UIC recently participated in a high-level colloquium in Brussels to promote Belgian involvement in developing ’brilliant solutions to railway challenges’ and examine how cross-sectoral innovation can be funded and how companies from all sectors can help secure the smooth functioning of the Single European Railway Area (SERA).
Keynote presentations from European Commissioner Adina Vălean and Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mobility Georges Gilkinet reflected on Belgium’s strong history of railway development and new opportunities and ambitions with innovation as a key tool for improving mobility. Ms Valean stressed the importance of high-quality infrastructure and the success of Belgian investment in ERTMS. Mr Kilkinet said that railways must be made easier and more attractive for people to use, and that we should innovate more quickly and be less conservative – using trial and error but always respecting safety. DG MOVE Director Henrik Hololei described funding opportunities available to support business involvement in innovation.
Paul Hegge of Lineas stressed that there was a high level of agreement between business and government in Belgium on the need for modal shift. He wants a more level playing field to account for the cost of externalities, and possibly emissions trading, to fund innovation. Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of the European Union Agency for Railways, described how regulation could help to promote the SERA and remarked on Belgium’s positive approach to innovation. Other contributors represented Alstom, Plasser and Theurer and The Signalling Company.
As part of the expert panel, Martin Brennan, Head of Research and Innovation at UIC, focused on how the railways are part of the solution to delivering sustainable multimodal European mobility as the backbone of the transport system. He explained that the railways can help to overcome the current problem of transport’s high overall contribution of CO2 emissions as identified at the Glasgow COP26 conference. Focusing on the need for acceleration, he noted that the opportunity is there for railways and must be taken in the next ten years – not by a later generation. Mr Brennan highlighted some of the value-adding digital solutions currently being developed by UIC in areas addressing customer benefits, safety and security and system productivity – notably in integrated digital ticketing, stations, freight digital platform, digital automatic coupling, cybersecurity, ATO, FRMCS and digital modelling. These will make the railways increasingly attractive and provide the capacity to enable and promote modal shift.