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European Railway – Between Regulation And Innovation

Auf der TRA 2018 in Wien hatten wir die Möglichkeit mit Carlo Borghini, Executive Director der europäischen Forschungsinitiative Shift2Rail, zu sprechen. Zur Sprache kamen die Herausforderungen des europäischen Schienensektors, die anstehende Ratspräsidentschaft und der Ausblick auf das Jahr 2050.

 

What are the key innovations we will experience in 2050?

In terms of key innovations, the overall idea is to make use of the most advanced technologies, innovations and discoveries that, once embedded in railway systems will provide clear benefits to the users and to the competitiveness of the European rail sector. I believe that IoT, robotics, artificial intelligence, extensive automation, drones, supercomputing power … will be part of the railway systems of the future. Nevertheless, in some cases, it can be expected that the impact will be so big that the business model we know today will be disrupted in the future. This will imply reference to platforms, non-linear ecosystems, network effects, new concepts that will underpin the mobility concepts of the future.

It can be expected that the impact will be so big that the business model we know today will be disrupted in the future

How does the status quo look like in the European railway sector? What are the major chances and challenges?

I do not believe there is a status quo anywhere anymore, starting with the European railway sector. All the sector is well aware of the fact that the expectations of the citizens and the users are growing, the competitiveness of other modes of transport – in terms of sustainability, etc – is growing and that the overall business model is under pressure.

One of the key challenges comes from delivering innovation in a heavily regulated railway systems, notwithstanding the fact that safety is an unquestionable objective. There will be a need to have a regulatory framework evolving in a manner to ensure innovation will bring the expected benefits into operational systems. It will not be a technological change, it is a mind-set change, affecting all the actors involved. If such change does not happen, the market uptake of whatever interesting solution comes from research and innovation risks being delayed. This is the reason why we strongly collaborate with the European Commission, ERA, UIC and standardization bodies to pave the way for the market uptake of innovative solutions.

I do not believe there is a status quo anywhere anymore, starting with the European railway sector.

Another key challenge, comes from the fact that railway is a system of systems, strongly integrated between them. A system approach is needed in researching, developing and bringing to the market new solutions. The S2R JU has already a major advantage because the key stakeholders are already working together in the Research and Innovation Programme to deliver a major system transformation. But still, there will be the need for a coordinated consistent effort to ensure interoperability in an evolving environment and to gain operational efficiency, while achieving a highly competitive life cycle cost. Railway systems were designed to last for decades: the current changes brought by the overall concept of “digital railway” will require rethinking the way they are designed and the way they will be operated.

Railway infrastructure is already laid out in Europe (there are 1 million+ Kms). The challenge on this is that the infra is aging and underutilised. But in the S2R JU work is ongoing to ensure that the existing infrastructure can be used for longer time and reshaped in a cost effective way; but especially all the technology the S2R JU is investigating on (virtual coupling, moving block, ATO, etc.) will allow a massive increase of network capacity, especially once the legacy systems will be superseded.

Railway in Austria is an essential component of the mobility for people and goods.

How do you see the Austrian railway situation and what do you expect from Austria’s upcoming EU-presidency?

Railway in Austria is an essential component of the mobility for people and goods. I would expect that the Austrian Presidency of the Union will continue working towards decarbonisation and digitalization targets, through innovation and investments, for people and growth. A strong support for achieving the major transformation of the railway system started in the current S2R Research and Innovation Programme would be the way for the next multi-annual financing period.

Research and Innovation, the definition of future standards in particular, is one of the key elements to ensure the competitiveness of the sector at global level.

Shift 2 Rail is an european initiave focused on research and innovation in the railway sector. How can the countries improve collaborations and where can the EU facilitate international exchange in that field?

One of the key governance bodies within the S2R JU is the States Representatives Group, where the Union Member States and the states associated to H2020 participate. This group is essential to ensure the consistency of the national research and development programmes with the S2R Programme. It is a continuous process, where we work together to learn from each other, to share experience and to bring results together. During the SRG meetings, the representatives are invited to present national initiatives and the JU management ensure the liaison with ongoing and future projects. The SRG has also a key role in contributing to the definition to the Annual Work Plans of the JU clearly taking into account national evolution  and needs.

The concept of the JU, to be a joint venture, is achieved bringing people and activities together. At international level, we work under the umbrella of the external policies of the European Commission – DG MOVE, in particular. Research and Innovation, the definition of future standards in particular, is one of the key elements to ensure the competitiveness of the sector at global level.

I want to see the railway shaping the future mobility of persons and business thanks to the new discoveries, technologies, etc.

What do you personally wish for in terms of the future?

The S2R JU Members, the Team and I are strongly committed to delivering the railway systems capable to meet the expectations of citizens and business.

In terms of future, I want to see the railway shaping the future mobility of persons and business thanks to the new discoveries, technologies, etc. brought in by the research and innovation work performed within S2R; accomplishments that will dramatically change society for a better and sustainable quality of life. We need to start delivering.

 

 

 

Carlo Borghini

was appointed Executive Director of the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking on 16 February 2016 and is responsible for the overall management of the S2R JU activities.

 

Shift2Rail

is the first European rail initiative to seek focused research and innovation (R&I) and market-driven solutions by accelerating the integration of new and advanced technologies into innovative rail product solutions. Shift2Rail promotes the competitiveness of the European rail industry and meets changing EU transport needs. R&I carried out under this Horizon 2020 initiative develops the necessary technology to complete the Single European Railway Area (SERA).

www.shift2rail.org