by Josephine Cordero Sapién
13 May 2021
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has expressed concern about the dominance of Siemens Mobility and Alstom in the rail signalling market.
The ORR said there needed to be more competition in the British signalling market, especially with the arrival of new technologies as part of Network Rail’s Digital Railway programme. This conclusion is the result of the ORR’s examination of this market. It said it would take action to remedy the situation.
The update paper expressed concern that Siemens and Alstom enjoyed “significant power in the market” and that other companies would “struggle to compete with them on a level playing field”. The ORR said that the companies’ “incumbency advantages” stemmed back to rail privatisation. Consequently, new suppliers struggled to introduce innovative products or approaches.
Looking forward, the ORR said it was concerned that existing, entrenched advantages would be carried through to the roll-out of alternative signalling technologies. The arrival of the Digital Railway could, said the ORR, be an opportunity to diversity the supply chain and increase competition.
In response to its findings, the ORR said it would take action but would stop short of making a market investigation reference to the Competition and Markets Authority. It also said it was challenging the industry to address barriers it had identified to give new suppliers a fair opportunity to compete and an incentive to bid for signalling projects.
“Our study has found that there are competition issues in the critical signalling market. There are no quick fixes to address these problems, but we are committed to challenging industry to seize the opportunity of the rollout of new approaches to signalling to diversify the supply chain, and, ensure Network Rail is able to drive value and innovation from its suppliers.”
The ORR is not just the UK’s rail regulatory body but also a competition authority entitled to apply competition enforcement in matters relating to the supply of services relating to railways. Commenting on tools at its disposal, it said its powers included “the option to introduce new licence conditions and to take enforcement action under competition law to address any illegal anti-competitive conduct”.
The market study launched in November 2020 and has a statutory completion deadline of 10 November 2021. The current update paper marks the midway point.
During Control Period 5 (2014–2019), Network Rail spent around 0.8–0.9 billion GBP per year on signalling, equating to more than 10 percent of the infrastructure manager’s total cost base.
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