Under the chairmanship of Clemens Först, CEO of Rail Cargo Group (Austria), the UIC Freight Forum (FF) was held remotely on 25 November 2020.
In the context of the Green Deal, Clemens Först pointed out that 2020 continues to be a challenging year, with climate change and mobility not having received the attention necessary to drive the modal shift. However, during the Covid-19 crisis and the interruptions in road transport, the systemic relevance of rail freight was well recognised on the European level. Clemens Först stated that it should not be forgotten that although Covid-19 is a worldwide crisis, an economic crisis was already present before. The sector has done tremendous work and we will need to continue performing at least on the same level in 2021 as we are now. The Covid-19 situation will keep the rail freight sector busy on an economic and policy level.
Nevertheless, it must be assessed as a short-term issue. The mid- and long-term crisis is still the issue of climate change and therefore the outlook for the sector remains positive, since rail freight is essential for the modal shift and for battling climate change. RailFreightForward (RFF), UIC and CER managed to work more closely together than before. We were able to demonstrate success in the RFF coalition, in terms of projects, policy and business. Sector alignment is key in order to proceed with the next steps for the ambitious target “30 by 2030” of the Rail Freight Forward (RFF) initiative.
François Davenne, UIC Director General, also highlighted the success of RFF. Activities driven by RFF made rail freight more visible than ever on a European level and he foresees positive developments regarding funding in the context of the Green Deal. There is growing momentum for rail freight corridors at European or Global level as shown by the output and high interest and participation during the Regional Assembly Middle East (RAME) seminar organised by the UIC Freight Department. We can see a will to integrate rail freight in the mobility chain, as well as the opportunities and challenges of a corridor approach to boost long-distance/transcontinental freight development.
Dmitry Verbov (RZD), Vice-President of the UIC Freight Forum, shared the latest insights on important digitalisation topics at RZD, such as e-marketplace for freight transportation, the latest developments of CRM and other electronic interactions with customers – particularly in the context of the pandemic-induced changes and e-consignment notes. Mr Verbov stressed that digitalisation is not an option or customer expectation, but obligatory for the competitive advantage of rail freight.
With the engagement of freight railway undertakings (RU) in the UIC FF and the strategic approach of the RFF initiative, digitalisation initiatives, projects and policy issues are brought together providing a sector approach aligning all relevant stakeholders.
Sandra Géhénot, UIC Freight Director and Board Member of the BIC (Bureau International des Containers), underlined the importance of multimodality as an overall approach. She thanked Douglas Owen, BIC Secretary General, for his availability to provide insight into the recent partnership struck between BIC and the DCSA (Digital Container Shipping Association) digital platform.
Finally, there was a special look at how some of the standing activities of UIC Freight support the implementation of the RFF objectives. Nicolas Czernecki (SNCF) as chair of the Wagon User Group reported on the GCU (General Contract of Use for Wagons) developments and the deployment of RU connection to the broker in line with RFF’s digital strategy. Still on implementing key capabilities of RFF’s digital strategy, Juergen Hiller (DB), chair of the GRU group (Groupe Réseaux Utilisateurs), showed the results of the work undertaken in 2020, the aim of which was to have a TAF-compliant (Telematics Applications for Freight) Hermes message to enable the implementation of the issue log priority on train composition messaging.
The meeting closed with a focus on transcontinental developments. Sandra Géhénot referred to the specific work programme of the Freight Forum and welcomed Mrs Renne from RZD, Project Director of the Intertran project, which is pilot testing the implementation of digital processes, such as the electronic consignment note, on traffic between Japan and Russia.
Ms Wu from Chinese Railways (CR) then provided the audience with an insight into the latest actions taken by CR to promote quality on trans-Eurasian corridors to meet logistics stakeholders’ needs.
We need more rail freight, and in this context the FF will continue to enhance activities as a driver for encouraging modal shift and ensuring that rail becomes the backbone of future mobility.