The Characteristics and Expectations of High Speed Rail Customers in 2026 and 2040

The Characteristics and Expectations of High Speed Rail Customers in 2026 and 2040


Matthew Dillon, Arup


Through primary research, literature review and futurology, this study investigated the characteristics of the market for future HS2 services in 2026 and 2040, in terms of demography, prevailing technology, customer expectations and other factors.


The market for travel is changing. More people are living in cities, more are living healthier for longer, and new technology means that more customers have high expectations of digital connectivity when travelling. Even the way that we are shaped as species is changing – humans are becoming larger, and in the UK, the prevalence of obesity has increased threefold since 1978. Alongside all of this, expectations in customer service continue to rise.

In the UK, HS2 Phase 1 will open in 2026, and in the 11 years leading up to that date we can expect many more changes to the societal and technological context. Arup and SNC Lavalin were commissioned by HS2 Ltd to investigate the characteristics of the market for future HS2 services, in order to inform aspects of HS2’s proxy operator and rolling stock fleet strategy, and to guide priorities for future work, focussed on the following key questions:
• Who are the HS2 customers?
• What are their key expectations?
• How do these expectations differ according to journey time?
• What can we learn about ticket barriers, reservations and standing policies from examples of similar operational concepts and emerging technology?

For simplification, the work was carried out with two reference dates. 2026 was chosen as it is the year of Phase 1 launch, and therefore the year in which the HS2 operator will define many of its key customer service offerings. 2040 is a year in which demand is likely to be fully ramped up (following the launch of HS2 Phase 2 in 2033), when HS2 is serving its full range of destinations, and is around the mid-life refurbishment point for the rolling stock.

As such, data, customer and operator views were researched in these contexts – rather than the present day. There were two other departures from the standard forms of market research. Firstly, new rail users will represent a large proportion of the total demand. In this way, determining the market characteristics of non-users was more important than in previous market research exercises. Secondly, journey purpose characteristics were expected to change, as Birmingham in particular was expected to move temporally closer to London (the journey time between Interchange and Old Oak Common will be just over 30 minutes), making it within a reasonable commuting distance. It was essential that the work took account of these and other factors.

We carried out research between October and December 2015, and based our summary on the following sources:
• A literature review, futurology and a desktop study of data sources.
• HS2’s own demand forecasts and the October 2013 economic case.
• Primary customer research, including 8 focus groups and 1,582 online questionnaires.
• Interviews with 25 transport operators, infrastructure providers, ticketing and retail experts and transport authorities.
• Our own analysis of the data above.

This piece of work quantified the market characteristics of the customers, including what the market wants, how HS2 captures the value of it, so that HS2 can design the operations around those needs. In addition a need was identified to express the future in ways that could help HS2 colleagues and stakeholders absorb the key messages, and become inspired by the findings, as well as helping them inspire others to help deliver them. The importance of superior quality visualisations of the findings was identified as being paramount, and so the presentation of the results was deliberately visually impactful.


Association for European Transport