Before taking office in December 2019, European Commission (EC) president, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, and her team committed themselves to a forward-looking agenda. At its core is the European Green Deal headed by EC vice-president, Mr Frans Timmermans. It is an initiative that, if successful, will take a whole-of-society strategy to transform European life by “mainstreaming sustainability.” This laudable goal requires Europe to recognise the crucial value of rail and swiftly move to make it the backbone of European mobility.

Transport remains the second largest GHG-emitting sector after energy production. It is currently responsible for nearly 24% of Europe’s GHG emissions. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), transport is the only sector that has increased its emissions on the continent over the past 20 years. Road transport is the biggest polluter, with 40% of those road emissions being emitted in urban and suburban areas. Rail, in contrast, is the exception.

The rail sector has also pledged to reduce total passenger and freight transport CO₂ emissions by 30% by the end of this decade, compared with 1990.

In fact, rail is the only mode of transport which has reduced its emissions while increasing passenger and freight volumes. These benefits make it a valuable tool as the EC moves to take the continent carbon neutral by 2050 and increase its 2030 GHG emission reduction target. Investing in energy-efficient and low-emission rail projects, especially in cities and metropolitan areas, appears to answer the acute need to ease air pollution and close the emissions gap. The rail sector has also pledged to reduce total passenger and freight transport CO₂ emissions by 30% by the end of this decade, compared with 1990.

Walking lockstep with the Green Deal, clean rail can be the central node of a new sustainable, multi-modal mobility network. Transport commissioner, Mrs Adina Valean, was tasked in her mission letter from von der Leyen to “put forward a comprehensive strategy for sustainable and smart mobility.” We will continue to stress to the new commission the value of rail transport and its potential for an innovative, sustainable, efficient, safe, interoperable, digital and integrated mobility system.

Unife will work to that end in 2020 by ensuring that European institutions take the necessary steps to empower the European rail supply industry as an engine for this change. That includes implementing the recommendations in the recently-adopted European Commission Expert Group report on the competitiveness of the EU rail supply industry. Unife will also strongly advocate for an ambitious 2021-2027 EU budget replete with funding for rail projects, be it through Horizon Europe, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) or the Structural Funds. Additionally, we will push for the finalisation of the legislative discussions on the International Procurement Instrument (IPI) to open international procurement markets.

The continuing Shift2Rail public-private partnership (PPP) research initiative has fostered substantial innovation in the rail industry but the work is not yet done, as we can see in the Catalogue of Solutions (p14). The project still strives to cut the life-cycle cost of rail transport by as much as 50% and double railway capacity. It also hopes to increase reliability and punctuality by up to 50%. These objectives remain valid for the programme’s continuation in Shift2Rail 2.


One key ambition of Shift2Rail 2 is to make rail the backbone of mobility by answering the needs of both passengers and freight end-users. Equally important for the next phase of Shift2Rail is to contribute significantly to the decarbonisation of transport, the development of rail freight transport within Europe and the digitalisation of rail transport. The programme will also support the creation of a Single European Rail Area and provide efficient rail transport solutions to tackle the emerging urbanisation mega-trend.

Unife has identified nine key-enablers for high capacity, reliable and affordable rail transport that will be more attractive to travellers and shippers. Pursuing them will increase rail’s market share, income and societal benefits in a multi-modal context. These enablers include automated rail transport, mobility as a seamless service and digitalisation, leading towards an efficient zero-emission railway and maintenance of the future.

Making meaningful progress on these key-enablers will be a measure of Shift2Rail 2’s success, after the future adoption of the new Council Regulation establishing the programme, during that period. The successful utilisation of the research and innovation (R&I) outcomes of this programme can only occur if our sector has an able, well-trained workforce. As many of its 400,000 direct and indirect employees begin to reach retirement age, Unife will continue to advocate to EU decision-makers the need for a skills blueprint for the rail industry. Such a programme will allow Europe to deploy technologies that will make rail more sustainable and efficient while ushering in a just energy transition by mobilising skilled young people from all walks of life and corners of the EU.


Similarly, Unife has many small and medium size enterprise (SME) members. In 2020, we will work with them through our dedicated SME Committee to help them receive the EU funding they need to scale and create the disruptive products needed for the sustainable mobility paradigm of the near future.

The current Shift2Rail PPP has been an important tool and driver for innovation, empowering these companies in ways previously unavailable. These opportunities have allowed industry SMEs to support the digitalisation of rail transport by providing innovative solutions. The association has also helped their activities by informing them of evolutions in rail regulations and standards, giving them a better understanding of EU requirements.

These new focuses, however, will not side-line our current projects. Unife remains committed to the full transposition of the Technical Pillar of the Fourth Railway Package by all EU member states by June 2020. We also continue to urge stakeholders, at the EU and national levels concurrently, to support the swift deployment of ERTMS across the European railway network.

Completing these tasks will make Europe more agile and more interconnected, permitting the smooth and quick adaptation of greener systems that run more efficiently across the whole network.

Unife has worked intensively throughout 2019, and continues, to support the European Union Agency for Railways and the EC as they finalise the drafting and adoption of necessary implementing regulations. This includes the revised Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs) and the development of IT tools that were both required under the revised Interoperability and Safety Directives, and necessary for the new regime to be completed by June 16 2020. Completing these tasks will make Europe more agile and more interconnected, permitting the smooth and quick adaptation of greener systems that run more efficiently across the whole network.

2020 will certainly be a very busy year for Unife. The ambition of the new commission with its Green Deal is an opportunity for the European rail supply industry to significantly contribute to Europe’s existential fight against climate change.

In doing so, Unife and its members will strive to promote Europe’s cleanest mode of transport as the backbone of both European transport and manufacturing. We will continue to promote standardisation and harmonisation, to make our sector more streamlined and efficient. This association’s advocacy also remains firmly interested in ensuring a level procurement playing field focused on fair practices and which demands high quality bids as outlined under the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (Meat) principle. For these reasons, we believe that 2020 presents unique opportunities that our industry must seize both for its own growth and the planet’s well-being.