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On track for better rail transport in Europe: the EU Strategic Rail Research Agenda


Today in Brussels the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) presented a comprehensive Strategic Rail Research Agenda (SRRA), which identifies key scientific and technological priorities for both passenger and freight rail transport over the next 20 years.

ERRAC was created one year ago in Cologne, initiated by European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. It is the first time that a long-term plan for rail research and technological development has been jointly devised and endorsed by all interested parties. The Strategic Agenda addresses challenges such as better service quality, intelligent mobility, enhanced productivity and interoperability. By 2020 the rail sector should be handling twice the present freight and passenger market share and three times the current freight and passenger volume.

“There will be no sustainable transport in Europe without a safe and efficient railway system,” said Commissioner Busquin. “To build modern railways, we need modern regulation but also better and stronger research investment in the sector. For the first time in European history, the rail industry and research community are developing a truly European strategic rail research agenda. If all players co-ordinate efforts in a forward-looking technological platform for rail, we can ensure a better future for rail in Europe and for European rail in the world. This is what I mean by a modern industrial policy in the knowledge-based society.”

Mrs Loyola de Palacio, European Commissioner for Energy and Transport, declared: “This strategic agenda will support the implementation of the European transport policy and the measures proposed in the White Paper on Transport. In particular, it will contribute to the implementation of EU directives to ensure the emergence of the single rail market, and should directly reinforce the competitiveness of rail vis à vis other modes of transport in Europe.”

The rail sector in Europe

The rail sector in Europe generated 290 billion passenger-kilometres worth of business in 1998 (6% of the total number of travellers). In the freight sector, rail transported 241 billion tonne-kilometres in 1998 (8,4% of the total, down from the 1970 figure of 21%). Freight and passenger transport figures have been decreasing steadily since the ‘70s. European rail companies employ 1 million workers, while the European rail manufacturing industry (which supplies vehicles, engines, spare parts and so on) provides 130 000 jobs. As far as the European share of the global rail export market is concerned, European rail supply industries hold 60% of the world market. Every year, European rail operators invest €250 million in research, while European rail supply businesses spend €1 billion on research.

Rail’s future

The SRRA illustrates the rail sector’s drive to upgrade its role in the European transport system. The objective is to provide seamless, integrated high-speed passenger and freight services, as well as efficient and environmentally friendly metropolitan and urban mass-transport. The SRRA is the first step in a continuing process, and will be frequently updated to respond to changes in market demand, social conditions, and research results.

Easier, safer, cleaner transport

The SRRA identifies a range of customer priorities for future rail products and services including seamless passenger services, door-to-door freight services, integrated mass transit services, modular interoperable rolling stock, intelligent mobility, fully interoperable rail infrastructure, and a European rail system that is environmentally-friendly and sustainable.

Concrete deliverables include:

  • improving the average speed of rail transport to reduce door-to-door transit time by up to 50%

  • reducing the average cost per passenger/km or tonne/km by 50%

  • reducing noise by 10 decibels (dB) for freight trains to further improve the environmental advantage of rail and

  • reducing fatalities by 50% to ensure that rail transport remains the safest mode of transport.

Quantifiable targets

Each research area selected in the SRRA has been evaluated and its contribution to the competitiveness of rail transport has been concretely assessed. ERRAC members agreed on precise, quantified objectives for rail transport in 2020. In particular, these include obtaining a 15% share of the freight transport market and 12% share of the passenger market. This implies trebling the number of passengers and the volume of goods carried by rail over the next twenty years. To meet this goal, the SRRA is directly supporting key European Union transport policy objectives such as re-balancing the transport modes in favour of rail and creating a single railway market.

Teamwork in research pays off

ERRAC and its SRRA are concrete examples of what the European Research Area (ERA) is all about - focusing on significant policy areas where co-operation at European level is needed to eliminate the adverse effects of fragmented research efforts. The SRRA will stimulate co-ordination in the rail sector, helping it to avoid unproductive duplication. ERRAC will capitalise on its ability to bring together all concerned players, rail operators, manufacturers, infrastructure operators, national and European public authorities, but also users and consumers associations, and environmental organisations.

Co-ordinating research programmes at all levels - European, national, public and private - accompanies the implementation phase of the Strategic Agenda. While it is still in an early phase, the SRRA has already been endorsed by several EU Member States, the European Commission, rail operators and suppliers, user groups, research institutes and academia – a first for the industry.

The role of EU research

Rail research has been a key priority of successive EU Research Framework Programmes. More than 40 research projects are currently underway, in areas such as sustainability, intermodality and critical rail technologies. These projects bring together more than 200 partners from the public and private sectors, including all leading businesses in this sector. EU support amounts to more than €150 million.

Examples include the EU Drivers’ Desk project, which is developing a common driver desk for use across Europe, improving the human-machine interface and fostering interoperability, and the SAFETRAIN project which has significantly increased the chances of survival of both passengers and staff in serious collisions.

Within the 6th EU Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006), the Commission is setting a new and ambitious agenda for rail research, in line with ERA priorities and philosophy, which will ultimately help the implementation of the SRRA. A budget of around €250 million has been pencilled-in for railway research. Final allocation of funds to rail research will depend on the excellence of the proposals the Commission receives.

The aim is to maximise synergies between European, national and private-sector research, network existing centres of excellence in rail research, foster innovative public/private partnerships around large-scale, long-term collaborative projects. This implies greater mobility of researchers and optimisation of research infrastructures, improving co-ordination of national research (all too often duplicated in the rail sector), reinforcing consensus and common vision between industry partners and ensuring the full participation of industrial and individual users of European railways.

The 1st call of the 6th Framework Programme, launched on 17th December 2002, identifies four key project areas, which follow up the activities of ERRAC and the Strategic Rail Research Agenda.

Three Integrated Projects will focus on:

  • the modular train concept (which links to the goal of modular interoperable rolling stock in the SRRA – trains with interchangeable modules to enhance operational and engineering performance)

  • enhancing infrastructure capacity safely (creating the infrastructure which will be able to cope with the increase in traffic demand forecast in the Strategic Rail Research Agenda)

  • improved vehicle – infrastructure performance (improving the dynamic performance of trains in relation to track and power supply systems to boost railway reliability and service performance)

A Network of Excellence will cover the establishment of a “Virtual centre for rail technology and knowledge management”, further enhancing the knowledge base within this critical technologically oriented sector, addressing systems, compliance and training issues.

Fabio Fabbi | Europäische Union
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