Shift2Rail’s members comprise the EU, some of Europe’s leading rail equipment suppliers, French National Railways (SNCF), German Rail (DB), British and Swedish infrastructure managers Network Rail and Trafikverket, and several consortia. Shift2Rail has a budget of €920m for 2014-2020 period.
Work started in 2015 with four kick-off “lighthouse” projects with €52m in funding. In November, the final grant was agreed out of the 2015-16 call for proposals so that all research projects are now underway. November also saw the 2017 call for proposals open to members and non-members with a co-funding budget of €60.8m, which is expected to rise to €112.4m with in-kind contributions.
Mr Carlo Borghini was appointed executive director of the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking in February 2016 after a long search by the European Commission (EC). Borghini took up his position in May, and lost no time in getting to grips with his brief. Six months on, he clearly has a good grasp of the challenges facing the railway industry and the role Shift2Rail can play in addressing them.
Borghini believes Shift2Rail will have an impact on the current business model for railways. “Commuters are obliged to travel by train, but railways should work to attract passengers to take the train not by necessity but because it is the best mode to use,” Borghini says. “This means informing passengers, providing seamless journeys, and digital ticketing - technology is not neutral to the current railway business model. We are not looking at the social aspect - we must bring it into the heart of railway technology.”
Borghini does not want Shift2Rail to result in marginal improvements, but things which will deliver a step change in technology. “Can we rethink the design of switches and crossings to really improve them?” he asks. He points to the aviation sector where they are starting to remotely control the control tower at Milan Linate Airport from Milan Malpensa Airport so Linate can operate 24 hours a day without increasing operating costs. Borghini says this is the type of innovation that will change the business model.
He believes Shift2Rail will be really successful in addressing some of rail’s shortcomings, such as providing reliable and efficient freight services, connecting urban, regional and high-speed to create seamless journeys, and increasing capacity by using moving block signalling for example.
Borghini wants the members to review the road map for Shift2Rail. “It’s clear that we have a bottom-up view, answering requests,” he says. “But we need to prioritise resources, and the lighthouse projects already show this. As it was pointed out at our Lighthouse Projects Mid-Term conference on November 17, we need to decouple the development of automatic train operation (ATO) for mainline railways from ETCS otherwise we will only achieve ATO in 2030.
“We need to learn how to leverage our limited pool of expertise - our experts are precious. Perhaps we should concentrate our expertise where it is needed first.
“We are trying to look at what to prioritise and which technologies will be delivered to meet business needs, and what can be industrialised, but we are doing research and innovation, so not everything will be industrialised. We need to start discussions regarding market uptake, standardisation, and TSIs before projects come to fruition otherwise there will be delays. This comes from other sectors and has never been done before in rail, so I’m not sure whether it will work as I expect.”
Borghini believes we can expect to see some quick wins in a few years’ time, although it will depend on the work being done now with Shift2Rail members. He says he has “big expectations” for Innovation Programme (IP) 4 which is looking at IT solutions to provide more attractive passenger services. “There could be some progress with ATO for specific operations such as in station areas, and satellite applications, although it is a bit early to say,” he says.
The fact that railways are members of Shift2Rail means they will have a chance to shape performance. “Manufacturers are also members of Shift2Rail because we want new products,” Borghini says. “Bringing everyone together at the start will facilitate the acceptance of new technology and breakdown some barriers. But, because railways have investment cycles of 30-40 years, we should not underestimate the challenges. Perhaps we should look at new methods of funding such as crowd funding?”
Borghini also believes railways should challenge some of their long-established practices. He questions why railways should continue to build a train to last for 30 years when in addition to the initial investment, the operator has to invest in major overhauls and refits at least twice during its life. “The Japanese are reducing the lifecycle of their trains for this very reason,” Borghini says. “We need to think about mechanisms to introduce innovation in railways, to see what the benefits of new technology are, rather than looking at what we invested in the past. Shift2Rail has no money or mandate for deployment, but we have to think about these issues.”
There are only 21 people working at the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, so it is depending on its members and other railway sector organisations to deliver such an ambitious programme. For example, Shift2Rail has member states representative groups to keep it informed about what is going on at the national level. “In the Netherlands, we are discussing how we can work together with ProRail and Netherlands Railways (NS) to avoid duplicating our efforts,” Borghini explains. “We can also use our members to keep us informed because they are often involved in other research and development projects. We also need cross-fertilisation with other initiatives such as the work Ansaldo STS is doing for Rio Tinto in Australia on the automation of their heavy-haul railway.”
Shift2Rail may also be able to extend its reach by tapping into other resources. “Britain’s RSSB has asked whether it would be possible to fund some of the projects which Shift2Rail can’t fund,” Borghini reveals.
The last calls for research projects under the current Shift2Rail programme will take place in 2020 for acceptance in 2021, which means the programme will end in 2023-24. The EU’s next programme period starts in 2021, which means 2018-2020 will be the key decision time for all EU projects.
When Mr Matthew Baldwin, the deputy director-general of DG Move, the EC’s transport directorate general, was asked at the Lighthouse Projects Mid-Term conference whether there should be a second Shift2Rail, he said: “why not?” His colleague, Ms Clara de la Torre, who is the transport director of DG Research and Innovation, added: “I see no reason not to have another Shift2Rail programme, but we need to demonstrate that we need one - rail is competing with other modes.”
Borghini is equally guarded on whether there should be a second Shift2Rail initiative. “I don’t believe there will be no need for research and innovation in the rail sector after Shift2Rail 1,” he says. “If we can demonstrate that by working together we have a multiplier effect on our ability to introduce new technology then we will be able to demonstrate that we have a good case for Shift2Rail 2.
“It is clear that research and development never stops. More and more people are coming up with ideas, and railways cannot continue to innovate at their current speed. The acceleration of innovation at the moment is impressive, and the more we move from hardware to software, so the rate of innovation will quicken.”
It is imperative for the European railway industry to make Shift2Rail a success if it wants keep one step ahead of its competitors in other modes and build on the momentum of the current Shift2Rail programme.