Wednesday 2 December 2020

Two meetings of UIC’s International Rail Research Board (IRRB) last week saw the development of its ambitious global strategy and the launch of a major new initiative to disseminate the latest railway technical innovations

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On Tuesday, 24 November, the second 2020 IRRB Plenary was held as a web conference. Welcomed by UIC Director General Mr Francois Davenne, who stressed the importance of innovation in the fight against climate change, and chaired by Mr Vladimir Andreev of RZD Russian Railways, the meeting featured presentations from four of its working groups – on strategy development, research priorities, new technologies, and research dissemination.

Mr Andrzej Massel (IK) described the planned WG1 work to prepare a new annex to IRRB’s Global Vision for Railway Development to 2050 to focus on the next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years. This would include safety and decarbonisation and would encourage greater public use of a more automated and efficient railway system in all the Regions. He proposed that a new Global Debate foresight conference be organised in 2021. Mr Okan Topcu (TCDD) referred to the global and regional research priorities identified by WG2, including early warning systems for natural disasters, smart asset management, the use of digital twins, adaptations of trains to counter pandemics, autonomous pods for multimodal door-to-door mobility, and measures to improve environmental performance in the freight and logistics chain.

Dr Zhou Li (CARS) for WG3, described the establishment of a new online platform for world railway technologies (WRT) and invited members to use its new website.

Long-term and special research projects would test new technologies worldwide, such as ATO, AI for preventive maintenance and high speed operations. He proposed an open research fund for new projects. Professor Mark Robinson (Newcastle University) for WG5, described the work plan for the global research and innovation awards in 2021, including raising awareness of the competition, its judging and the presentation event. He also described how to support IRRB priorities and flagship projects with a regionally based academic network. All these WG plans were approved.

As part of a series of expert presentations, Dr Mikhail Mekhedov (VNIIZHT) described research into the express transportation of perishable food in refrigerated containers, reducing current journey times between China and Europe by days; Mr Alexey Ozerov (NIIAS) described the application of data science, including Big Data, AI and Machine Learning, to improve timetable construction and railway operational efficiency; and Mr Evgeny Zarechkin explained the latest transport development projects undertaken by the Russian University of Transport.

The following day, a workshop led by IRRB Working Group 3 and organised by the China Academy of Railway Sciences (CARS) officially launched the World Railway Technology Platform that had been announced in the Plenary. After IRRB Vice Chair Dr Zhou Li had welcomed participants, the WRT Platform and website were described by Mr Zhao Zhangshan. This was intended for sharing and exchanging information on global railway innovation and connecting members for cooperation.

To this effect, he proposed that an Experts Group be established and asked for nominations from IRRB members. He also proposed research projects to monitor new global railway technology developments, describing their objectives of supporting the website and the other working groups, and providing a repository for information. There would be two types of project: long-term and comprehensive monitoring projects, and thematic projects – with an early focus on 5G, AI and Blockchain, and follow-up phases for next generation rolling stock and intelligent technologies. Deliverables would be reports and further workshops. The website was

The proposed IRRB Open Research Fund was elaborated as a cooperation mechanism. Project initiators would fund their projects and define the work, with participating members applying for the funds. CARS offered to launch the first project.

The workshop also featured technical presentations from experts:

  • Mr Dan Mandoc (UIC) on progress with the FRMCS project, to go beyond GSM-R.
  • Mr Lin Wei (CARS) on Railway Radio Communications Technology Evolution in China.
  • Ms Lyudmila Renne (RZD) on the UIC APRA project INTERTRAN which aims to increase intermodal freight transport competitiveness.
  • Mr German Sukonnikov (RZD) on Digital Transformation technologies including Blockchain applications for multimodal freight administration and AI for shunting operations.
  • Mrs Li Ping (CARS) on Information Technologies in China Railways – including Big Data, AI and Blockchain.
  • Mr Christian Chavanel (Director Rail System, UIC) on New Railway Technologies and Digitalisation, as applied to asset management, infrastructure, rolling stock, energy, CCS, operations, digital modelling, integrated ticketing and innovative data models, and freight digital platform. Mr Chavanel showed UIC’s forthcoming ‘Technical Solutions for the Operational Railway’ publication.

For further information, please contact Martin Brennan:

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