After a 3 year term, the current ERRAC Chairman presided over his last plenary session in Brussels on 21 March 2012.
In his introduction, Professor Andrew McNaughton emphasised “the need for all the different rail stakeholders to focus on strategic research and be ready to be fundamentally different tomorrow as the market will not accept tomorrow what it accepts today”. In addition, he underlined the current opportunity for rail to move into a stronger position in front of other transport modes and therefore the necessity for the sector to face its different challenges and meet the demands of its customers in both passenger and freight transport.
It was Prof. McNaughton’s privilege to introduce the presidential team for the coming three years. Following endorsement of their appointments, Josef Doppelbauer (President of Rail Control Solutions at Bombardier Transportation) as the new Chairman, Professor Andy Doherty (Director of System Engineering at Network Rail) as the new vice Chairman from the Rail Operating Community together with Professor Manuel Pereira of the University of Lisbon who has renewed his mandate as vice chairman representing academia within ERRAC, were welcomed into their new roles. It was noted that in fact this changeover will take place in the month of July to enable the current team to conclude the ROADMAP project that ERRAC has been managing.
Josef Doppelbauer strongly supported the need for all rail stakeholders to work together (Infrastructure Managers, Railway Undertakings, academia and manufacturers) to increase the capacity of the rail system to transport more people without impacting too much on the environment and taking into account the most important economic aspects.
He also shared some ideas about the future structure of ERRAC, especially regarding funding as well as membership, and expressed his will to see ERRAC as an important actor in the Horizon 2020 research programme of the European Commission.
This plenary was also the occasion to debate the current initiative of UNIFE (the European association for the railway supply industry) regarding the creation of a Joint Undertaking known as the SHIFT²Rail JTI. Eric Fontanel, General Manager of UNIFE, presented this legal entity which aims to secure more EU funding for research activities of the rail manufacturers following the model of previous initiatives such as Public Private Partnerships, for instance “Green Car” in the road sector or “Clean Sky” for aeronautics. Mr. Fontanel explained how innovation in rail (rolling stock as well as infrastructure) will reinforce its attractiveness and reliability which are two concepts at the heart of the success for railways now and in the future.
Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, UIC Director-General, informed the plenary that UIC has the mandate to assure the ERRAC Secretariat for the next three years. The person in charge as secretary will be Teodor Gradinariu, who will be assisted by François Maugère (UIC) and Lea Paties from UNIFE.
He welcomed the initiative of UNIFE’s members as it is through innovation that the railway system can flourish. It is important that this is a systemic approach as, unlike other sectors, rail is a complicated set of interfaces that need to be managed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
UIC is well placed on behalf of the rail operating community to support this innovative approach and is, in this 90th anniversary year, promoting the Global Rail Awards for Innovation that are specifically being designed to highlight the work of operators, engineers and researchers. It will provide a platform upon which the ideas they have for the improvement of the efficiency of the rail system can be showcased and it will award prizes for the most innovative in a range of categories. This is not only for people engaged within the rail sector but is also open to people from universities and research institutes around the world.
Innovation within Europe is of course beneficial for the rail sector in Europe but it is also important that there are links being developed with other regions and in particular with Asia. The ability for rail to be able to shift big loads between Europe and Asia is a market that needs to be exploited and it is for that reason that the International Rail Research Board, run by UIC under the chairmanship of Boris Lapidus from RZD Russian railways, is very keen on understanding the development needs for this traffic flow and researching where innovative new processes and products are needed to maximise this opportunity.
Representing the European Commission, Andras Siegler (DG Research) gave a presentation on the next framework programme called Horizon 2020 and some guidelines around transport: better mobility, more security & safety and less congestion. Mr. Siegler also expressed the views of the Commission on the JTI proposal and above all, reminded that “it is absolutely necessary that SHIFT²Rail receives the full involvement of the European technology platforms such as ERRAC”. In addition, he also insisted on the fact that SHIFT²Rail will not be able to cover every aspect of the rail system and urged the continued efforts of ERRAC in developing the rest of the activities that will need to be carried out by the rail sector in Horizon 2020.
ERRAC’s most recent work programme has centred on the ROADMAP project (a 3 year-project which aims at coordinating various issues in relation to rail research and the future direction of rail research needs). The work package leaders presented the results and the planned deliverables that their groups are going to publish when the project comes to a complete conclusion by 31 July 2012.
The meeting welcomed Mr. Jean Pierre Hamelin who presented an overview on behalf of the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP) the “reFINE” PPP initiative (Research for Future Infrastructure Networks of Europe). This initiative focuses on the maintenance and the investment in both current and future infrastructures of European cities and Long Distance Transport in Europe.
To conclude, Professor McNaughton reminded the assembled delegates that the rail system’s most important task is to focus on its primary role and that is the movement of people and goods from A-B. There needs of course to be a clear focus on what the customer wants (both external customers and internal ones) and in facing this challenge, fundamental changes are necessary for which step change research is crucial. Finally, he encouraged the new ERRAC management team and added as a final thought that “40 years ago we were shutting down railways and making them into roads and motorways…. Moving forward we have to think out of the box and dare to dream of the opposite and that one day we should be laying rail lines where today there are motorways!”