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ERRAC seminar highlights railway challenges

The European rail sector is responding to growing demand for transport in an enlarged European Union. On 12 October 2005, high-level representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC), met with researchers, members of the rail industry and other stakeholders to discuss strategic and sustainable transport solutions.

Train at station © Peter Gutierrez
© Peter Gutierrez

“The railway sector is facing major challenges,” said ERRAC Chairman Åke Wennberg. “These include increasing the competitiveness and attractiveness of rail transport in terms of speed, availability, comfort, punctuality and reliability. It means maintaining and improving environmental performance, increasing capacity, enhancing infrastructure and improving value for money to achieve a sustainable economic profile vis-à-vis the other transport modes.”

Outlining ERRAC’s ‘Vision for railways of the 21 st century’, Wennberg stressed the crucial role of agreed priorities for railway research and the importance of a common strategy. ”We must continue to work together to identify our aims and priorities and to then direct all available resources towards them.”

A groundbreaking initiative

Åke Wennberg
Åke Wennberg

The European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) was created in 2002 and was the first of the Technology Platforms aimed at implementing the European Research Area (ERA). Director of the Commission’s Research DG Transport Directorate Jack Metthey explained, “The Technology Platforms bring together research, public, private, industrial and institutional interests, all with the same goal. The name of the game is consensus, building a common strategy for the future of European transport.”

The long-term vision for the sector is laid out in ERRAC’s Strategic Rail Research Agenda (SRRA). First published in 2002, the SRRA posits the goal of doubling passenger volume and tripling freight by 2020 compared to 2000. Other goals include improved interoperability, environmental and safety performance and new production methods.

The SRRA has played a key role in the elaboration of the transport segment of the Commission’s proposed Seventh Framework Programme for RTD (FP7). “One of the main priorities for transport research under FP7 will be to implement the SRRA,” said Metthey. “ERRAC has been directly involved in the FP7 proposal, providing help in its definition and providing crucial guidance. We hope and expect that this collaborative effort will continue.”

Funding at issue

The proposed budget for FP7 is still under question, as the larger EU budget debate remains open. Giles Chichester, MEP and Chairman of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, said, “This is a crucial stage for FP7, in terms of content and budget. We are now looking to the UK Presidency to resolve the impasse between the Parliament, the European Council and the Commission on the financial perspectives. The proposed €74-75 billion for FP7 does represent a substantial increase over previous FPs and I can only say that the Committee I chair remains positive about this proposal, about the importance of research in general and about rail research in particular.”

Luisa Prista
Luisa Prista (centre)

For the Commission, EU funding is only part of the equation. Luisa Prista, Head of Unit for Surface Transport at the Commission’s Research DG, said, “Under FP5, the European Union spent some €40 million on rail research. Under FP6, that figure jumped to €170 million and we are looking for another increase with FP7. We are funding more projects and bigger projects, but remember that the EU provides only 50% of the total cost of funded initiatives. That means the rest is being provided by industry and other sources, so the FPs represent a means to increase both public and private investment on common research projects aimed at meeting common European objectives.”

Future goals

ERRAC is now focused on the elaboration of a new SRRA, the ‘Rail 21 Vision’, which will fill gaps in the original SRRA and update its objectives. “Rail 21 will take us well beyond our current mode of thinking,” said Wennberg, “to a vision for rail traffic in the year 2100. We are aiming at a true modal shift towards rail transport, better urban mobility, improved security and personal safety in the wake of the events in Madrid and London, and a competitive European rail industry that is both strong and sustainable into the next century and beyond.”