The 21st meeting of the UIC Covid-19 Task Force was attended remotely on 29 June 2021 by around 40 participants from across the globe.
Marc Guigon, Chair of the Task Force, welcomed the participants and gave an overview of the afternoon’s meeting, with a particular question at the forefront of every presentation: how to gain back the trust of railway passengers after the pandemic? Members laid the groundwork with field studies and actively implemented prevention and safety measures to provide a comfortable and reassuring experience to railway passengers with presentations by speakers from DB Fernverkehr AG (Germany), KTZ (Kazakhstan), the European Union Agency for Railways, and SBB (Swiss Railways).
The key themes of the presentations included:
- “Long-distance train service in pandemic times - Results of DB’s epidemiological study” Tobias Körner, Head of Operations Development department (Digitization and Operational Excellence) Timetabling and Traffic Control Management, DB Fernverkehr AG, Germany
The presentation gave an overview of a study conducted to gain transparency on the occurrence of infection in railway traffic, with the goal of ensuring the safety of staff and passengers and restoring customer confidence. Results showed that, given all current hygiene rules and measures are followed, there is no sign of an increased infection rate for on-board staff. The covering of mouth and nose in combination with a high air exchange rate by the HAVC system have been confirmed to reduce droplet and aerosol concentration significantly.
- “Covid-19 Preventive actions in Kazakhstan Railways” Askhat S., Head of Health, Safety and Environment, KTZ, Kazakhstan
Emphasis was placed on the epidemiological situation in both the country and the company. Trains circulate in remote and small localities to advocate for and administrate the Covid vaccine in these areas, and the vaccinated receive privileges. The local ASHYQ app should soon be compatible with the “Travel without Covid” app to allow freedom of movement across borders for citizens of the Eurasian Economic Region. KTZ’s digitalisation strategy paid off with continued workflow and little overstress for employees throughout the pandemic.
- “Travel safety during Covid-19 for passengers travelling long distance by train and other modes” Torben Holvad, Team Leader, Analysis and Monitoring Unit, European Union Agency for Railways
The presentation focused on the incremental risk of contracting covid-19 for passengers using transportation during the pandemic. The risk of infection depended on two factors, namely the distance between the infected and non-affected passenger, and the duration of exposure to the contagious passenger. Based on the assumption that all passengers wear masks effective in stopping the spread of the virus, findings show that despite a relative high risk of Covid-19 infection during rail travel, the accident risk for car travel is still higher.
- “How improve customer experience and to gain the confidence of the passengers back after Covid-19” Jörg Ostwald, UIC CEMP Chairman, Product, Services and Events, SBB passenger transport, Swiss Railways
The focus was on the different steps undertaken to build back trust between the railway and the passengers. Cleanliness of stations and trains, consistent information with cohesive signage and adapted messages throughout the pandemic (from “protection” during the first wave to “emotionalisation” with the 2021 summer holidays coming up), and customer surveys aimed to re-establish that trust. Promotional campaigns aim to overcome the significant market losses expected until the end of 2022 by changing the focus from commuting to sustainable leisure travel by rail.
The presentations were followed by a round table where Task Force Members discussed how some governments, due to the economic losses caused by the pandemic, were trying to limit expenses by providing less support to railways.
Marc Guigon, UIC Passenger Department Director, emphasised the short window of opportunity to invest in railways in the next 10 years, notably in night trains and passenger trains, before electric vehicles and hydrogen planes enter the competition. The time is ripe; since the beginning of the pandemic, customers are ready to spend more time travelling by train. The domain of relevance of rail has never been so large (200-1,500 km), and its modal share should be secured and expanded.
As per usual, Members are encouraged to share their thoughts on recommendations for the new normal – either by writing to the UIC Task Force team or by posting in the UIC Extranet: https://extranet.uic.org/en/thread/127006
All guidance documents can be consulted on UIC’s dedicated Covid-19 webpage, which is regularly updated with the latest video, news articles, webinars and other audiovisual material: https://uic.org/covid-19
As a reminder, the Task Force LinkedIn group is open to members. Feel free to join the group and share your thoughts: https://lnkd.in/eEKqfW2
The next Task Force web-conference is scheduled to take place on 21 September 2021. Members are asked to give details of their expectations for future meetings.