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EU moving forward on road research

The second Road Research Meeting of the Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories (FEHRL) took place in Brussels on 14-16 June 2005. The event featured an in-depth look at the next EU Framework Programme (FP7) and the launch of ‘Transport Research Arena 2006’, a major conference set to take place in Göteborg next summer.

Urban traffic © Peter Gutierrez
Urban traffic
© Peter Gutierrez

Established in 1989, FEHRL provides a framework for coordinating the interests of the twenty-seven national laboratories from the EU Member States, the European Free Trade Association countries and the rest of Europe. FEHRL is engaged in research on topics including road safety, materials, environmental issues, telematics and economic evaluation.

Addressing assembled researchers, decision-makers and industrial representatives on opening day, Jack Metthey, Head of the Commission’s Research DG Transport Directorate said, “Road transport is an emotional issue. Whether we are talking about going on vacation or being stuck in a traffic jam, roads and road research are relevant to all of us. The fact that so many of you have come here today shows we are working together, collaborating to move road research in the right direction.”

FP7 takes shape

Under the current FP7 proposal, explained Metthey, transport research, including surface transport, aeronautics and the GALILEO radionavigation programme, would all be funded under the specific programme on ‘Co-operation’.

Jørgen Christensen and Jack Metthey
Jørgen Christensen and Jack Metthey

“Co-operation means collaborative research,” he said. “Under our proposed budget, ‘Transport’ is one of seven themes within ‘Co-operation’, and would receive 13% of the funding set aside for that specific programme. This is a significant amount and we have achieved this commitment thanks to an enormous intellectual effort undertaken in the development of our Strategic Research Agendas (SRAs). The Technology Platforms have played a leading role in this process.”

Technology Platforms represent a real innovation in EU research policy, bringing together all interested parties in a particular transport mode to elaborate SRAs that define priorities for future research. The Technology Platform for road research is the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC). It delivered its SRA to the European Commission in February 2005.

Technology Platforms play key role

“Of course,” said Metthey, “the budget for FP7 has not yet been finalised, but the SRAs have given us a strong position from which to plead our case, to get the funding we need to move forward.”

Joining Metthey as a keynote speaker was Olaf Søfteland, President of the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR). “In a Europe of many languages,” he said, “our greatest challenge lies in getting researchers, authorities and other stakeholders to speak with a single voice. Too many resources have been wasted due to a lack of communication between the right parties at the right time. Today, road research is no longer just about concrete and asphalt. What we need now is a more holistic approach, including all partners and addressing the larger needs of society.”

Striking a similar note, FEHRL President Jørgen Christensen said, “We must all get to know each other better, to overcome our differences and to learn to work together as Europeans.”

A full schedule

The FEHRL Road Research Meeting was structured around a series of technical workshops and strategy sessions and attracted more than 300 delegates representing both public and private sectors, reflecting the multi-disciplinary approach to research activities adopted by FEHRL as a core member of ERTRAC.

ERTRAC Chair Rudi Kunze
ERTRAC Chair Rudi Kunze

ERTRAC Chairman Rudi Kunze said, “The EU is certainly moving in the right direction with its emphasis on road transport research. ERTRAC has had a lot to do with the formulation of the transport priority under the FP7 proposals, if I can say so myself. The impact of this area on society is clear when you see the high level of industrial and public involvement in this kind of event. As for FEHRL, it has been a key player in the SRA process and we will continue to work closely with their group.”

Rendezvous in Göteborg

The FEHRL meeting provided the opportunity to announce ‘Transport Research Arena 2006’, a major conference being organised by CEDR, ERTRAC and the European Commission, scheduled to take place in Göteborg, Sweden, in June 2006. It will be the first in a series of events on road transport. Its main theme will be the implementation of the European Research Area (ERA) in support of a sustainable, safer and more efficient road transport system in Europe.

Luisa Prista, Head of the Research DG’s Surface Transport Unit, said, “The Göteborg conference in 2006 will be a major step for a Transport Research Arena in Europe. The support that the Commission is giving to this initiative reflects the importance of sustainable road transport in the European agenda.”