An international symposium entitled “Rail Unites Europe” was organised by the Belgian Presidency of the European Union at the initiative of Mr Etienne Schouppe, State Secretary for Mobility together with Belgian Railways (SNCB-Holding) on 15 November in Liège. This symposium, which brought together around 200 participants, was opened by Mr. Philippe Henry, Minister for Mobility of the Walloon Government and the State Secretary Mr Etienne Schouppe. Mr Jeannie Haek, CEO of SNCB-Holding, presented the programme. The main issue addressed was about improving interoperability to increase the attractiveness of the rail system in Europe.
In his introduction, Minister Etienne Schouppe made reference to the creation of the first railways in Belgium in 1835 where the primary objectives were already to save time, money and serve society. Railways today present great advantages in terms of safety and sustainability. But an important challenge remains: improving interoperability in the technical, operational as well as the commercial fields to raise rail competiveness vis-à-vis other modes.
Participating institutions or associations included the European Commission, ERA, UIC, CER, EIM, UNIFE and EBA (Eisenbahn-Bundesamt).
Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, UIC Director-General, had been invited to take the floor in the opening session themed around “Railways as an integrating factor – main challenges of railway transport for the benefit of the market and the community”. The aim was to present how railways can contribute as an important integration factor, not only in Europe but also in other parts of the world. In this regard, he recalled that Unity represents one of UIC’s three core values together with Solidarity and Universality.
Rail transport systems, said Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, contribute to creating or re-creating Unity in many ways. First of all a large number of projects for new railway links or corridors contributes to improving geographical and territorial unity. He mentioned the 12 current projects for high speed links worldwide as well as projects for long distance corridors, in particular those linking Europe, Asia and the Middle-East. This rapid development of rail projects across the globe demonstrates that rail transport can offer optimal solutions for mobility in a world with limited financial resources; a world increasingly concerned about the environment; a world where exchanges must be faster, with broader capacities and covering greater distances.
Technical and administrative unity is also particularly essential in today’s world from security and safety to traffic management and capacity and the environment. UIC as the worldwide railway association is particularly committed to ensuring close cooperation at international level between all kinds of players on a fragmented railway scene. Currently, in order to improve safety, fluidity and the optimisation of operations, the technical rail system must manage the integration of all these different players on the basis of unified standards and operational rules. UIC today is particularly committed to contributing to the systemic unity, in particular through its Rail System Forum.
Finally, rail is also a key player for societal unity. Jean-Pierre Loubinoux mentioned the roles of stations and freight logistics as important integration factors both based on optimal concepts for intermodality (or “optimodality”). Railways in addition strongly contribute to achieving political unity, e.g. in re-establishing permanent links between countries and contributing to regional reconstruction, etc.
In his concluding remarks, Belgian Secretary of State for Mobility Etienne Schouppe underlined the value of the UIC Leaflets as the result of broad harmonisation work with the railway community (UIC and member railways) over many years, as part of efforts to improve the interoperability of the rail system in Europe.