Following a Joint Statement and a Joint Action Plan signed in April 2006 between the European Commission and RZD Russian Railways, a very productive and interesting Rail Research Workshop took place on the premises of JSC VNIIzHT in Moscow.
At the invitation of Mr Boris Lapidus, Director-General of VNIIZhT, the main research institute of Russian Railways, and Chairman of the UIC International Rail Research Board, more than 40 rail stakeholders representing researchers, the supply industry, operators, infra managers and experts dealing with standardisation met to exchange knowledge and experience and to discuss research priorities in order to support innovation for the rail system. Next to networking, the main target of the workshop was to identify areas where fruitful and mutually beneficial collaboration between Russia and the EU could be established in the field of rail research.
The three-day programme had been thoroughly prepared by a small team consisting of the European Commission, UIC and UNIFE in close cooperation with RZD and was organised by Mr Alexander Kassay – Deputy Director-General of VNIIZhT – and his team supporting Mr Lapidus. They presented the invited guests with a programme which could not have been better prepared or executed!
The programme formed three parts: a high-level plenary session, 2 x 2 parallel sessions and two second plenary sessions focussed on technical matters and a closing discussion, followed by a technical visit to the VNIIZhT test centre in Shcherbinka.
The high-level plenary session was ably co-chaired by Mr Boris Lapidus and UIC Director-General Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux. After a warm introduction by Mr Lapidus and a word of welcome and introductory speech by Mr Valentin Gapanovich, Senior Vice-President of Russian Railways, an award ceremony took place in which a number of important RZD staff members were awarded by Mr Gapanovich for their important contributions to the “development and stability” of RZD. Following this stimulating ceremony Mr Gapanovich continued to present the Programme for Innovative Development of Russian Railways. Mr Boris Lapidus informed the participants about the aims of the infrastructure development and the new topology of the RZD network and underlined the potential of science for Russian Railways.
Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux then delivered a lively and heartfelt speech entitled “Rail: the effective backbone of the European and Europe-Asia transport system.” He congratulated Russian Railways on their 175 year jubilee and underlined the important role of railways in Russian society and economy as well as for Europe and the big potential for the global economy. He stated that the workshop offered an unprecedented opportunity to debate the future shape of the railway transport system between EU and Russia and to identify the challenges to be met in order to establish rail as the sustainable backbone of the future European and Eurasian transport system.
Mr Loubinoux went on to say that the event also fundamentally reflects the objectives and missions of UIC which is aimed at the promotion of rail transport at world level and with the aim of optimally meeting current and future challenges of mobility and sustainable development, the promotion of interoperability and creation of new world standards, the proposal of new ways to improve the technical and environmental performance of rail transport, the reduction of costs, and finally to support our members in their strategies to improve their competitiveness and business focuses. He also said that innovative research and development is a core activity of UIC and he mentioned the activities of the IRRB and its members under the stimulating leadership of Mr Lapidus. Finally he referred to UIC’s involvement in the development of the Eurasian corridor through its International Transport Corridors Group and mentioned the important ICOMOD project which UIC has carried out in relation to this corridor.
In his presentation Dennis Schut, Head of the UIC Research Unit, explained the past present and future of ERRAC, the European Rail Research Advisory Council, which will play a crucial role in future rail research cooperation between Russia, the European rail stakeholders and the European Commission. He also informed the participants about the European Framework Programme for Research and the future EC funding instrument for cooperative research Horizon 2020.
The last speaker of the plenary session was Mr Eric Fontanel, former General Manager of the European supply industry, UNIFE, who spoke on the subject of European collaborative research: a strategic challenge for the European industry.
Following the first plenary session were four parallel sessions touching upon the most relevant topics for the rail system. The first of the sessions covered most issues dealing with the improvement of traffic management such as advanced technologies in ATP/ATC systems, interoperable automatic train protection, system monitoring of track and rolling stock, new satellite solutions for train control systems and other issues, followed by a discussion, identifying possible common priorities.
The second parallel session dealt with innovative infrastructure management, dealing with issues such as innovative technologies for the development of track maintenance systems, rail infrastructure for the 21st century, new switches as a tool for the enhancement of train speed, new materials for infrastructure and the improvement of permanent way design for the reduction of LCC. The last speaker – a former cosmonaut – described Russian Railways’ medical services and research activities in that area which proved to be as extensive as it is innovative!
The third parallel session covered all aspects of the important topic of the Eurasian landbridge as a tool for the enhancement of rail competitiveness and business, such as freight corridors, Transsib in seven days, the potential of improved infrastructure standards on cross-border rail corridors, certification of rail equipment and an interesting summary of the RE-TRACK project. One of the conclusions of this session was that major technical steps forward could be made but that a lot of barriers of a non-technical nature still have to be dealt with.
The fourth and last session dealt with the economical and environmental aspects of rail transport and touched upon energy strategies, innovative freight wagon concepts, ecology of the future, variable gauge rolling stock, the MERLIN project and iso-thermal rolling stock meeting international ecological standards.
The second day of the most interesting workshop was closed by means of a final plenary session dealing with information on the praxis and procedures of the harmonisations of standards for high-speed, freight and mixed freight & passenger traffic, a comparison between the European and Russian approach seen through Russian eyes as well as an interesting overview of European and international railway standardisation and standardisation in relation to innovation. This part of the programme was followed by the reporting of the session chairs on the achievements and conclusions.
The third and final day of this most rewarding EC-Russia workshop was spent visiting some of many research laboratories of VNIIZhT at their Shcherbinka test facilities. The participants could among other things witness the testing of a piece of rail, submitted to the damage of a 1000 kg weight attacking the rail from 10 metres high, the testing of the air-brakes assembled in a complete system mirroring the brake system of a full length train as well as the measuring of the outline of over-dimensioned rolling stock using laser equipment. The technical visits as well as the whole programme ended with a guided tour of the important RZD Kurskaya railway station conducted by its general director.
At the time of writing this article, the session chairs were finalising the draft conclusions and recommendations for common research priorities, which through ERRAC may feed in to the future annual work programmes of EC’s Horizon 2020 Framework programme for research and funding in which rail research is expected to play an important role, supporting and enabling rail to become the sustainable backbone of the future transport system, at least as far as the Eurasian landbridge is concerned!