New perspectives and challenges for railway research in Europe
On 11 April UIC hosted the first European Rail Research and Advisory Council (ERRAC) Plenary meeting of 2014. Some 60 delegates were present from all around Europe.
ERRAC is the European Technology Platform (ETP) for rail, the organisation that brings to¬gether all major rail stakeholders involved in European rail research and innovation developments. Its principle mission is to act as an advisory council for future research and innovation needs to the European Commission.
Mr Josef Doppelbauer, ERRAC Chairman, introduced the meeting highlighting that this is an important moment for rail research and innovation with the on-going Horizon 2020 1st call process and the final discussions occurring around the establishment of the SHIFT²RAIL Joint Undertaking (JU).
The ERRAC plenary started with the presentation of ERRAC’s new Strategic Rail Research and Innovation Agenda (SRRIA), prepared as part of the FOSTER RAIL project. The SRRIA takes the major challenges for the rail sector and identifies the research priority areas which would contribute most effectively to the achievement of an efficient, sustainable and attractive future European rail system. The document has been inspired by a range of source inputs including the EC White Paper on transport released in 2011, the Challenge 2050 vision document that was launched in February 2013, the ERRAC RailRoute 2050 document and also the contribution from the Rail Operating Community (ROC) with the recent Rail Technical Strategy Europe (RTSE) published in February 2014. There is still some fine tuning to be undertaken but then it is anticipated that the SRRIA will be officially endorsed at the next ERRAC Plenary meeting during the autumn.
The Plenary was also the opportunity for the FOSTER RAIL project coordinator, Mr Dennis Schut (UIC Research Manager), to provide an overview about the other on-going activities within the project and, especially, the preparation of the future technology roadmaps that will map the path towards how the SRRIA will be implemented.
Regarding the SHIFT²RAIL joint undertaking, Mr Philippe Citroën, UNIFE Director General, gave a presentation on the latest up-to-date status and the development of the Master Plan to be published by the European Commission in April 2014. Mr Citroën indicated that SHIFT²RAIL is expected to pass into the European legal framework by the end of June 2014 and could start its activities by the beginning of 2015.
The European Commission, represented by Mr Liam Breslin, head of land transport unit at DG RTD (research and innovation) and Mr Keir Fitch, head of the research unit at DG MOVE provided ERRAC members with more detailed information on the next steps regarding the development of the Horizon 2020 1st call and the SHIFT²RAIL Master Plan.
While the evaluators are reviewing the proposals submitted under the first stage of the Horizon 2020 1st call, Mr Breslin especially stressed that the Commission’s main concern is in improving the success rate in the implementation of results from European funded project in this new framework programme and to ensure the link with the future SHIFT²RAIL initiative.
On the future Joint Undertaking, Mr. Fitch assured the ERRAC members that the Master Plan will be released in April and will also be made available to the ERRAC Strategic Board, which has a dual role as the strategic advisory council to SHIFT²RAIL. A consultation of the stakeholders will also be organised between May and June 2014 prior to the final endorsement of the initiative by the European Council. Mr Fitch also confirmed the use of the RTSE by the Commission services in drafting this SHIFT²RAIL Master plan.
In a move away from the structure of previous plenary meetings, this one included a panel discussion around the subject of “Developing the future European rail system: what needs to be in place to make a real step change?" The panel was made up of colleagues from the ROC, manufacturers, academia, member states and the Commission. Led by Simon Fletcher, Coordinator Europe (UIC), it was a very interesting opportunity to test a number of points related to the role of ERRAC as a contributor to the development of the future European rail system.
Switzerland has a very central location in Europe and is therefore key to the future development of the future European rail system. ERRAC was delighted to welcome Mr Liechti, head of the section management affairs at the Swiss Federal Transport Office to present the current context in the Swiss railway policy and the role of civil society in its establishment. He informed the meeting that on 9 February 2014, Switzerland had voted on a new funding programme for railway infrastructure with a direct involvement of civil society who supported the legislative proposal by 62%.
The opportunity was taken to undertake a review of some of the successful projects carried out within the previous EC framework programme for research (FP7). Mr Otteborn, coordinator of the FOSTER RAIL WP6 presented the work being done to provide essential information and tools on the lessons learnt from the evaluation of past research projects. Mr Toubol, coordinator of the MARATHON project which demonstrated the effectiveness of operating faster, longer and heavier freight trains on European routes, presented the TIGER and MARATHON projects, both recognised as successful under the FP7 programme and addressing rail freight – a major issue of the European rail sector today for which the increasing development is a main objective of the EC White Paper on transport.
Mr Doppelbauer concluded the meeting thanking UIC for its support in the organisation of this event and invited all ERRAC members to attend the upcoming Transport Research Arena (TRA) conference to be held in Paris between 14 and 17 April 2014 where ERRAC and some of the ERRAC members will ensure the promotion of rail research and innovation.
The next ERRAC plenary meeting will be organised during autumn 2014.
More information: www.errac.org