Did you know..? A passenger rolling stock perspective

18 October 2018

By Ashley Goddard, Senior Statistical Analyst.

Updated alongside the 2017-18 Rail Infrastructure, Assets and Environmental statistical release: 18 October 2018

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

The train fleet in Great Britain.

The national railway fleet (franchised and non-franchised operators) is comprised of over 14,000 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, almost 60% of the vehicles have been built since privatisation in the mid 1990’s, while less than 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. From that time the average age rose, to 21.1 years in 2016-17. Over this time period some older fleets were 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.

Between 2006-07 and 2016-17 the average age of rolling stock for franchised operators rose by 7.4 years. Any rolling stock that were in use in 2006-07, and were still in use in 2016-17, would have aged by 10 years over this time period. Therefore, the rise of only 7.4 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.

What is the future of rolling stock?

The rail industry has committed to deliver almost 7,200 vehicles between 2014 and 2021. This investment will see the introduction of new rolling stock on many operators, including Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Merseyrail, 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.

What do we publish?

Every October the ORR publishes its annual Rail Infrastructure, Assets and Environment statistical release, which contains the latest data on the average age of rolling stock, alongside other measures such as carbon emissions generated from the passenger and freight services on the rail network.

For 2017-18, the ORR has adopted a new data source for the average age of rolling stock statistics, the R2 database (maintained by RSSB). This has allowed us to introduce the data for non-franchised operators into the statistics for the first time, whilst also improving the quality and consistency of the data.

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.