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‘TRA 2006’ major road transport conference marks new era

From 12-15 June 2006, over 1000 participants from around Europe and beyond converged on Göteborg, Sweden, for TRA 2006. The event featured major presentations by high-level decision makers, leading-edge researchers and top industrial players. Strategic and thematic sessions highlighted ‘greener, safer and smarter’ road transport.

Road traffic in Gothenberg © Peter Gutierez
© Peter Gutierez

“The road transport industry is the largest R&D investor in Europe,” said EU Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. “It comprises many of the top research investing companies in the world, including the single largest R&D investor worldwide. It is thanks to this high investment in research and development that the European transport sector remains one of the most competitive in the world, and, to some extent, the challenge we face is to reproduce this dynamic through the whole European economy.” Potočnik noted recent policy gains in the transport sector, in particular the delivery by Member States of national reform plans, reflecting a significant effort to increase research investment. “If all commitments are respected,” he said, “by 2010 the EU will have reached a level of 2.6% of its GDP dedicated to research and development. One must realise the significant structural change this will represent for the EU at large, a clear signal that the continent has woken up.”

Janez Potočnik
Janez Potočnik

Swedish Minister for Communications and Regional Policy, Ulrica Messing, said, “We are all driven by the vision of a better tomorrow. Research in transport is crucial to meeting our needs and ambitions. More and more, transport is a key to economic success, and road transport is growing faster than any of the other modes. New and better technologies are an important element in making it greener, safer and smarter.”

FP Progress on display

Strong support for TRA 2006 provided by the European Commission reflects the importance of road transport within the larger European agenda. At the EC exhibition, conference participants got information on the upcoming Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) as well as other action plans and initiatives, and saw the work of a variety of EU-funded projects that are making major strides towards better road transport.

Meanwhile, special conference sessions on FP7 drew large audiences. Under the new Framework Programme, the European Commission will provide over €4 billion for transport research, aimed at stimulating the ongoing restructuring of the transport industry, including the integration of the supply chain and, in particular, small and medium-size enterprises. GALILEO, the European satellite radionavigation initiative, will also be a key priority.

Ulrica Messing
Ulrica Messing

“The good news is that FP7 is now more in line with the EU financial perspectives,” said Luisa Prista, Head of the EU Research DG’s Surface Transport Unit. “That is, it will cover the same time period, from 2007-2013. This longer cycle, compared to previous FPs, does not mean that we are locked into any particular approach. We will review our work programme regularly throughout FP7, reacting and remaining flexible to new needs and circumstances.”

Technology Platforms continue key role

TRA 2006 covered all aspects of road transport, promoting the strategic alignment of research around a shared Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), as defined by the European Road Transport Research Council (ERTRAC). Established in 2003, ERTRAC is one of the leading EU Technology Platforms. Its SRA lays the groundwork for future road research and has been a major guide in the formulation of the FP7 transport work programme.

Speaking at the opening plenary session, Jack Metthey explained the Technology Platform concept. “European Technology Platforms focus on strategic issues for achieving competitiveness and sustainable growth. Led by industry, they bring together all stakeholders within a given sector to define medium- and long-term research and technological development objectives.“

Among other things, this means combining and coordinating European, national, regional and private research actions, and improving the networking, clustering and pooling of research and development capacities. “Again,” said Metthey, “one of the key factors is that the Technology Platforms are industry driven. This means we are investing in real benefits to our economy, strengthening competitiveness, turning ideas into money, not money into ideas.”

For research and society

TRA 2006 exhibition
TRA 2006 exhibition

Also speaking at the opening session, ERTRAC Chairman Rudi Kunze said, “For many centuries, Europe has been a source of economic and technological growth and prosperity. Today, we face challenges in maintaining that prosperity. Strengthening our R&D efforts is now mandatory to improving our competitiveness, with new overseas players like China and India making important gains.

“But in addition to our economic competitiveness,” he continued, “we must also work for the welfare of our fellow citizens. They have invested much in the work that we do, through fees and taxes and by buying our products, and they are now making rightful demands for a better transport system, one that is safe and efficient and that does not destroy the environment, and we have to do more to deliver.”

Göteborg shines

The four-day TRA 2006 conference featured technical visits of some of Göteborg’s major road transport facilities, including the Lindholmen Science Park, Volvo’s high-tech crash test centre and the new Göta Tunnel.

“The setting of Gothenberg is most appropriate,” said Commissioner Potočnik, “given its close association with the motor industry, with academic excellence, master craftsmanship and, of course, with the Council’s Gothenberg declaration on sustainable development during the 2001 Swedish Presidency.”

Göteborg is also involved in innumerable EU transport research initiatives and is a CIVITAS city, one of 36 such cities around Europe that are working to demonstrate new approaches to cleaner urban transport. “If you want to see an example of what can be done to make urban transport better, cleaner and a more pleasant experience, just look out the window,” said Marcel Rommerts of the EU’s Transport and Energy DG. “Göteborg is a prime example of the global city approach to transport, implementing new technical and regulatory as well as educational measures.”

More to come

Luisa Prista
Luisa Prista

Speaking at the closing session, Luisa Prista called TRA 2006 a major success, saying, “We have brought together many people from many different areas, representing a diversity of experience and excellence. It was especially gratifying to see so many young people here, young scientists and researchers who will carry the work forward. And of course, seeing the quality of the outcomes of the results of research has also been highly satisfying. Through the many presentations and at the exhibition, we have learned so much and seen so many new tools, products and prototypes, all thanks to the co-operative and integrative research we are supporting.”
TRA 2006 was just the first in a series of major EU-sponsored events on road transport. The next TRA event, TRA 2008, is set to take place in Ljubljana, Slovenia in April 2008.