Europe is certainly a challenging place in which to be running a rail transport network.
Notwithstanding the legislative framework that has yet to be proven as a tool for the improvement of what rail can offer to the customer, the rail operating community (ROC) also has the added challenge of bringing together a very independent heritage and creating collaboration so as to effectively face the competition from road and air transport.
The most effective way of meeting some of these points is from a position of strength through unity built upon a stable platform such as the European region of the UIC.
The member companies gathered in Paris on 1 July at the 20th Regional Assembly Europe, presided over by Regional Vice President Bernard Guillelmon (BLS, Switzerland) in the absence of Regional President Michele Elia (FSI, Italy).
The debate, led by Jean-Pierre Loubinoux (UIC, Director General) and Coordinator Europe, Simon Fletcher covered an extensive range of questions that are important for the development of the future European railway system and acknowledged as being vital for the ROC to synergise its thinking.
Amongst the points considered was the strategic issue related to improving the project management process; this is what will provide a significant support to energising rail system development in Europe.
The emerging Quality Management System which will in the fullness of time be rolled out right across the whole organisation, is being piloted in the European region. This is in an advanced stage of development and the RAE in November this year will be treated to a more detailed level of progress.
Despite the extremely lengthy processes that seem to be in play, the start up of the Shift²Rail programme is not far away now. This will be a very significant opportunity not only for those companies that are aspiring to be directly engaged but offers some others the chance to get involved in the future Shift²Rail open calls.
The UIC is planning to provide a framework within which these other companies will be able to apply for and get engaged in supporting the innovation of the future rail system. The Research and Innovation Coordination Group (RICG) will be the focal point for this activity. Members were encouraged not to leave this to the few willing innovators but to all get engaged.
It is essential that the output from the various projects is able to be made available to as wide an audience as possible. This of course can be by a variety of methods ranging from the usual project report to the dynamic and sustainable standard. There are many standards in Europe and quite a few organisations that are developing them.
The meeting was presented with the latest developments involving the emerging Rail Standardisation Strategy Europe (RSSE).
Spawned as a further development of the Rail Technical Strategy Europe (RTSE), this RSSE will set out how the ROC sees the development of standards in the future, the organisations that are engaged in this work and how the ROC wishes to engage with them.
The very busy agenda included: endorsement of the revised rail sector strategic sustainability targets; the significant progress with the preparations for the UN’s COP 21 environmental conference – to be held in Paris in November/December 2015 and being informed about the significant event that the UIC will host at its HQ on Saturday 28 November. This is designed to bring to the attention of COP 21 delegates all of the excellent work that the rail sector has achieved and is planning in respect to the reduction of emissions, publicising the minimal carbon footprint of rail and other environmental advantages when compared to other transport modes.
The meeting was also presented with the future perspectives of the newly-appointed ERRAC chairman, Professor Andy Doherty, Network Rail and how he sees the role for ERRAC, the interfaces with the UIC and the challenges in general for a rail sector that needs to collectively innovate.
The RAE is planning a series of interventions by the presidents of the UIC’s Forums and Platforms, offering them the opportunity to present to the RAE the work of the bodies they are chairing.
In the first of a series of such presentations, President of the Rail System Forum (RSF), Luc Lallemand (Infrabel) and Rütger Fenkes from DB, President of the Commercial and Distribution Forum (CDF) set out the challenges and risks they see over the horizon and how their bodies are intending to address the issues.
The importance of the objectives set out in the RTSE and the forthcoming challenges related to digitalisation were highlighted by the RSF, whilst the CDF focus is on the passenger and ensuring that the rail system of the future is attractive to them so that they use rail as their transport mode of choice.
Both these core points are central to the rail sector vision for Europe that is set out in the “Challenge 2050” document that was published in 2013.
The members were delighted that the 2014 regional accounts could be closed as forecast and that the spend over the year was very well balanced leading to the smallest of surpluses.
The forecast for 2015 is looking equally as balanced and the prognosis for 2016 is for a status quo budget that will in effect mean there has been no budgetary increase for the past 5 years.
At the same time, the regional team has also been able to be very proactive and amongst other things continues to plan the publication of documents, contribute secretarial support to the work of ERRAC and to provide some support for the preparation of project proposals managed by the RICG.
The next RAE will take place in Paris on 30 November at the same time as the COP 21 conference.