Friday 21 June 2024

Celebrating the farewell of an outstanding UIC Chair – Michael Below retires after decades of pioneering sustainable railway land use

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After more than 20 years of dedicated cooperation, Michael Below from Deutsche Bahn, Chair of the UIC Sustainable Land Use Sector, is set to retire. UIC, the Sustainability Unit and its members express their sincere gratitude for these decades of knowledge and effort towards making railways a more sustainable transport mode, capable of addressing challenges in vegetation management, biodiversity and habitat loss. His leadership, determination and ability to facilitate international cooperation have been instrumental in delivering key results in the branch of railway ecology and have been essential to the success of the sector.

Farewell message from Michael Below:

“Time to say goodbye.

After more than 20 years of valuable collaboration in the environmental sector at UIC, I am now looking forward to the release phase of my partial retirement – time for a brief look back and a look ahead.

When I started my collaboration in the Sustainable Land Use (SLU) group in the late 1990s, vegetation management was just one topic alongside other issues such as water and soil, mainly in the context of soil remediation.

The beginning of the 21st century was characterised by increasing public pressure on the use of herbicides on railway lines. As a result, the work of the SLU shifted more and more to this topic, partly because the rehabilitation of brownfield sites was now organised by the railway companies.

In response to the growing pressure on chemical vegetation control under the umbrella of SLU, two international workshops on vegetation management were organised in 2013 and 2016. One important outcome was the HERBIE project, which provided an International Guideline for Integrated Vegetation Management in 2018. In addition to country profiles of UIC members concerning their vegetation management, factsheets were worked out for the different methods. In a first approach, an assessment of the different methods was carried out as an important base for future investigations by railway companies.

Consequently, the outcome of the follow-up project, TRISTRAM, in 2021 was a UIC Strategy Paper on vegetation control. It describes the transition from vegetation control based mainly on the use of conventional chemical herbicides to the use of different operative and preventive methods supported by different digital tools, such as GIS and GPS.

As part of the REVERSE project, the focus was placed on biodiversity, which is becoming increasingly important due to the massive loss of species worldwide – also for the railways. The report (2022) provides a general overview of the impact of railways on biodiversity, and how negative impacts can be avoided, rounded off by numerous case studies from the railway sector.

To summarise, it can be said that the work with the SLU has followed a consistent line over the years. It has led from specialised topics to the overarching theme of biodiversity – alongside climate change, the most important challenge of our time, which is essential for the survival of humankind on earth. In this context, the railway plays a particularly important role as an environmentally friendly mode of transport.

The pioneering ECOV4R project will consistently pursue and deepen knowledge about biodiversity services in connection with railways. It will provide data to make environmentally friendly rail transport verifiable – a major step towards becoming a mode of transport that no longer harms biodiversity in the future.

For me, all in all the cooperation with the UIC’s environmental department was very inspiring, helpful and fruitful. The international network that is available made it easy and quick to exchange information and knowledge. The only and most important requirement for success is that you become active yourself.

With this in mind – keep up the good work and all the best for the future.”

UIC celebrates and thanks Michael Below, retiring Chair of the Sustainable Land Use Sector

Michael Below’s retirement marks the end of an era for the UIC Sustainable Land Use Sector, but his legacy will continue to inspire and guide future initiatives. His commitment to sustainability and his pioneering spirit have set a high standard, enabling UIC to launch the Ecosystem Valuation for Railways project alongside the sector’s Vice Chair, Thomas Schuh. As UIC bids farewell to its esteemed chair, we celebrate the significant strides made under his guidance and remain ambitious about the ongoing journey towards a more sustainable railway future.

Thank you, Michael, for your remarkable contributions and leadership.

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