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World Congress on Railway Research emphasises sustainability

The world’s biggest meeting of rail researchers took place in Montreal from 4-8 June 2006. The World Congress on Rail Research (WCRR) brought together more than 750 participants for five days of presentations, posters and workshops. The conference theme, ‘Progressing together’, reflected technical as well as economic, operational and social challenges facing the rail industry.

Conference hall © WCRR
Full house

Today’s railway sector is facing major challenges, including increasing the competitiveness and attractiveness of rail transport in terms of speed, availability, comfort, punctuality and reliability. This 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.

All of these challenges, and more, were addressed at the WCRR event in Montreal. According to WCRR 2006 Organising Committee Chairman Roy Allen, the WCRR promotes international sharing and co-operation, covering operational, environmental and safety management, as well as the traditional engineering topics, bringing together the largest, most comprehensive group of railway researchers, technologists and decision makers.

Spirited call

The importance of railways was the subject of Canadian MP Brian Jean’s opening presentation. He outlined the contribution made by this important transport sector on the Canadian economy, suggesting that a second golden age for railways is already dawning.

Bill Bird of the European Commission focussed on sustainability as a guiding principle, challenging everybody to go out and do something, not just to listen. “We are here today to talk about the future of rail transport,” he said. “And what exactly does the future demand? There has to be a clearly defined strategy to tackle the issues of sustainable development, since rail is seen to be one of the principle solutions. We have to make the effort. Everyone has to be committed to that strategy and rise to the challenge of sustainability. There needs to be excitement, energy and enthusiasm – and the courage to identify and implement developing technologies which will have a solid impact on today's world.”

ERRAC shows the way

Bill Bird © WCRR
Bill Bird

The European Commission has already endorsed a long-term vision for the sector, as laid out in ERRAC’s Strategic Rail Research Agenda. ERRAC is the European Rail Research Advisory Council. Its long-term vision for the sector is laid out in the 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, better environmental and safety performance and new production methods.

According to European Commission officials, ERRAC has been directly involved in the elaboration of the transport segment of FP7, providing crucial guidance on research priorities in the rail transport sector. 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.

“With wide stakeholder involvement, the European Rail Research Advisory Council has set ambitious targets for the future rail network in 2020,” said Bird. “The major players have set out a clear Research Agenda determining how these ambitions can be achieved, which acts as a framework for future research activities. Work on the environment, and sustainable development, form an integral part of their strategy.”

A packed programme

Under the broad theme of sustainability, dedicated WCRR 2006 sessions covered:

  • Network capacity
  • Service design and reliability
  • System optimisation
  • Security and safety
  • Human factors
  • Environment as part of sustainability

Alongside the conventional presentations, an interactive poster session provided an opportunity to explore subjects in better detail and to meet researchers. In addition, a platform at one of the Montreal commuter stations was the sight of a three-day congress exhibition, featuring some of the hardware discussed during the meeting.


Exhibition highlights included robust, cost-effective and simple North American freight cars, including a tank wagon and a flatcar fitted with load-measuring wheels. Outside the station, the Operation Lifesaver mobile information centre displayed information on improving level crossing safety across Canada, in conjunction with schools and the local law enforcement agencies.

Finally, a full technical programme, including excursions, dealt with applied research relating to key railway industry issues, including network capacity, service reliability, sustainable development for railway systems, system optimisation, innovative approaches to design and maintenance, security and fundamentals of progress in railway science and socio-economic studies. Excursions included visits to:

  • The Canadian Railway Museum at Delson/Saint-Constant
  • Montreal intermodal terminal at Taschereau
  • Canada Allied Diesel Engine Systems Development Centre
  • National Research Council Canada
  • Centre for Surface Transportation Technology
  • Montreal-Laval Metro extension

Organisers say WCRR 2006 was a major success, providing participants with opportunities to make new business contacts, and allowing researchers, industrial representatives and policy-makers from far and wide to network, discuss research and showcase new products and services.