The third Rail Forum Europe (www.rail-forum.eu) event took place in Strasbourg (European Parliament) on 15 November. There were around 60 people present for this with a very strong representation from the manufacturing industry, a number of MEPs and colleagues from the associations of the rail operating community (CER, UIC, UITP) as well as a number of companies (DB, ÖBB, SNCF, PKP, FS...).
Rail Forum Europe (www.rail-forum.eu) brings together MEPs from across the EP’s committees, the European Commission and rail stakeholders and whilst the events are designed around a specific theme on each occasion, they present an opportunity to debate issues related to European rail in general.
On this occasion the meeting was sponsored by UNIFE and was focussed on “Innovation and Research for a more competitive European rail sector – challenges and solutions for Horizon 2020”.
Brian Simpson (MEP UK) and chair of the TRAN Committee presided over the meeting and introduced the three speakers for the evening.
Joseph Doppelbauer, Chief Technical Officer Bombardier Transportation and chairman of UNIFE’s Steering Committee for the Rail JTI, presented the Shift²Rail concept and the rationale behind it. Based on societal challenges (a population that is living longer, increased congestion on roads leading to problems with pollution), market challenges (a more competitive global market place) and political challenges (the recent EU White Paper), the manufacturers believe that the role they can play is in developing technological solutions to support a more sustainable rail network, one that has improved capacity and bigger shares of traffic so as to develop attractiveness and efficiency.
They see the JTI as a large part of delivering this perspective, guided by a stronger ERRAC framework but they believe that the operational management of such a JTI rests with those organisations investing in the innovation.
Liam Breslin, Head of Unit “Surface transport”, DG Research and Innovation, in a presentation entitled “EU – Building an Innovation Union” provided an overview of where the EC’s Research Directorate is heading in respect to rail research and offered their perspective of the JTI proposal. Mr Breslin became head of the Surface Transport unit this year having been head of the Aeronautics Unit since 2004, a sector where a JTI is already employed as a research vehicle.
He identified a number of points made in Josef Doppelbauer’s presentation especially those related to an ageing population, congestion, noise etc but in reviewing the JTI proposal, he highlighted a number of areas where he felt there was still work to be done before it might be possible to present this to the European Parliament.
There is a need for the proposal to demonstrate not only added value for the rail sector but it is vital that the companies involved (in competition with each other) are able to demonstrate that they are able to collaborate together in developing the programme of research work.
One of the key elements of the EU White Paper is the importance of being able to offer the customer a seamless journey opportunity and therefore whilst it might be of interest to the manufacturing companies to only focus on technological innovation, there is a need for the customer to be included in the proposal and to include a complementary approach with other transport modes.
There is a firm understanding from the EC of the importance of ERRAC and the role that it can and must play, as the advisory council to the EC, in the success of developing the strategic direction of future rail research in Europe.
Jean-Eric Paquet, Director, Directorate B - European Mobility Network,
DG Mobility and Transport, European Commission, outlined a number of expectations especially related to the role that research will play in the development of the Single European Rail Area.
He agreed that rail is under-funded in terms of research but thought that this might have been partially the fault of the sector in not putting forward project ideas.
Mr Paquet outlined his support for the initiative of the JTI but is not certain of the proposed structure nor if the current agenda is sufficiently inclusive.
A number of interventions were then made as part of the “open floor” debate with some of the MEPs present expressing their view on rail, rail research and the JTI proposal.
Putting rail at the centre of European transport policy is heading totally in the right direction but the sector is looking too inwardly; if the rail sector wishes to attract European funding for research and innovation, then when it comes to developing proposals such as the JTI, this must also be looking at a whole system approach and at European level.
Malcolm Harbour (UK) and Mrs Geisne Meissner (DE) MEPs were both very clear in their opinion that the customer must not be forgotten – this of course works in a number of dimensions (the supplier to their customer, the Infrastructure Managers to the Railway Undertakings and the Railway Undertakings to the passenger or shipper).
Work in research must not only focus on high speed and rolling stock as there are a number of issues in urban areas and the societal impact of noise is also very important.
Mr Doppelbauer suggested that it would not be practical for the JTI structure to be totally inclusive as it would make it unmanageable with so many partners. In response, Mr Breslin suggested that not all the individual players need be in the core of the proposal but do need to be included in the framework – this could be achieved on the basis of specific issues and perhaps in satellites.
Alberto Mazzola, FS, was happy that this JTI concept is driving the manufacturers to think about cost reductions as quite clearly it is in the best interests of their customers. But is also clear that this can only be brought about through collaboration and by working together.
Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director-General, UIC, highlighted two key issues relating to the work that is currently being done within ERRAC and how important it is, in moving forward, to develop this through an integrated system approach. He further identified the importance of standards as a vehicle for publishing the outcomes from research studies and projects and as a support for implementation of the deliverables.
There will be a further event, in Strasbourg, on 24 July when the subject will be European Rail Traffic Management System – ERTMS. The UIC in our capacity as an Associate member of Rail Forum Europe (RFE) will be present.