Rail research in Edinburgh industry goes on offensive to meet customers' needs
The world’s biggest meeting of rail researchers took place in Edinburgh from 29 September to 1 October 2003. The World Congress on Rail Research (WCRR) brought together more than 600 participants for three days of presentations, posters and workshops. The conference theme, ‘From birth to renaissance’, reflected the technical as well as economic, operational and social challenges facing the rail industry.
Speaking at the opening reception, Richard Bowker, Chairman of the UK’s Strategic Rail Authority, said, “Rail transport provides fundamental economic and social services. Unfortunately, efficient rail service is rarely noticed among the general public, whereas the failures are widely reported. The fact is that rail traffic is up in the UK since privatisation. Passenger traffic has increased by 40% while freight traffic is up 50%.
Serving society through partnership
Establishing the major themes of this year’s event, Bowker said, “There is one thing we must all remember: today, rail research cannot be just technically oriented – it must be value-oriented. We must respond to both our customers and the larger society. But no one country has all the answers. If we are going to move forward, we have to work together with our international partners.”
WCRR organiser Len Porter said, “We hope this event will be a major opportunity for all of you to network, exchange ideas and perhaps learn something from areas outside your normal expertise.” He named new technologies, including artificial intelligence, new materials and space-based satellite navigation as prime tools for moving the modern rail industry into the future.
The meeting coincided with the ushering in of a new age of rail transport in Britain, with the first section of high-speed track linking London and the Channel Tunnel opening on 28 September. Numerous speakers cited the UK as the birthplace of the railway, with Edinburgh representing the northernmost stop in the pan-European rail network.
Congress attendees were treated to technical visits featuring Scottish rail milestones such as the awesome Forth Bridge and historic Waverley Station in the heart of old Edinburgh.
European rail strategy – ERRAC
Back at the congress, Philippe Renard of France’s SNCF provided the European perspective. As head of the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC), Renard stands at the forefront of strategic thinking in the rail industry.
“The aim of rail research today should be to respond to the needs of our customers,” he said. “We have seen strong political support in Europe for a more competitive rail industry. We must all realise that that does not mean rail companies competing with each other but the rail industry as a whole competing with road transport. With its Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP6), the EU has set the priority of rebalancing and integrating transport modes. We have to take advantage of that support, to revitalise our industry for the 21st century.”
Launched in November 2001 at the fifth World Congress on Railway Research in Cologne, the European Rail Research Advisory Council comprises some thirty-odd members, representing Member States, the Commission and all the relevant stakeholders.
ERRAC’s primary mission has been to establish and carry forward a Strategic Rail Research Agenda (SRRA). The SRRA was delivered to Research Commissioner Busquin in December 2002 and is seen as a guide to the planning of rail research programmes, particularly national and EU programmes.
According to Chairman Philippe Renard, “ERRAC is a long-term initiative. If we really mean to develop the high quality, efficient, safe and clean rail system we are aiming for, we are going to need all the important players in the sector to commit themselves to a common rail research strategy.”
- The conference programme included three plenary sessions as well as technical sessions covering a wide range of research topics:
- Energy and emissions;
- Train control systems;
- Timetabling and service delivery
- Human factors;
- Noise and vibration;
- Satellite applications;
- Traffic management and capacity;
- Electromagnetic compatibility; and
- many others.
WCRR 2003 - key concepts:
Interoperability – Enabling all trains to run on standard tracks using standard power and train control systems across international borders has become a major goal for the rail industry. It is expected to be a main source of increased efficiency and competitiveness for rail in the future.
Marketing rail – Speaking at the WCRR closing plenary, Franco Castagnetti of the European Freight and Logistics Leaders Forum said, “Rail offers many advantages over road transport, but where are our salespeople? It is our biggest failure. No one is actually marketing rail services.”
Intermodality – The integration of the different modes within the transport chain through the use of intermodal systems, especially containers, will mean improved flexibility, quality, and cost effectiveness.
Communicating with customers – Mike Lunan of the Rail Passengers Council Safety Taskforce described the results of studies of passengers’ attitudes. They are more likely to accept delays, he said, if they know why the delays are occurring. Keeping travellers informed is one key to satisfaction. Also, when trains run on time, passengers report that the seats are more comfortable, even when the seats have not been improved.
The idea of staging a world railway research congress originated at a workshop held in Tokyo in 1992. Organisers say the high level of attendance at this year’s event demonstrates the continued enthusiasm and worldwide interest in the rail industry. The next WCRR is set for Montreal in 2006.