Carlo Borghini | Europe´s Rail Executive Director
Mafex Magazine: Europe makes a firm commitment to sustainable, connected and digital mobility. In this shift of model, investments in R&D are also prioritised. The launch of Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking, successor to Shift2Rail, is a good example of this. Will this project mark new forms of participation and financing of railway research and innovation for the next seven years?
The Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking was created to improve railway systems in Europe through cutting-edge research and innovation, co-funded by the sector. The launch of Europe’s Rail is the proof of the engagement of the EU and the rail community to renew this partnership and continue to work actively on removing existing barriers to the creation of the Single European Railway Area. The activities of EU-Rail are set to support the railway sector in accelerating its contribution to the European Green Deal, the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and the Fit for 55 Package, in a context of recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The objective of the new Joint Undertaking, EU-Rail, is to deliver a high-capacity integrated European railway network by eliminating blockers to interoperability and providing solutions for full integration, covering traffic management, vehicles, infrastructure and services, aiming at faster uptake and deployment of projects and innovations, approaching this challenge through 3 main pillars completing each other and covering the system approach, innovation and deployment.
With a significant increase comparing to Shift2Rail’s budget, estimated at almost 50% excluding the funding absorbed by UK entities under the previous programme, EU-Rail started officially on 30 November, for a period of ten years, with a total amount of activities of EUR 1.2 billion to be delivered by its Members and other stakeholders under Open Calls, funded by EU-Rail with the resources provided by Horizon Europe up to EUR 600 million.
Mafex Magazine: What is your assessment of S2R since this initiative was launched? Does the pooling of participants manage to accelerate innovative technological developments? What fields does it cover and what do you think are the most significant advances that can be achieved?
S2R has supported an unprecedented convergence of the rail sector. The recognised work achieved by Shift2Rail so far is shown through the different technological results from the Innovation Programmes (IPs). For example, the IP1 has made progress in traction elements that reduced the consumption of energy. In IP2, the ATO GOA2, and adaptable train communications are only a few of the results that once deployed will have a major impact on the sector. On the freight side, the Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) is a key result and a great example of how important Research and Innovation is for the railway sector. DAC is considered an enabler of a fully digital rail freight in the future. And, with regard to the passenger experience, the interoperability framework for IP4, for integrated ticketing inter alia.
Europe’s Rail will focus on developing the new technological and operational solutions to deliver the railway system meeting the expectations of the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. The Strategy aims to double highspeed rail traffic by 2030 and, double rail freight traffic by 2050. For this to become a reality, rail needs to transform itself, re-invent itself, leverage its strengths – rail being a land guided system, iron on iron – and cost effectiveness. This transformation process shall be driven by the rail sector with an integrated system approach, involving technologies, operations but also the staff working in the rail system and its training to new functions and roles. Digitalisation and automation are key enablers of such transformation and are at the heart of EU-Rail as they are expected to contribute to substantially increasing the performance of rail and creating opportunities for the deployment of future proof technologies. This transformation aims to deliver new rail services to its clients – passengers and business – while attracting new ones.
Mafex Magazine: How many projects are currently part of Europe’s Rail? What can you emphasise about them?
Europe’s Rail has only started. We have just closed our first Call for Proposals and we anticipate a high level of participation. Another Call for Proposals covering exploratory research and other activities, will be launched in September, as already announced in the Work Programme, and applications accepted till year end 2022 indicatively. This is expected to be followed by other calls on a yearly basis.
To deliver on its objectives, Europe’s Rail has identified five key areas covering European traffic management, improving the digitalisation and automation of train operations, financing research on improving sustainable assets, and crucial to the green transition, breaking down existing barriers that undermine the performance of rail freight. A fifth key area will contribute to connecting regions in Europe revitalising lines at risk of dismissal.
Mafex Magazine: Recently, the call for proposals for research and innovation activities Europe’s Rail 2022-1 was published, in which projects worth 390 million euros are expected to be financed. What are the expectations for this call and what were the objectives of its launch?
Our first Call builds upon the results of the Shift2Rail Programme, to reach high TRL levels, paving the way to the deployment of innovative operational and technological solutions in the areas of European rail network management, automation and digitalisation of rail operations, sustainable and resilient systems, rail freight in the supply chain perspective and regional and capillary lines.
“I am looking forward to receiving applications from a variety of entities eligible under Horizon Europe, ensuring that we have an open and inclusive programme , bringing together the research community , SMEs, operators, infrastructure managers and suppliers.”
I am looking forward to receiving applications from a variety of entities eligible under Horizon Europe, ensuring that we have an open and inclusive programme, bringing together the research community , SMEs, operators, infrastructure managers and suppliers. The next five years will be critical to achieve large scale demonstrations of key solutions, in view of their
deployment. Geographical coverage, gender balance, equity creation, synergies , openness are all elements underpinning the Call and its destinations.
Mafex Magazine: Among the founding members of Europe’s Rail JU there is a large presence of Mafex members such as Alstom, Caf, Ceit, Indra, Talgo, Thales, Siemens and voestalpine Railway Systems, in addition to the Railway Infrastructure Manager, Adif. What can you tell us about their contribution in advancing this programme?
MAFEX knows about the potential and capabilities of these enterprises and how the work developed within Research and Innovation has boosted their businesses. The EU Rail JU is the perfect ecosystem to share knowledge and work on common endeavours to make the best out of the innovative solutions to be implemented in the railway sector. At the end, it will be up to the Members to promote and contribute to the market uptake of industrial and operational solutions developed together.
Mafex Magazine: How can Spanish industry contribute to the railway sector? What opportunities do you think exist for the Spanish industry?
Spain, as many of other EU MSs has a large railway tradition. The amount of investment achieved in Spain, not only to improve the infrastructure and enlarge it to the point of making it the largest HS Network in Europe, can give an idea of the exponential growth experienced in the last thirty years in Spain. That experience is with no doubt one of the main assets to contribute with. And not only this, we also need to think of the improvements to be done when trying to move goods by rail and the better use of regional lines. These topics will have a core importance in the EU Rail Programme and, to the benefit of all (society, industry, internal and external customers). The contribution on these matters coming from the railway stakeholders will be crucial for the success of the Programme.
Mafex Magazine: In mid-2022, and in a global context where the pandemic is still present two years later and the war in Ukraine, what do you think are the challenges currently facing the railway sector in Europe?
More than ever rail can play a crucial role as the backbone of the European Economy. Last year, the European Year of Rail has boosted the attention to the rail sector, and it is now the moment to capitalise on this momentum to deliver and make rail the mobility lifestyle of passengers, the transport choice of logistic.
 Council Regulation published in the Official Journal https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/reg/2021/2085