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Meeting Changing Transportation Needs in Europe

The June 13 Closing General Session featured a close-up look at innovative solutions designed to accelerate the integration of new and advanced technologies into rail operations in Europe.

Keir Fitch, the European Commission’s head of unit for rail safety and interoperability and director general for mobility and transport, reported on the European Union’s (EU) plans to implement a single standard for railroads across the continent in place of nations historically setting their own rules.

The EU’s rail goals for Europe, he said, include cutting equipment lifecycle costs by up to 50 percent, doubling rail capacity and increasing service reliability and punctuality by up to 50 percent. This would require policy changes so that rail vehicles can operate easily through the entire EU.

Fitch said rail accounts for an EU investment of 34 billion euros annually, more than one-third of all transport investments. Rail projects account for 73 percent of total funding through the EU’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which oversees investment, regulation and innovation, he said; another major EU fund, the Cohesion Fund, supports poorer regions to help them address declining infrastructure.

In keeping with shifts in transportation technology, Fitch added, the CEF has budgeted 30.6 million euros for transportation in 2021-2027, with 40 percent proposed for smart, sustainable, innovative mobility technologies.

Fitch also spoke about the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), a signaling system that replaces national systems with a single EU standard. “The ERTMS creates seamless cross-border rail traffic,” he explained. “We need to break down national silos and create a single place in Europe to bring together rail innovation, regulation and finance.”
Closing General Session panelists, from left: Kevin Quinn, Keir Fitch and Carlo Borghini.

EU rail operations differ from those in the U.S. because passenger traffic dominates European operations and freight dominates in the U.S. The two modes working together, he said, will lead to increased capacity, higher reliability rates and reduced maintenance costs.

Fitch said of the Regional Transportation District in Denver, host city for the APTA Rail Conference, “Denver is leading the way on how we should be going, for pedestrians as well as transit. The city is delivering innovation.”

Carlo M. Borghini, executive director of Brussels-based Shift2Rail, provided an overview of this European joint venture’s aim to achieve a Single European Railway Area (SERA), which would lead to a modal shift from roads to rail transportation for freight and passenger rail throughout Europe.

Through research and innovation, he said, Shift2Rail will transform disparate European rail systems into a new, fully integrated mobility service.

Borghini described how, as in the U.S., freight and passenger rail transit in Europe are set to assume increasing importance as vital components of the new, interconnected mobility concept.

Quality of service, cost, infrastructure, zero emissions, cross-mode integration and how to attract and retain a skilled transportation workforce all must be addressed to ensure that passengers and freight customers have access to the best service. “This requires new innovation to bring a completely different type of service to freight rail customers and passengers,” said Borghini.

As Fitch also said, becoming fully operational in 2016, Shift2Rail has three essential key targets:

* Cutting the lifecycle costs of rail transit by as much as 50 percent;
* Doubling rail capacity; and
* Increasing reliability and punctuality by as much as 50 percent.

Shift2Rail is built around five asset-specific innovation programs covering technical and process elements of rail service: cost-efficient and reliable trains; advanced traffic management and control systems; infrastructure; IT solutions; and freight rail. “By looking at an entire new concept of a rail service system, we are creating a new generation of train that is able to capture the needs of all passengers,” he said.

Borghini stressed the importance of not looking at companies and assets, but rather at providing a service. Passengers are not concerned whether they need to use a train or car for their journey, he explained; they only want to know that they can reach their final destination as efficiently as possible.

“When you arrive at the first train station, you are in the ‘wrong’ place because you are intending to travel on from there,” he said. “And when you reach the station at the end of your train journey, you are still in the wrong place because that station is not your final destination. We need to connect all forms of transport and ensure the rail system is fully integrated with all other mobility systems.”

Membership of Shift2Rail currently stands at 28 entities from across Europe, including rail systems and business members, with about 2,000 people working in research and innovation. Approximately one-half billion euros have been committed thus far for research and innovation, with 50 projects underway.

Kevin Quinn, administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, moderated the session. APTA Vice Chair David Stackrow, immediate past chair of the Capital District Transportation Authority, Albany, NY, presided.
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