a period of investment in new stock, the average age will rise for a number of years before the next wave of replacement vehicles is introduced bringing the average age back down.

Over the past decade the average age of rolling stock has risen by 7.6 years. Any rolling stock that were in use in 2006-07, and are still in use in 2016-17, will have aged by 10 years over this time period. Therefore, the rise of only 7.6 years is a reflection of continual introduction of newer rolling stock or retirement of older vehicles from the national fleet.

These statistics are a measure of the age of a vehicle and because rail vehicles have a long service life, an important factor for customers is how the train is maintained and refurbished over its life to improve the experience on board the train.

Average age of rolling stock in Great Britain

What is the future of rolling stock?

The rail industry has committed an investment of around £10 billion and over 6,000 vehicles will be delivered between 2014 and 2021. This investment will see the introduction of new rolling stock on many operators, including Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Merseyrail, Virgin Train East Coast, South Western Railway and West Midlands Trains. The introduction of these vehicles is expected to lower the average age of the national fleet fall to 15 years by March 2021. By then the size of the national fleet will have increased by around 3,000 vehicles, and many of the oldest vehicles currently in use will have been replaced.

What do we publish?

Further information is published in ORR’s annual Rail Infrastructure, Assets and Environment statistical release. This is published each year in October. Watch out for the next release!

Where can I go for further information?

Key industry publications on rolling stock are the Rail Delivery Group’s Long Term Passenger Rolling Stock Strategy and the Department for Transport’s Rolling Stock Perspective.

All figures quoted in this blog are taken from the Rail Infrastructure, Assets and Environment statistical release, the Long Term Passenger Rolling Stock Strategy or the Rolling Stock Perspective.