“S2R JU was established to provide a platform for coordinating long-term research and innovation”

Carlo Borghini, Executive Director of Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking.


Mafex Magazine: The Shift2Rail (S2R) initiative provides a boost to R&D in new technologies to progress in the implementation of single railway area. On what five fields are the innovation programmes focused?

The Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking (S2R JU), the newest JU, was established under Horizon 2020’s transport research and innovation proposal to provide a platform for coordinating long-term research and innovation in the rail sector. Shift2Rail JU’s purpose is to fulfil the main priorities in Horizon 2020 by making rail transport more sustainable, seamless, competitive and research-responsive.

Given this whole-system approach, the S2R Master Plan established an R&I Programme structured around the following five integrated Innovation Programmes (IPs): (IP1) Cost-efficient and reliable trains, (IP2) Advanced traffic management and control systems, (IP3) Cost efficient and reliable high  capacity infrastructure, (IP4) IT Solutions for attractive railway services, (IP5) Technologies for sustainable and attractive European rail freight.

Transversally, five cross-cutting themes and activities (CCA) are analysed independently from the specific IP.

 Mafex Magazine: What main challenges are set out in each one of them?

Each of the IPs has different challenges, but at the same time a single overall objective: ensure an unprecedented system transformation driven by the sector working together. These are the challenges we are working on:

Rolling stock development of concepts towards the next generation of traction systems able to master technologies breakthrough developments like Silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors applied to different railway traction applications to achieve optimal traction and braking effort in the future. New concepts and architectures for train control and monitoring, with specific applications in train-to-ground communications and high safety electronic control of brakes.

Rail signalling technological advancement synchronizing the development of different aspects of required technological solutions, e.g. on-board automation systems, high-capacity radio communications systems, safe train separation systems, cyber security systems, innovative testing processes, etc. and by offering improved functionalities and standardized interfaces, based on common operational concepts, facilitating the migration from legacy systems, decreasing overall costs, adapting it to the needs of the different railway segments. IP2 is the core of the system of systems approach.

A whole system-approach progress on infrastructure, enhancing existing switches and crossings (S&C) and track systems in order to ensure optimal line usage and capacity. Investigating novel ways of extending the life of bridges and tunnel assets through new approaches to maintaining, repairing and upgrading these structures. Managing assets in a more holistic, intelligent and consistent way, using lean operational practices and smart technologies that can contribute to improving the reliability and responsiveness of customer service and the whole economics of rail transportation. In addition, ambitious research for a step, yet radical, change in the design and the technology of the track system, in particular the S&C sub-system.

Passenger centric IT solution enriching the suite of support facilities for the ‘one-stop shop’ sale and use of transport products and ancillary services across multiple transport modes as well as travel companion and travel tracking to enable the delivery of next generation traveller experience, including support in case of disruptions across multiple modes. This work is key in enabling better accessibility and seamless connectivity of the rail system with other modes and embedded in a local, regional and cross-border context including towards a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) vision. Therefore, conditions for a market uptake of a multimodal market place supported by a semantic web of transportation will also be researched, setting-up the ground for future “interoperability framework” developments.

Research activities targeting increased freight attractiveness through automation of the chain of processes including equipment, nodes, lines, leading to testing of autonomous freight train prototypes. With particular attention to noise and Life Cycle Cost (LCC), new developments on freight locomotive are planned with improvements for last mile freight distribution concepts and research to enable longer freight trains or Driver Advisory Systems (DAS). Disruptive concepts for intelligent freight wagons with predictive maintenance will be investigated to increase attractiveness and competitiveness of rail freight transportation, especially for perishable, dangerous or expensive goods, by providing traceability of the cargo with a low cost system.

Cross-cutting activities starting with the definition of socio-economic factors that can contribute to an attractive railway system and looking at how in particular in relation to the innovations that will be achieved in the S2R Programme. An analysis of the dynamics of new preferences, behaviours and lifestyles, and the main factors that influence them, will help to build up an aggregated knowledge of mega-trends, scenarios and disruptions and all possible customer requirements related to railway to accelerate the development of the rail market, its competitiveness and the work within S2R. The development of tools and approaches to enable the impact evaluation of the implementation of new technologies planned in the S2R MAAP. The detailed definition of System Platform Demonstrators to allow the S2R activities to be compared with the system level targets of the Master Plan.  Transversal evaluation and methodologies around energy, noise and vibration to ensure that all potential improvement brought by the S2R technical innovations are well identified/able when applied together into rail products and system solutions. An integrated approach to deal with the safety and security of the railway system and an integrated planning that takes into account interdependencies in the railway system. This will deliver precise railway network simulation to support railway operational planning and best decision-making concerning global safety aspects.

Mafex Magazine: How many projects are there underway at the present time and which are the main subject matters that these deal with?

 At this precise moment, the S2R JU manages around 70 projects structured around the 5 IPs and CCA. These projects have the objective to deliver the different Technological Demonstrators included in the Innovation Programmes, and they are progressing towards higher level of Technological Readiness, with the target to perform demonstration activities in the next years, in principle by 2022. Every year the S2R JU launches a Call for Proposals. These projects are implemented by the S2R Members, whose activities are complemented by Open Calls or procurement activities.

Through a system approach, the Programme progress is monitored through a set of KPIs which are updated on a yearly basis taking into account the results achieved.

 Mafex Magazine: Shift2Rail (S2R) has been allocated a budget of around one billion euros up to 2024. How is progress moving in terms of global development up to the present date and its financing?

2018 saw the progress of the R&I activities launched in the previous years. They are now well on track and largely proceeding at cruise speed. A new wave of R&I activities (Call 2018) started at year end. In total, it is estimated that the Total Project Cost of the activities performed in the year 2018 amounts to EUR 83.4 million.

Each year, around April, the S2R JU assesses its R&I activities through a Control Gate approach. This exercise takes into account the deliverables and reports submitted in the context of the Annual Review of the ongoing projects and it is complemented by further reviews during the full year.

This Programme assessment confirms that the overall progress of the activities has been in line with the expectations and planning. Only a few TDs show delays compared to the initial scheduling, mostly due to external factors. In such cases, the JU requests the concerned Project Teams to put in place the necessary mitigating measures. In addition, the Members and additional stakeholders have been able to integrate and adapt their activities to new challenges and refocus research and innovation towards key priority areas.

For a Programme of such magnitude, the results achieved so far demonstrate the capacity of the sector to move ahead, embracing new ideas, solutions, technologies and operational models.

Mafex Magazine: One of the cornerstones of Shift2Rail (S2R) is the public-private sector collaboration. Firms and bodies are deeply involved in Shift2Rail. Was a joint project necessary to accelerate the concept of the future train?

A joint project was essential to accelerate the concept of “the railway of the future”, well beyond the future train. The first success story of S2R is having brought the sector to work together, involving operators, infrastructure managers, manufacturers, academia and research centres, with a shared objective to offer a different service to clients, passengers and shippers.

In the past years, many standalone research and innovation projects have been performed, but their results did not always reach the final market, the users. Through a system approach introduced by the Joint Undertaking model, the sector works together with the objective to tackle the aspects that do not allow rail to harvest its key benefits. The sector working together means that there is a system of systems approach which ensures that new technologies, innovative solutions and in the future operating models, are considered with an integrated, market driven and forward-looking vision.

The Joint Undertaking also brings another key element: it contributes to sharing the financial risk of Research and Innovation, encouraging the sector not to look at short-term solutions but towards results to achieve socio-economic impact in line with European Union policies.

Mafex Magazine: Why do you believe the response has been so positive on the part of all the stakeholders in the sector?

The positive response of the sector’s stakeholders starts with the concept of the Joint Undertaking, an independent trusted body which provides transparency on the purpose of its activities, funding to federate research and innovation, and a long-term mandate aiming at clear objectives, including towards the deployment of innovative solutions through proposals for standards and regulation – when needed – in strict collaboration with the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) under the policy umbrella of the Commission.

Without such an institutional environment, driven by a result-oriented team, it would not have been possible to achieve the progress we can proudly report today.

But the institutional framework would not have been sufficient, without the passion and commitment of the S2R Members, including in Spain -CAF, Talgo, Indra, but also Aernova, Amadeus, CEIT, Cemosa and many other stakeholders. On the one hand, success derives from the long-term commitment at company level of forward-looking senior management, capable of anticipating the challenges of the future and, on the other hand, the passion of the staff working at different levels in the R&I activities. Not to be forgotten as well – the staff involved in the demos at all levels of the value chain.

This is an unstoppable success story.

 Mafex Magazine: The 2019 tender season is open with calls for proposals until the month of June, eighteen items to which financing standing at 150.3 million euros will be allocated. Can you give us some details of the areas you aim to boost?

 The Call 2019 has two main features: the first one is to progress R&I activities in the different IPs towards the achievement of technological demonstrations in the following 3 years. This will be further integrated by the last Call of the JU that is expected in 2020. The second, we have added after having discussed with the Members and, at large, with the railway community, a structured approach to the “system architecture” and “conceptual data model”. From a technological-driven programme we are now moving towards a user-driven integrated railway model, enabled by digitalization, automation and new technologies.

It is the start of the transition towards the system transformation that will tackle underpinning business models and most probably will drive the next programme for rail research and innovation from 2021.

Mafex Magazine: Spanish participation is noteworthy in many of the advancements developed within the programme. What opinion does its contribution to this industry warrant?

No doubt the Spanish participation to the S2R Programme is noteworthy. One of the key aspects of this contribution is bringing together entities with diversified experience in rail but also in other sectors, such as aviation and/or defence. In addition, Spain has the most extensive high speed network in Europe as well as in terms of ERTMS deployment. In addition, the Spanish industry has also a strong positioning globally, which motivates the different stakeholders to look for innovative solutions that would allow for the maintenance if not the improvement of such a positioning. As I said, those features of passion and commitment I mentioned before, are strongly present in the work and results from the Spanish entities working in the Programme together with their counterparts across the rest of Europe. But it is really the European approach which is Shift2Rail’s glue!

Mafex Magazine:  How might the railway panorama in Europe shift once the Shift2Rail programme comes to an end?

If in any manner S2R would come to an end, Europe will suffer from a missed opportunity, going back to piecemeal collaborative research. Railway is a system and to move railway forward and to harvest the benefits of new technologies, a system approach is needed. As you can imagine, I strongly believe that research and innovation is an essential element of socio-economic growth, which translates into European industry competitiveness, jobs, progress for regions, people, workers, now and in the future. An integrated programme, with long-term commitment is not the sum of those working together – it is a unique force with a multiplier effect on transformation of integrated systems, where from cooperation the sector moves to compete leveraging an extensive and unique know-how.

There is an unquantifiable value of the sector working together under strict rules of equal treatment and transparency, and this value is intrinsic to the nature of an institutional partnership.

But we need to be clear: this is not to subsidize ad mortem; any investment in research and innovation shall have as a final objective a return on investment. The current investment in S2R JU should translate in clear measurable benefits in terms of performance and cost-efficiency in the rail system; it also means that if we fail, we need to fail fast and take the opportunity to explore new ideas.

Mafex Magazine:  Upon its completion, will Europe be placed at the forefront in matters of railway innovation? Can all this technological knowledge be transferred to other parts of the world?

Europe is already today at the forefront of railway research and innovation, because S2R R&I initial results start being embedded in new products and solutions, more than we are aware of.

But the question touches the competitiveness of railway in comparison to other transport modes, usually recognized to be more innovative. As I have already mentioned, the journey that needs to be undertaken by the rail sector is an unprecedented transformation that will bring many benefits.