Thursday 4 March 2021

Reimagining rail – UIC facilitates debates at 10th International Railway Summit

Sustainable mobility and Covid-19 dominate the agenda of the online summit

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Adina Vălean, the European Union’s Commissioner for Transport, Christian Kern, Former Federal Chancellor of Austria, Gianluigi Castelli, Chairman of UIC and Italian State Railways (FSI) and François Davenne, Director General of UIC, were amongst the influential decision-makers to address the 10th International Railway Summit.

The four-day summit, supported by UIC, took place online for the first time following previous successful events in Berlin, Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Prague, Frankfurt, New Delhi and Warsaw. Simon Fletcher, UIC’s Director Europe, Marc Guigon, Passenger Director, and Lucie Anderton, Head of Sustainable Development, chaired the summit’s conference programme, welcoming delegates from around the world to each of the sessions. The exclusive networking event, which featured a full conference programme, bespoke one-to-one business meetings and a variety of ways to form new friendships and partnerships, concluded on 26 February.

After a year in which connecting with colleagues and counterparts had become more difficult and more important than ever, the event provided a platform to share best practice and propose solutions to current problems. “This summit has always been important for our industry,” Mr Castelli said, “but this year it’s even more significant”. Across 20 high-level sessions delivered by world-class speakers, the summit asked the big questions: how can rail recover from the pandemic? How can the sector leverage positive trends in sustainable mobility, innovation and collaboration? What role can rail play in improving society?

Sustainable mobility: “Rail must become the first option for the passengers”

The railways’ environmental credentials were at the forefront of the summit programme. Making a keynote address on Day 2, the European Union’s Commissioner Vălean stressed the gravity of the climate challenge facing transport and the importance of rail in achieving the dream of an emission-free system.

Having declared 2021 as the European Year of Rail, the European Commission is investing significantly in rail infrastructure and focusing its energies on moving passengers and freight to rail. “The challenge for me this year is to see rail become the driving force it once was”, Commissioner Vălean said. “Rail is one unsung hero of clean, efficient transport and our objectives, as outlined in our strategy, are to increase rail freight by 50% and to double high-speed rail by 2030”.

Mr Davenne echoed the Commissioner’s words. The railways are “definitely part of the solution” to global warming and “should become the backbone of sustainable mobility”.

Acknowledging the scale of the challenge, Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility, reminded the summit that “we need to make every mode of transport cleaner”, as moving all passengers and freight to rail is simply not possible.

Earlier on Day 2, delegates had heard from Monika Heiming, Executive Director, European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM), the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) on how operators and infrastructure owners could secure green transport finance.

Day 3 tackled the power of sustainability in attracting passengers and freight customers to rail. Bertrand Minary, Chief Industry and Innovation Officer, SNCF Rail Logistics Europe, Kurt Bauer, Head of High-Speed and Long-Distance Services, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), and UIC’s Lucie Anderton were amongst the speakers looking at strategies to achieve modal shift.

Post-pandemic recovery: seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

Before the journey toward sustainable mobility can be resumed, the first step for the rail sector is to recover from the serious impact of Covid-19. With this in mind, the keynote session on Day 1 of the summit was ”Predict and prepare: strategies to exit the long Covid tunnel”.

Sharing their experiences were Gianluigi Castelli, Silvia Roldán, CEO of Madrid Metro, Philippe Citroën, Director General, Association of the European Rail Industry (UNIFE), and Marc Guigon, who heads UIC’s Covid-19 Taskforce.

Regaining passenger confidence, keeping trains and stations safe, and the possibility of vaccine passports to stimulate international travel were among the topics explored. How can we predict passenger behaviour in an unpredictable world and prepare as best we can for an uncertain future?

The oldest startup in the world is still innovating

On Day 2, Christian Wältermann, Principal at advisory firm goetzpartners, called the railway system “the oldest startup in the world”. In the beginning, it was one track that stretched through the plains to the horizon, grew into a network, and took a risk to explore and speed its way to progress.

One of the recurring themes of the conference was the need to keep innovating, to remain vibrant and technologically nimble.

Elisabeth Werner, Director of Land Transport at the European Commission, outlined the key elements of the European Year of Rail strategy, many of which involved innovation – increasing digitalisation, making rail more affordable and accessible, integrating networks and ticketing and expanding high-speed rail infrastructure.

Carlo Borghini, Executive Director of the Shift2Rail research and innovation programme, announced that the European Commission had just adopted a proposal for the establishment of Shift2Rail’s successor, ’Europe’s Rail’.

The importance of digitalisation and remote connectivity is now clear to all of us. Watching the world go by through windows now has a different meaning. A variety of sessions looked at how predictive maintenance for infrastructure and rolling stock and closely monitoring passenger flow can improve operational efficiency and reduce the need for onsite support. Rolf Härdi, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Deutsche Bahn, presented the solutions adopted on the German network to save time, money and lives.

Collaboration is the key to growth

Innovation needs connectivity. Of course, the railways need to be connected, and connections mean collaboration.

There was widespread agreement amongst the speakers that transport needs greater collaboration to thrive. Rail is now widely recognised as the backbone of this framework of collaboration but, as Andreas Schwämmlein, Founder of FlixBus, said, “no backbone works without a lot of other bones...a backbone alone won’t be sufficient”.

For this reason, the summit included essential contributions from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), and non-profit organisations campaigning for better quality of life through environmental justice and digital accessibility.

Intermodal connection through ticketing, data sharing and combined mobility options would give passengers and freight customers visibility, flexibility and ease of travel. Nick Brooks, Secretary General, Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants in Europe (ALLRAIL), called for ”impartial, transparent multimodal booking platforms” and broad sharing of data between all stakeholders, whether private or public, to make seamless mobility a reality.

In the session on ‘What will come after the 4th Railway Package?’, Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director, EU Agency for Railways (ERA) and Alberto Mazzola, Executive Director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), presented the Europe-wide regulations, standards and systems that could enable clarity and interoperability.

Dan Mandoc, UIC’s Head of FRMCS (Future Railway Mobile Communication System) explained the benefits to safety of a new standardised international communications system and the obstacles to implementation.

Top takeaways from the summit

  1. Rail is best placed to lead a sustainable future for mobility – modal shift is imperative
  2. Regaining passenger confidence and swift post-pandemic recovery will benefit all of society
  3. Fearless innovation and openness will help transport providers and public alike

The 10th International Railway Summit took place online from 23 to 26 February. The on-demand videos of the sessions will be available from in the coming days and a selection of sessions with UIC’s involvement will be available shortly on UIC’s YouTube channel:

The next edition of the summit is scheduled to take place in Berlin from 16 to 18 February 2022.

Organisations interested in learning more about the International Railway Summit and the summit’s IRS rail webinars series can visit or contact the organisers, IRITS Events.

For further information, please contact Simon Fletcher at:

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