28 October marked the date of an important conference for the development of rail transport in South Eastern Europe. It was professionally organised by Russell Publishing of the UK in close cooperation with UIC. Well over 100 high-level persons representing the rail sector, government officials, bankers and others attended the event.
The conference was ably chaired and moderated by the UIC Coordinator for Europe Simon Fletcher. After his opening address he introduced the host of the conference, Mr Zoran Anđelković, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Serbian Railways (JSC). He placed emphasis on the importance of a sound future rail network for the whole region and on the role of this conference as a way to commonly achieve this. He heartily welcomed all participants and their valuable contributions.
The key-note address was made by UIC General-Director Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, who in his masterful speech gave a clear analysis of the present situation and possible ways forward for the SEE area and pledged the support of UIC for the development of this vital part of the future European rail system.
In his speech, CER Executive Director Dr Libor Lochman referred to the fact that infrastructure investment in the SEE region was the prerequisite for sustainable economic growth. For years, infrastructure maintenance has been minimal and much work and investment are needed. However, the SEE rail network has good fundamentals: low congestion, rail demand forecasting and its geographical position are valuable assets. He discussed the European railway policy and the 4th Railway Package and made it very clear that from now on railway transport needed a stable period of rest without any more changes in rules and regulations.
These stimulating speeches clearly set the scene for the remainder of the conference programme! The next item on the agenda was the first of three lively panel sessions which were moderated in a stimulating way by Simon Fletcher of UIC. This session focused its discussion on the issues necessary for innovating the future European rail system:
- How can the South-East Europe (SEE) area innovate in order to develop its part of the future European rail system?
- Which new technical innovations are driving down the cost of rebuilding infrastructure?
Following a few technical contributions, UIC Research manager Dennis Schut explained the mechanism of cooperation between all rail stakeholders, European and Member State level of government, users and experts within ERRAC – the European Rail Research Advisory Council – and the cooperation with the other modes of transport.
He gave a short overview of the current EC funded FOSTER-RAIL project, supporting ERRAC and coordinating and programming rail research and innovation and presented this as a possible way forward for the SEE area. Following this, Dr Peter Verlič, Director of the Institute of Traffic & Transport in Ljubljana, Slovenia – which is part of the organisation of the Slovenian Railways – explained and proposed the idea of developing an Innovation Alliance – South East Europe.
In a fiery plea he stated that we need to prepare a concept to develop, update, link and innovate the transport networks in South Eastern Europe with a specific focus on rail and that we need to cooperate on this, involving all stakeholders including suppliers, operators, customers, financiers, administrators to work in close collaboration for the mutual benefit of the stakeholders and the economy of the SEE Area.
In order to do this we need to set up a platform on which to build a structure that will support the SEE Area (SEEA) in identifying, developing and implementing innovative solutions for the South East European Railway System as part of the future European railway system. He pointed to the new TEN-T corridor map and said: “It cannot remain a blank area!” Following this proposal, the moderator invited the audience to show its support for this plan and many raised their hands. It was decided to schedule a kick-off meeting as soon as possible.
This interactive panel session – involving the lively audience – was followed by two other sessions on the topics of Funding South East Europe’s Railways and on Regional Cooperation: How do we ensure that rail is the transport mode of choice from East to West?
Further interesting presentations focussed on the following topics: The Development of Rail Corridors in South-Eastern Europe by Dr Gerhard Troche of the European Commission, DG MOVE; Border Crossings in South East Europe – results from the ACROSSEE project; How to Reduce Risk at Level Crossings; Innovations in Sleepers for Cost Effective Sustaining of Railway Traffic; Serbian Railways Rolling Stock yesterday, today and tomorrow – Cargo Potentials; Integration of main Pan-European Corridor X Sections into the Network of Rail Freight Corridors; Lifecycle Asset Management as well as “Financing Projects Through the Connecting Europe Facility: External Dimension” by European Commission DG MOVE representative Mrs Raluca-Cezara Mitu.
The conference programme can be found at the following website: http://www.southeasteuroperailconference.com