Understanding the relationship between railway capacity and performance


Professor Andrew Smith, Professor Richard Batley and representatives of Arup. Contact Professor Andrew Smith to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Over recent years, the GB passenger rail network has seen unprecedented growth in patronage, with passenger kilometres doubling over a 20-year period. This pattern of growth is expected to continue into the future, driven by population growth, increasing road congestion and the impact of major investments in both rolling stock and infrastructure. More widely the European Commission has set challenging targets for growth of both passenger and freight; and envisages enhanced competition as one means of both increasing quality (and in turn demand), whilst also improving efficiency.

Against this background, a key – and inter-connected – challenge facing the GB rail industry is to manage increasing demand (encompassing both passenger and freight) whilst also maintaining and enhancing performance (encompassing both punctuality and cancellations). Maintaining an ever-busier network in good condition, simultaneously driving reduced costs through efficiency gains, whilst also managing upgrades to capacity, is a major challenge facing the industry. In response to this challenge, the railway in GB is undergoing an unprecedented level of investment, in terms of both the day-to-day renewal of the railway network, as well as new schemes designed to enhance capacity and improve services, for example through platform lengthening, signaling and train control solutions, electrification, new train fleets and new railway lines.

This context provokes the overall aim of the proposed PhD research: to use innovative methods and datasets to investigate the trade-offs facing a growing railway in respect of costs, capacity improvements and performance. Importantly the research will incorporate a user (passenger; freight) perspective at its heart, whilst looking at the overall societal costs and benefits (including firms and government).

Within these overarching questions, specific areas of exploration could include the following:

  • What are the trade-offs between cost and performance and where are the opportunities for win-win outcomes
  • How can we better ensure timetable robustness and stability?
  • What impact does capacity utilization and mix of passenger and freight traffic have on track possession management and costs?
  • How far does vertical separation of infrastructure and operations impact on cost-performance-capacity trade-offs?
  • Will open-access competition alter the balance (in a positive or negative way)?
  • What will European Train Control System (ETCS) bring to improving performance? What is the evidence?
  • How should we approach timetabling in a digital world?
  • Can we use real-time train information to automatically filter down to customer information systems (CIS)?
  • Can we do ‘live re-timetabling’ in response to incidents?

Ultimately the research aims to deliver impact through addressing the question of how the GB rail network can deliver improvements to the quantity and quality of services, at minimum cost, balancing both the short and long term. The research of course has generalizable implications for other railways internationally.

Key benefits

The successful applicant will have the opportunity to work with leading academic researchers at the Institute for Transport Studies, one of the world’s leading centres for transport and railway economics. The scholarship involves working closely with Arup, and the student will be expected to spend time working at the company’s premises in Leeds and with trips to London (travel and subsistence costs funded by Arup). A representative from Arup will also play an active role as an external supervisor. This studentship offers an excellent opportunity to develop leading edge and high impact research, with strong opportunities for a future research career or career within the industry.


The Institute for Transport Studies is one of the UK's leading departments for transport teaching and research. We deliver internationally excellent research outputs, which impact upon transport policy and practice, and contribute to the wider economy and society. Key achievements:

  • Top 10 for Transportation Science and Technology - Shanghai Ranking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2018
  • 2nd in the UK for research power, according to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014
  • Top 5 in the world for Transportation - Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) 2017
  • Awarded a prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education (2009) for "sustained excellence - 40 years' impact in transport research and teaching." 

You will be part of the Economics and Appraisal Research Group, whose interests cover multiple transport mode applications and methodological areas. You will also be aligned with the Institute for Transport Studies Rail Centre, which focuses on multidisciplinary research into rail transport systems aiming to deliver solutions that enhance economic and social value. Advancing research to enhance understanding of the economics of rail transport demand and supply is a core and long-established research area at ITS, delivering both academically excellent research outputs, and high impact, through our close links with industry.


Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services. Through our work, we make a positive difference in the world. As a wholly independent organisation owned in trust for the benefit of its employees, the firm determines its own direction. This allows us to make clear-sighted, thoughtful, long-term decisions about our priorities as a business and as a member of a sustainable society. 

This is an exciting opportunity to work directly with our Transport Consulting practice in the UK. Our Transport Practice has a broad client base that includes a mix of public and private sector clients. It also supports other parts of the Arup business notably the wider planning practice, infrastructure practice, and the overall Rail and Highway engineering businesses, which are Arup’s largest businesses.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), or equivalent, and/ or a Master’s degree in Economics, Transport Economics or in a relevant subject area.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the ‘Understanding the relationship between railway capacity and performance' as well as Professor Andrew Smith as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office e: phd@its.leeds.ac.uk, t: +44 (0)113 34 35326.