THE OFFICE of UIC director general Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux looks out
over a skyline which is quintessentially Parisian, with the Eiffel
Tower dominating the vista. The landscape on the other side of the
glass at UIC headquarters is no less remarkable, as the organisation
has recently emerged from an intensely volatile period with a
completely new senior management team and a revised corporate
"The UIC has lived through difficult times that could have
led to uncertainty about the association's capacity to further develop,
to meet the needs of our members and the be a real actor for the
promotion of railways," Loubinoux explains. "There has been an urgent
need to restore confidence, implement action plans within teams, and
restore the motivation to work for and through our members."
the UIC adopted a set of statutes intended to turn it into a truly
global organisation. However, this quickly led to diverging
interpretations of UIC statutes and governance rules among Executive
Board and General Assembly members, and developed into strong tensions
within the association. The UIC executive board had 21 members
representing all areas of the world, with only four European members.
By contrast, the UIC's General Assembly is dominated by Europeans who
represent 80% of the members.
The then chief executive Mr Luc Aliadière
believed the spiralling conflict could not be resolved internally, and
last year an administrator was appointed in an effort to bring the
situation under control. This led to the appointment of a new
management team on March 31, with Mr Yoshio Ishida, vice-chairman of JR
East being elected chairman, Italian Railways CEO Mr Mauro Moretti
becoming vice-chairman, and Loubinoux, CEO and chairman of SNCF
International, being appointed to the new position of director general.
At the same time, the General Assembly adopted new statutes which mean
members' voting power now corresponds to their financial contribution,
technical bodies are open to all members, and the UIC's finances have
been restructured with the aim of greater transparency. The Executive
Board remains in place as a policy body and steering group, but is now
subject to the same voting rules as the General Assembly.
Representation of each region continues as before, but each railway
will have the same number of votes on the Executive Board as it does in
the General Assembly.
With the foundations for the new structure now in
place, Loubinoux is ardently focused on the task of rebuilding unity
and trust. Loubinoux spent most of his career working for SNCF in a
variety of senior management positions, including postings in both
Britain and the United States. He has been chairman and CEO of SNCF
International since 2001, and already has extensive experience of the
UIC having assisted or represented three SNCF presidents at UIC
"The new statutes give us a solid basis to fulfil our
objectives and after 10 weeks we have a clear idea of where we want to
go," he says. "They send a very clear message that the UIC is a unique
association serving the needs of all members internationally, and
provide a solid platform for professional and technical cooperation.
The UIC is a renewed organisation that will be totally committed to
efficiency, transparency and flexibility."
Another key feature of the
new statutes is the decision to organise the work of the UIC on a much
more regional basis. This is intended to reflect the fact that
different regions have different needs, while also silencing critics
who have accused the UIC of favouring some regions more than others.
Each region will therefore have its own action plan and its own budget.
This new structure has been overwhelmingly backed by the General
Assembly, and Loubinoux is quick to rebuff any suggestion that
devolving decision-making powers to the regions will weaken the UIC as
a global organisation. "We would not have a truly global outlook if we
made all our decisions in Paris," he says.
"This could result in the
wrong decisions being made and create an organisation that is superficial.
The vast technical knowledge of the UIC and its members is a resource
that can be shared to develop regional and multi-regional projects, and
good communication between regions will enhance the international role
of the UIC."
In an effort to give more transparency, finance will be
based on the business plan for each region, and Loubinoux is keen to
ensure procedures and structures are simplified across the organisation
to give members value for money. "I have asked all chairmen of working
groups and projects to streamline their operations," he says. "Our
members are dealing with a financial crisis and they cannot afford to
fund a UIC that does not spend money carefully. We have to put pressure
on running costs, and this will have an effect on 2009-10 membership
Europe is still the largest of the UIC regions, and Loubinoux is
keen to work more closely with other European railway associations. "We
have 121 members in Europe, and 70 of them are also members of the
Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) while
nine are members of European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM)," he
explains. "We are involved in work that is politically supported by
other associations and it is important for us to work together on these
issues while respecting their independence." Loubinoux also wants to
establish stronger ties with other railway industry bodies around the
world as well as key international institutions such as the United
Nations, World Bank, and research associations.
Given his experience of
working in the United States, it is perhaps unsurprising that Loubinoux
is pushing for the establishment of UIC regional bodies for North and
South America, which currently do not have any formal representation.
"These are huge regions with a growing number of railway projects.
North America is very advanced in freight operations and is now pushing
ahead with investment in passenger services. I think the experience of
intercity and high-speed operators in Europe, Korea and Japan could be
of particular value in North America." Indeed, Loubinoux is already
lending his own knowledge of this sector to the United States High
Speed Rail Association, on which he serves as an advisory board member.
Loubinoux is keen to attract new members from both these regions, and
last month travelled to Cuba, a country he hopes will join the UIC in
the near future. "Contrary to what some pessimists have said, we do
have applications from prospective new members," he says. "Railways
recognise what the UIC can offer them in terms of technical expertise,
and for countries developing new projects this can be very valuable."
Loubinoux is also keen to capitalise on the renewed political appetite
for railways as a means of stimulating economic growth."The economic
crisis seems to be generating a lot of interest in railways, because
they are sustainable and have a positive social impact," he says. "In
many ways, I think the crisis will have positive outcomes for the
industry. The UIC can contribute by advising railways, industry
associations, and politicians and offering our experience." Loubinoux
sees a vital opportunity to highlight rail's low-carbon credentials to
the world this December, when the UIC will run a special Climate
Express train to take journalists and decision-makers from Brussels to
the United Nations COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen.
Loubinoux's busy schedule leaves him little time to ponder his view of
the Eiffel Tower, a unique and elegant structure which has stood the
test of time. But he plainly believes that after a period of deep
uncertainty, the UIC has now developed a robust and widely-recognised
structure of its own that will support the needs of its diverse
membership in the years to come.