Shift²Rail is a joint effort by the European railway industry and the European Union (EU) to redefine railway research with the aim of achieving three primary objectives: enhancing the capacity of the European railway system to cope with increased user demand, increasing the quality and reliability of railway services, and significantly reducing the lifecycle costs of the overall system.

Shift²Rail will encompass research, innovation and demonstration activities in all aspects of the railway, with investments, which will be co-financed by the EU and private sector under the Horizon 2010 programme, expected to amount to €920m.

European Rail Industry Association (Unife) lauded today's vote as a step towards making "rail transport more attractive to millions of European passengers and freight users and boost the competitiveness of the most sustainable transport mode." It now hopes the European Parliament's ITRE Committee votes to adopt the draft report on establishing Shift²Rail when it meets on March 18. The Community of European Railways (CER) also backed the decision as the "next important milestone" for Horizon 2020.

"The council's decision shows the right approach for rail research and the opportunity to revitalise the European railway system in technical terms," CER executive director Mr Libor Lochman says.

Unife and CER also praised the council for completing its work on the Fourth Railway Package's technical pillar which consists of the revised interoperability directive, safety directive, and will transform ERA from a purely regulatory institution into an authority responsible for vehicle authorisation and safety certification.

With the European Parliament already adopting its position on the legislation following its first reading, the path is now clear for discussions to begin between the European Parliament, Council and European Commission (EC). Unife hopes that the technical pillar will be adopted early during the Italian presidency of the EU which is set to begin in July.