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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Land & marine transports > Major conference on sustainable transport research: current achievements and future perspectives
Graphic element Major conference on sustainable transport research: current achievements and future perspectives
    09-07-2002
 

Commissioner Busquin
Commissioner Busquin

European achievements in the field of surface transport were on display at the ‘Surface transport policies for sustainable transport’ conference, held in Valencia, Spain, from June 4-6 2002. The event brought together for the first time leading figures in European road, rail and maritime transport sectors, along with top European policy makers and guests from around the world. More than 800 participants were treated to three days of advanced transport concepts and technologies presented by some of the world’s leading experts. Important discussions on the latest European transport policies were also featured. “At last, surface transport has arrived,” said EC Scientific Officer Frederic Sgarbi. Another organiser called the conference a “monstrous success”.

In his welcoming address , Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin stressed the leading role being played by transport research in the construction of the European Research Area (ERA). “When Europeans work together we are the strongest,” he said. “The ERA will allow a truly European transport policy to be realised and it is very encouraging to see how, in the field of surface transport, the concept of the ERA has been so clearly understood and acted upon.

“Many exciting and important technological developments have already been achieved, and I think we can even speak in some cases of truly revolutionary developments resulting in radical changes within a given sector. To cite just one example, a broad technological platform on fuel cells has been identified, based on what has been referred to as ‘the economy of hydrogen’. I would call for the creation of more such platforms, gathering all of the relevant players around a crucial technology.”

Mr Busquin pointed to imminent improvements under the soon-to-be-launched Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) , the financial instrument underpinning EC research aims. “As we move into FP6,” he said, “new instruments will become available to European collaborators, including new integrated projects , which will work to organise and mobilise all of the available resources around specific well-defined objectives. Meanwhile, networks of excellence will accelerate the exchange of expertise, creating strong links between research institutes.”

The Commissioner made specific reference to the recent ACARE (Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe) and ERRAC (European Rail Research Advisory Council) initiatives. “These groups represent first steps in the creation of all-encompassing research strategies within their fields, bringing together the leading players irrespective of whether they come from industry, academia or the research or political worlds. The recently established advisory committee for road transport is another such step in the right direction.”

RTRAC launched – the Road Transport Research Advisory Committee
 

The launch of the new Road Transport Research Advisory Committee (RTRAC) referred to by Busquin was a major breaking story during the conference. Like the successful ACARE and ERRAC initiatives, the group will bring together a wide variety of stakeholders, including car manufacturers, the oil industry, research institutes and policy makers. The committee will advise the European Commission and develop a vision for road transport for the year 2020. This vision will serve in turn as a basis for identifying and promoting appropriate research actions.

 
Spanish welcome
 

Joining Mr Busquin at the conference’s opening session was Anna Birulés, the Spanish Minister of Science and Technology. After graciously welcoming all the attendees to Spain, she focussed on the social benefits of investing in good transport infrastructure in places like Valencia. “If you’re interested in transport you chose the right place to come to,” she said. “The region around Valencia is thriving, thanks largely to its improved infrastructure and to the presence of a vibrant industrial sector. I can tell you that public opinion is with us on this: quality of life and sustainable industrial development go hand in hand.

“One of the most exciting things I see happening,” she continued, “is the creation of a kind of European brotherhood of research, much in the way the Americans have created a unified research front by bringing people from different areas into their large universities. Here in Europe we are also now bringing people together from a larger European community, to talk and discuss issues and, yes, even to have a drink together and become friends.“

 
Why Valencia?
 

Situated on the Mediterranean about half-way down the east coast of Spain, Valencia is widely recognised for having already put into practice many of the most recent innovations in transport technology, including a world-class public transport system with new and exciting vehicles. The Port of Valencia, for its part, boasts one of the largest container terminals in Europe, with well over a million intermodal transport units (ITUs) transferred last year.

“We are showing the way when it comes to sustainable transport,” said Eduardo Zaplana, President of the Generalitat Valenciana. He also spoke highly of the efforts made in his region, aimed both at increasing industrial competitiveness and responding to the needs of society. A key issue is the environment. “We have shown,” he said, “how the pressing need to protect the environment can become a stimulus in itself for new ideas, technological breakthroughs and ultimately new jobs. Unlike some who haven’t had the boldness to sign up to the Kyoto agreements, we are stepping forward and acting like leaders.”

 
Getting the science right
 

Surface transport on display
Surface transport on display

Throughout the three-day conference, parallel sessions featured opportunities for researchers to exchange results on a number of key technology issues. The three challenges of promoting a cleaner environment, improving transport safety and maintaining European competitiveness were addressed by each of the three transport modes: road; rail and maritime. Additional sessions were organised around the outstanding issues of rail interoperability and intermodal transport systems.

 
Interoperability
 

Among the key words repeated at the conference, the term ‘interoperability’ featured heavily. According to Werner Breitling, Deputy General-Director of UIC in Paris, this refers to the technical harmonisation of the European railway market and includes full access by interoperable rolling stock to interoperable lines and cross-acceptance of the certification of railway materials between EU Member States. Speaking on the second day of the conference, Breitling said, “We already have European Directives on this subject and a number of different technology areas are being called upon to contribute to the achievement of rail interoperability. For example we can look at improving the infrastructure and the control and command and signalling systems. We can talk about improving the rolling stock and its environmental performance. We also need to establish common telematics applications for passengers and freight. A lot of work is going into this area and I think that as we move towards interoperability we are taking the opportunity to rethink many of the aspects of our infrastructures and that is positive.”

 
Intermodality
 

Improving the transition from one mode of transport to another –transferring goods or passengers from cars to trains, from trains to boats, and from boats back to the roads – is the goal of research on intermodal transport systems . Parallel sessions dealt with the question in some depth, including both the critical sea/port interface and inland intermodal transport.

The European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) featured prominently at a special session dedicated to the question of intermodality. According to ERRAC Chairman Philippe Renard, intermodality is one of five main themes having now been identified as crucial to the realisation of a highly innovative and competitive European rail transport system.

 
Getting the policy right
 

Alongside the more technically oriented sessions, transport policy was a significant subject of discussion. Policy-oriented parallel sessions focused on issues including future technology options, the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and transport policy and the ERA. The ERA vis-à-vis national transport research initiatives was also the focus of another set of sessions.

What they were talking about, in brief,
by transport mode (from the conference programme)

Road

  Environment
        Cleaner road transport
        Alternative fuel sources
        Towards quieter road transport
    Safety
        Road vehicle passive safety
        Integrating passive and active safety
    Economic growth
        The networked vehicle
        Enhanced production systems
        The road vehicle as a service to society

Rail

    Interoperability
        Railway research: the European and world       
        perspectives
    Environment
        Towards quieter railways
        Electro-magnetic compatibility (EMC)
        Energy
    Safety
        Passive safety
    Economic growth
        Interoperability
        Materials and manufacturing
        Infrastructure

Maritime

    Environment
        Clean maritime transportation
        Clean and efficient ship propulsion
    Safety
        Design for safety at sea
        Navigation tools for safe operation
    Economic growth
        Robotics for competitive shipbuilding and sea         exploitation
        Virtual ship – product modelling
        Maritime technologies for offshore exploitation
    Intermodal transport systems
        Intermodal transport: sea/port interface
        Intermodal transport: inland intermodal         transport

 
Views outspoken
 

Among the talking points on the second day of the conference were the comments of Remy Prud’homme, Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris XII, who, during the second plenary session took issue with the Commission’s recent White Paper on transport . “Perhaps it will be seen as a sign ill breeding for an economist to talk about money amid a gathering of engineers, but after all transport users are taxpayers and we should not forget that their best interests include not having to pay too much for what they get.”

Prud’homme went on to explain with great lucidity and no little humour why he disagrees with the Commission on transport. “I do not believe,” he said, “that more transport is necessarily a bad thing. Road transport, for example, is still closely linked with economic growth and our ability to reduce road transport while maintaining growth remains doubtful. We should be focussing not on trying to get people off the roads but on increasing fuel efficiency, reducing emissions, but most especially, investing in more infrastructure to accommodate the increases in traffic which we will most assuredly continue to see.”

Judging by the discussion that followed, not all of the participants were in full agreement with Prud’homme, illustrating very clearly the difficulty of some of the issues faced on the policy side.

Excursions:

Valencia and Formula One
In addition to the various conference sessions, participants and journalists were invited for a tour of the state-of-the-art Formula One racetrack whose technical installations feature the latest in engine testing facilities for racing cars and motorbikes. The Circuit de la Communitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo , named after the legendary Valencian motorcycle driver, is owned and operated by the Valencian government and was financed to the tune of Euro 50 million. The tour included a thrilling engine test demonstration for which a set of earplugs was essential and only just sufficient. “This is the kind of equipment we use to optimise engine performance,” explained one technician, over the roar, “the same way researchers are working to optimise the performance of the cars you drive to work every day.”

Valencia Maritima
Valencia Maritima

Valencia Maritima container terminal
Valencia is the natural last port of call for freight ships leaving the Mediterranean via the Strait of Gibraltar and its port boasts one of the largest container terminals in Europe. According to Valencia Maritima’s Eduardo Orellana, “We transferred over l.3 million containers last year, which takes us past Barcelona in terms of total traffic, and we are still adding infrastucture.” Journalists and other participants from the conference were shown how an array of advanced techniques has been brought together, including global positioning system (GPS) technologies and a set of powerful information systems allowing real time monitoring of operations. “We have developed many of these systems ourselves,” said Orellana, “ in co-operation with university partners. This includes the use of artificial intelligence systems, artificial vision and events simulation. We even have an impressive simulator for operators of those massive cranes you can see out there,” indicating some very large machinery in the distance. “How about a closer look?” Guests were then moved to dockside, where all enjoyed an awesome display of some highly efficient hardware.

 

 
Closing session
 

The Conference ended on a high note with representatives from each of the transport modes reporting on the findings of the various sessions. One thing was clear to all: surface transport is fundamental and necessary to the ongoing construction and enlargement of Europe, and our ability to sustain economic growth and to improve the quality of life for European citizens depends upon it. The transport industry, however, is facing major scientific, technical and environmental challenges. Living up to these challenges will require a clear and coherent vision of where we want to go and a unified European research strategy for getting there.

 
RTRAC launched – the Road Transport Research Advisory Committee
Spanish welcome
Why Valencia?
Getting the science right
Interoperability
Intermodality
Getting the policy right
Views outspoken
Closing session
   

Key data

Growth activities in surface transport are supported under the Land transport and marine technologies key action.

     

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