Encouraging signals throughout Europe for SHIFT²RAIL Initiative

citroen-revistaInterview with Mr. Philippe Citroen, Director General of the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE)

The European railway transport is at a crossroads. The old challenges linger, while new ones appear. The European railway industry has all the necessary resources to face these challenges. However, considering the fact that other regions of the world launch important and ambitious programmes for the modernisation of transport and infrastructure, it is essential that the European transport would continue to develop and invest in preserving its competitive position. Therefore, the railway industry plays a significant role and the SHIFT2RAIL initiative represents a solution to the current challenges of rail transport. The recent railway events have triggered objective and pertinent questions about the success or the failure of the long-awaited Fourth Railway Package and its impact in the industry, about creating the Single European Railway Area, increasing the role and the attributions of the European Railway Area or about the cross-border interoperability of the European transport networks. We have tried to find the answers to some of these questions from the Director General of the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE), Philippe Citroën.

RailwayPRO: What news can you tell us about the progress with the SHIFT2RAIL initiative?
Philippe Citroën: As you and many of your readers know, after more than 10 years of already close R&D cooperation within EU projects, the European rail supply industry in concert with a growing number of operators and infrastructure managers are now pushing for a real step change in rail Research and Development. They are calling on the European Institutions to set up a multiannual public-private research initiative, dubbed SHIFT²RAIL, in the framework of the upcoming Horizon 2020 Programme.  As well as coping with growing demand, this initiative would result in increased user satisfaction with Europe’s railways, whilst at the same time reducing their cost and augmenting the competitiveness of the European rail supply industry.
The latest developments on SHIFT²RAIL include the extension of the SHIFT²RAIL promoters’ circle, the finalisation of the technical preparatory work by the signatories as well as the growing interest and support for the initiative throughout Europe and within the European Institutions.
The 15 founding companies – including two major European infrastructure managers: Network Rail and Trafikverket – have now been joined by numerous other industrial partners as well as other prominent railway undertakings and infrastructure managers (ADIF, FS, SNCF).  Altogether they are now working on finalising the technical preparatory work for each of the 5 Innovation Programmes (respectively dedicated to Rolling stock, Signaling systems, Infrastructure, e-Ticketing & Passenger information, and Freight). Also, it is important to note that the promoters of the initiative are paying special attention to the rail transport issues of the Central and Eastern European countries—especially with regard to solving problems related to aging infrastructure.  Moreover, the initiative has gotten significant support from the Polish transport ministry and industry stakeholders.  With regard to Romania, we really hope that we can involve Romanian stakeholders and obtain the support of the Romanian government.
For its part the consortium is ready to establish the Joint Undertaking and start R&D operations as soon as 2014. The SHIFT²RAIL promoters have therefore called on the European Commission to adopt an official Regulation Proposal as soon as possible and asked the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to then adopt this Proposal so as to start the Joint Technology Initiative without delay.
There are an increasing number of encouraging signals throughout Europe with more and more Member States, Members of the European Parliament and rail stakeholders– including numerous SMEs, research institutes and clusters – supporting this initiative and placing great confidence in its success. In fact, the European Commission officially stated in its recent Communication on the 4th Railway Package: “The SHIFT²RAIL initiative would contribute to developing rail as a transport mode by promoting step-change innovations for passenger rolling stock, freight transport, traffic management systems and rail infrastructure”.

RailwayPRO: One of the directions of the European Union is setting a single European rail transport market. What are the hindrances from the point of view of the industry in meeting this objective?
Philippe Citroën: In order to set a Single European Railway Area we should turn a few key-words into reality. The first one is interoperability: transport nowadays goes beyond the national borders and therefore it is in everyone’s interest to make cross border transport as smooth as possible from both a technical and an administrative point of view. Procedures for rolling stock authorisation should be harmonised and made faster across Europe by enhancing the role of the European Railway Agency, making it the single central agency for a Single European Railway Area. Moreover, all rail stakeholders should help EU decision makers and ERA eliminate the unnecessary national technical rules; there are around 11000 that are applied in Europe today.  This leads me to the second key word that should become reality: investment. As it is clear that rail is key in order to meet the future societal and environmental challenges, Member States and the EU should coordinate their efforts in order to invest in our sector. In this respect, we welcome the revision of the TEN-T programme and the related financial instrument called Connecting Europe Facility that should give a boost to rail project implementation in Europe. Linked to the first two key-words here’s the third: innovation. The European rail sector should join forces to cope with future challenges, including new competitors entering the European rail market, and massively invest in research and innovation with the support of the EU. This is how the rail industry sees the future of rail transport.

RailwayPRO: Do you consider that the Fourth Railway Package could be “the structure that delivers”, as the European Commission says in its proposals?
Philippe Citroën:  Everybody knows that the current system is in bad need of reform. The situation today is unbearable: authorisation is time-consuming, costly, and in some countries unpredictable. We also face the problem that all NSAs use different procedures. Let me give you some figures to illustrate the enormity of the problem: Today, procedures to authorise a new locomotive can last up to two years and cost up to EUR 6 million; the costs for a single country authorisation can account for up to 10% of costs of a locomotive, and each additional country authorisation will increase the costs by another 10%. EUR 1.2 billion of capital is immobilised because it is standing idle and awaiting authorisation. In the end, the manufacturers face fines because of delayed deliveries.
Clearly, the problem is big and has an impact on the overall competitiveness of our industry. This problem requires a European solution. We have continuously asked the Commission to address this issue and I believe that with the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package, in particular with the proposal for a new interoperability directive and the new ERA regulation, the European Commission made a proposal that can solve the problems.
In fact, for the past years UNIFE has continuously lobbied for an improvement of the authorisation processes of today and we are pleased with the proposals that the European Commission made on the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package. I believe that the structure proposed in the Fourth Railway Package, and in particular in the Interoperability Directive and the ERA Regulation, will indeed deliver, especially after the Council of 10 June clarified some points. In my opinion, we must have a strong European Railway Agency at the centre of the Single European Railway Area – at least this is what the shortcomings of today’s decentralised system suggest. We need a strong ERA that issues authorisations and that ensures that European processes are implemented in the member states. We must not forget that today’s situation would not be satisfactory even if authorisation processes worked perfectly in every country:  it would still be expensive and cumbersome to have rolling stock authorised separately in every country where it might operate.
I firmly believe that the structure proposed will help solve this issue if the member states and NSAs cooperate.  UNIFE is very happy with the compromise that was agreed upon in the Council of Transport ministers on 10 June, and would particularly like to thank all the efforts made by the Irish presidency and Vice-President Kallas’ teams at DG Move to negotiate an acceptable compromise.  Additionally, UNIFE would also like to recognise the hard work on the compromise done by the National Associations of UNIFE and also by our friends at CER.

RailwayPRO:  What is UNIFE’s opi-nion concerning the strengthening of attributions and the role of the European Railway Agency (ERA)? Do you support this initiative of the European Commission?
Philippe Citroën:  As I said before, I believe that the proposed structure is good. Based on our experience with the current system, I consider that a strong, centralised European agency is necessary for the creation of a Single European Railway Area.
As you probably know, the interoperability directive and the ERA regulation give a lot more power to ERA than they have today and we are very happy to see that ERA will be in charge of authorisations in Europe. Importantly, ERA will also supervise National Safety Authorities, making sure that European procedures are adhered to, setting an end to the various different national processes in the NSAs that currently present a barrier to the functioning of the internal market and that are very costly. Also, ERA will also have the power to delete the aforementioned 11000 or so different national rules that currently exist and that present a huge obstacle to interoperability and also are an obstacle to a functioning internal market.
It is against this backdrop that we fully support the proposals of the European Commission. In fact, I believe that the Fourth Railway Package offers a great opportunity to make the European railway market more efficient and competitive.

RailwayPRO: How do you comment the “threat” coming from the large-scale introduction of mega-trucks in the European Union? How will such a measure impact on the railway freight transport?
Philippe Citroën:  We remain opposed to the concept of cross-border use of megatrucks, as we are convinced that their use in this way will start a process that will inevitably lead to a ‘domino effect’ and in time their general use across Europe. On the contrary, modal shift towards environmentally friendly transport modes like rail is the way forward. In this respect, we are keen to implement the objectives set in the 2011 Transport White Paper. Indeed one of the five innovation programmes being developed in SHIFT²RAIL aims at developing technologies for sustainable and  attractive European rail freight that will help further realise the Commission’s environmental and modal split targets with regard to freight transport.

RailwayPRO:  Is adapting the ETCS to European networks the right answer for ensuring this single European railway transport market?
Philippe Citroën: As far as the rail sector is concerned, UNIFE promotes the full deployment of ERTMS which would bring significant benefits in terms of interoperability, safety and perfor-
mance, thus contributing to the objective of a single European railway area. The Commission’s provision for mandatory ERTMS implementation on the comprehensive network is therefore an essential step in the right direction.
UNIFE strongly believes that EU funding has a critical role to play in ensuring the deployment of this technology along the European railway network.  Since the full benefits of ERTMS are only realised when a significant number of neighbouring countries have made the necessary investments to upgrade their network, EU funding is pivotal in increasing the pace of ERTMS deployment along the European railway network.
UNIFE welcomes Germany’s announcement on equipping its Rail Freight Corridors with ERTMS. The first priority is Corridor A (Rotterdam – Genoa) which will be equipped by 2018. This positive message from Germany will certainly boost the implementation of ERTMS and due to Germany’s strategic location, four corridors out of six are passing through the country. Equipping these corridors will enhance the interoperability between Germany and its neighbouring countries.Also, the use of ERTMS outside Europe proves the considerable advantage and high-performance of system, which contributes to increased capacity safety, higher speed and reliability rate, and a more open supply market.  Thanks to these benefits, ERTMS is indeed being implemented in a growing number of countries worldwide (thirty-eight, to be exact). However, ERTMS was designed to be the unique signalling system for Europe and support full interoperability across the EU.

RailwayPRO:  To what extent do you consider the objectives of the White Paper on Transport on reducing polluting emissions by 60% until 20150 achievable, given the fact that many of the EU member states don’t seem to comprehend the importance of railway transport in meeting these objectives?
Philippe Citroën:  Indeed the environmental objectives set up by the Commission are quite ambitious and member states are sometimes a bit reluctant to undergo radical changes, but I am not so pessimistic.  Now more than ever before, I have the feeling that there is really a momentum for rail and even Member States are becoming more rail-oriented than they used to be in the past. I see positive signs: the results of our World Rail Market Study show that our sector is somewhat resilient to the current economic situation, showing a global 2.6% growth in the market compared to 2 years ago; the Council reached a relatively quick agreement to speed up rolling stock authorisation and certification procedures. And, last but not least, our SHIFT²RAIL initiative is gaining support among a number of European Member States, such as France, Poland, and Italy, as well as in the entire rail sector. Based on this, I am convinced that rail can really be the decisive factor to reach the ambitious EU transport and GHG reduction targets.

[ by Elena Ilie ]
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