THIS month’s World Congress on Railway Research (WCRR) hosted by Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) in Tokyo is set to showcase the very best in current rail industry research from around the world.

RTRI will inevitably have a major presence. However, the event is also set to mark another milestone in Europe’s Shift2Rail joint research initiative.
As well as presentations from 16 projects, Shift2Rail is set to present the first edition of a catalogue containing 54 solutions developed within the initiative. The document will be updated annually and according to Shift2Rail’s executive director, Mr Carlo Borghini, reflects one of the programme’s primary objectives: to develop solutions that are proven and ready for market deployment.

“When I speak with the CEO of an operator, and they ask ‘what is in Shift2Rail for me?’ I can now tell them to look in our catalogue of solutions,” Borghini told IRJ. “It can be for freight or for passenger, it can be a subsystem, it can be for the relation with the passenger, or a track management, automation or telecommunication solution. I want to get to the point where we have a clear roadmap of products and solutions which are customer driven and will be available for the market in 2022-24.”

In its infancy Shift2Rail was proclaimed as the research and innovation initiative that would fundamentally rethink the traditional railway system. Researchers were encouraged to think outside the box and to come up with fresh solutions which build on rail’s existing competitive advantages: a steel-on-steel guided system which is extremely safe and environmentally-friendly.

In a keynote address at WCRR in Milan in May 2016, four months before Shift2Rail commenced, Mr Andy Doherty, the then chairman of the European Railway Research Advisory Council (ERRAC), presented a single slide of a future railway system. Doherty told delegates that research and technological development must be the engine to deliver this future railway.

However, with Hyperloop’s bold vision for a disruptive transport system still fresh in their minds, Doherty emphasised that speed is now of the essence if rail is to keep up and remain relevant. “The technology is available and it’s now up to us to work out how best to use it so, in three years’ time, we are ready to celebrate what we have achieved,” Doherty said.

still fresh in their minds, Doherty emphasised that speed is now of the essence if rail is to keep up and remain relevant. “The technology is available and it’s now up to us to work out how best to use it so, in three years’ time, we are ready to celebrate what we have achieved,” Doherty said.

With this deadline now up, the good news for Shift2Rail and its supporters is that there is a lot to be happy about. Indeed, it took just two years for the industry to see the first physical results of the initiative, something almost unheard of for a rail research programme.

“I want to get to the point where we have a clear roadmap of products and solutions that will be available for the market in 2022-24.”

Carlo Borghini, executive director Shift2Rail

With Shift2Rail and Borghini urging the sector to overcome its traditionally slow innovation cycle, by the InnoTrans exhibition in September 2018, various demonstrator projects were ready for public view. A virtual coupling system for light rail vehicles, coordinated by CAF (see below), as well as a spoked wheelset, and various automation technologies and new components were among the highlights. Borghini says that even more new innovations will be on show at next year’s event.

These early achievements reflect Shift2Rail’s success in developing a culture of cross-industry collaboration, overcoming the siloed thinking of the past. Around 400 participants, the majority of the European industry, are now working on a Shift2Rail project in some form.

Another significant accomplishment is the level of investment in European rail research and development. In the three years since it was founded, Shift2Rail has helped to deliver around €350m of funding, activating €800m for research and innovation, an unprecedented figure for the rail sector.

The latest and penultimate round of funding was announced on September 11. In the 2019 Call for Proposals for Research and Innovation Activities, Shift2Rail selected 17 projects worth €148.6m with the initiative set to fund €74.8m of this cost (see panel below).

Borghini says this level of investment simply would not have happened without the institutional partnership created by Shift2Rail.

“As a joint undertaking you have the sector working together with the EU to make resources available,” Borghini says. “The joint undertaking becomes a risk sharing facility to achieve the EU’s mobility and transport policies. By establishing direct relationships with operators and infrastructure managers, we are encouraging manufacturers to invest resources with a medium- or long-term view. We are also supporting part of the financial risk by providing 50% of the resources. I think this is really the competitive edge that is embedded in the logic of an institutional partnership.”

With the opening phase of the project now coming to a close, and as the emphasis on market readiness ramps up, Borghini says Shift2Rail is set to begin the process of evolving from solution delivery to full system integration.

Here the individual technologies and processes developed in Shift2Rail are combined to provide the next-generation railway system architecture. The programme will also increasingly look to incorporate ideas from breakthrough technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G telecommunications.

While the initiative has certainly achieved a lot in a short space of time, it has not been plain sailing to reach this point. In particular, Borghini says bringing a sector with a variety of perspectives together has been a major challenge. A lack of an initial agreement with the stakeholders in the programme similarly held things back. Many of the continent’s major players are also conspicuous by their absence, notably operators and infrastructure managers from Spain and Italy.

“They are not part of the membership,” Borghini says. “We have though found ways to involve them in the initiative to ensure there is a shared vision of the future rail system.”

Getting the relevant stakeholders onboard with creating the new system architecture is a challenge that is likely to persist. Borghini says it is not simply the technology that is changing here but the business model for operators, which will have a knock-on effect on the supply sector. “The manager of a manufacturing company needs to have an understanding of what will happen in the future so they can consider the potential impact on their business,” Borghini says.

To overcome this, Borghini hopes to create a culture of disruption from within. Rather than new entrants offering technologies that force incumbents to step aside, he wants the incumbent itself to lead the disruptive innovation process with the support of smaller and new innovative companies.

“The message from me to the politicians is how can we really enhance the cooperation between the transport system. Between airports and the rail system; between airports and the urban system.”

Carol Borghini

Shift2Rail’s institutional partnership is the means to do this by providing the means to identify the technologies in which to invest and in turn accelerating service development and market deployment for the benefit of all involved. “The institutional partnership allows independent and transparent dialogue at the institutional level of the EU,” Borghini says. “We can engage in dialogue with the commission, the European Union Agency for Railways’ (ERA), the member states and national supervisory authorities, discussions that you would not be able to have as just a private company. This model is undoubtedly adapted to the environment in which we are working, it is a winning model.”

Other challenges are more typical of the European railway industry: the discrepancy between national regulations and the restrictions of different standards on interoperability. However, Borghini is a firm proponent of the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package, which seeks to overcome this. In particular, the EU Agency for Railways’ (ERA) expanded role as the single authorising entity for rail vehicles, safety certification of train operators, and approval of ERTMS trackside systems, which commenced in June, is already helping to break down some of these barriers.

He also sees the growing collaboration between different stakeholders as a means of increasing interoperability. Borghini says that because the solutions under development are from joint research and innovation programmes, they are interoperable by design. This is also taking place at a European rather than a bilateral level adding to the emphasis on interoperability, which in turn is reinforcing the strength of the institutional partnership model.

“We have a company working in Innovation Programme 4 [customer experience applications and multimodal travel services] and we just discovered by chance that they are making use of the know-how acquired in Shift2Rail in another programme with other entities,” Borghini says. “There is a multiplier effect. We like that this is coming from Shift2Rail but we want it to happen more, so we can involve more entities, and have more impact on the market.”

Shift2Rail 2

With the final call for Shift2Rail projects set to take place in 2020 and the increasing emphasis on delivering demonstrator projects in the run-up to the end of the programme in 2024, work is set to accelerate on establishing the next Shift2Rail joint research initiative.

Borghini says political discussions about the project, dubbed Shift2Rail 2 or Transforming the European Rail System, are underway and will continue up until the first quarter of 2020. This will result in an impact assessment and a decision on whether to go ahead. If approved, a legislative proposal will be adopted by the European Council and Parliament during 2020 with the aim of launching the initiative by January 1 2021, subject to budgetary approval. The plan is for the new initiative to run between 2021 and 2030, with calls for projects between 2021 and 2027, and implementation by 2030.

“We are doing a lot to show the results of Shift2Rail to convince the member states and the politicians that there is a need to continue the work at a faster pace, with a much more focused programme, and a lot more ambitious results.”

Carlo Borghini

Industry consultation for the project began in August. While many people were on their summer holiday, Borghini says that the 46 responses received were the highest of any joint undertaking engaged in the same process. The feedback was also very positive about the work that has taken place so far and the prospects for expansion.

“We are doing a lot to show the results of Shift2Rail to convince the member states and the politicians that there is a need to continue the work at a faster pace, with a much more ambitious programme, and a lot more focused results,” Borghini says.

Enhancing large-scale demonstrations and accelerating the market entry of solutions from the first Shift2Rail programme is at the heart of the strategy. Work will similarly continue and ramp up on harnessing new technologies such as 5G satellite communications networks, automation and AI.

Structural adjustments are also likely. Discussions are underway to adjust Shift2Rail’s governance, content and administration, although the current core membership model is likely to remain, but perhaps with a few additional members filling these roles.

While Borghini is keen to expand participation by including more project members, in particular infrastructure managers and operators, this should not risk “diluting the soup.” However, he says there will be an emphasis on involving more SMEs, which make up 30% of Shift2Rail participants, as well as start-ups.

One idea that Borghini has to increase start-up participation is to replicate the incubator concept used by major manufacturers and some railways but on a European level, where reams of data from across the industry are held in a vault accessible to these companies to develop new ideas. Borghini is also keen to involve organisations that are not necessarily interested in innovating but demonstrating or deploying new technologies, and those from outside of the rail sector. This will support Shift2Rail 2 to increase the integration between rail and other modes of transport as new technologies are developed and deployed.

Borghini says this is particularly the case with road because rail often shares this space. With the development of autonomous road vehicles and trams, for example, it is logical that these systems share standards and protocols. It is similarly important with air transport to offer improved integration between services and provide a seamless service to passengers, and maritime transport to enhance logistics services for freight operators.

“The message from me to the politicians is how can we really enhance the cooperation between the transport systems?” Borghini says. “Between airports and the rail system; between airports and the urban system. What is the optimal model that we can create together to achieve it? I think this will be essential if you want to combat climate change and to have climate resilience in the system.”

The response to the consultation and the sector’s willingness to embrace Shift2Rail reflects the initiative’s potential importance for the future of the European rail industry. Finally, there is a means to desert the slow innovation cycle, which threatened to undermine rail’s competitiveness with other modes that are equally hungry to embrace new technologies. It is also a programme which encourages innovation from existing suppliers, providing an opportunity and not a threat to the status quo.

With digitalisation as the enabler, Shift2Rail is already inspiring people to change their attitudes and deliver real change for the industry. The task for the initiative now is to maintain this momentum, deliver market-ready solutions as planned, and progress Shift2Rail 2.

“I believe that contrary to the past, the sector is now able to regulate itself around a strong programme that is pushing for a major transformation of the rail system,” Borghini says. “However, for it to be a success, it must be visible to CEOs of the different operating companies and infrastructure managers. If it becomes more and more visible, this will transfer to the railway’s customers, which is critical, because what we are doing should have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

The virtual coupling system developed in the Connecta project coordinated by CAF and including Bombardier and Siemens was one of the highlights of the demonstrator projects exhibited by Shift2Rail at InnoTrans 2018. The system deploys a new TCMS wireless train backbone to control functions such as propulsion, braking, doors, lights and passenger information with control of the distance between vehicles achieved through sensor data fusion. Vehicles are able to operate in convoy and can also couple and uncouple on the move. This operating concept has the potential to shift traffic control from infrastructure to the vehicles themselves and has been successfully demonstrated in Utrecht using two CAF Urbos 100 LRVs.

A virtual coupling system for light rail vehicles, coordinated by CAF
and including Bombardier and Siemens was one of the highlights of the demonstrator projects exhibited by Shift2Rail at InnoTrans 2018.

Shift2Rail announces 2019 call for proposals

IN its penultimate call for proposals, Shift2Rail has selected 17 projects from 50 proposals submitted to the research initiative in June, an increase of 28% compared with the 2018 call.

The joint undertaking’s members are responsible for six of the projects worth €130.9m with Shift2Rail contributing up to €57.6m. A further 11 open call projects, which are open for applications from any entity in the EU and associated Horizon 2020 countries, have been selected for funding. Shift2Rail will fund 97% of the total €17.7m cost.

A total of 203 participants will develop the new solutions with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) comprising 30% of the entries selected in the open call projects. The joint undertaking funded 19 projects worth €152.6m in its 2018 call for proposals.

The projects funded in the 2019 call are:

  • Furthering improvements in integrated mobility management (I2M), noise and vibration, and energy in Shift2Rail - Thales Ground Transportation Systems UK (€5m)
  • Performance Improvement for Vehicles on Track 2 - Siemens (€24.4m)
  • Advanced signalling and automation system - completion of activities for enhanced automation systems, train integrity, traffic management evolution and smart object controllers - Alstom (€24.4m)
  • Intelligent Innovative Smart Maintenance of Assets by integRated Technologies 2 - Hitachi Rail (€13m)
  • Smart data-based assets and efficient rail freight operation - German Rail (DB) (€7.6m)
  • System architecture and conceptual data model for railway, common data dictionary and global system modelling specifications - SNCF Network (€2.1m)
  • Train pass-by noise source characterisation and separation tools for cost-effective vehicle certification - Eindhoven Technical University (€1.3m)
  • Car body shells, doors and interiors - Eurecat Technology Centre (€3.5m)
  • Next generation methods, concepts and solutions for the design of robust and sustainable running gear - Unife (€2.5m)
  • Formal methods and Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) for the railway sector - Ardanuy Ingenieria (€550,000)
  • Communication platform for traffic management demonstrator - Unife (€2.2m)
  • Future unified DC railway electrification system - National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse (€750,000)
  • Travel companion enhancements and ride-sharing services synchronised to rail and public transport - International Union of Public Transport (€2.9m)
  • Locomotive bogie condition maintenance - Evoleo Technologies (€1.4m)
  • Advanced integrated obstacle and track intrusion detection system for smart automation of rail transport - Bremen University (€1.7m)
  • Roadmaps for AI integration in the rail sector - National Inter-University Consortium For Information Technology (€299,000), and
  • Translation for breaking language barriers in the railway field - UIC (€248,000).