Jean-Pierre Loubinoux calls for ‘cooperation’ at Rail Investment South East Europe conference

10 November 2014  •  Author: European Railway Review

Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the UIC

Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the UIC

At the recent Rail Investment South East Europe conference, Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the UIC gave the keynote address. Here’s the full transcript of his presentation.

“Ministers, Honoured Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

With all the advantages that rail has in terms of capacity, connectivity, convenience and low carbon, it is evident that rail should be considered as the fundamental transport backbone of modern–day Europe. This however is not always the case as, for a number of reasons including the lack of suitable and reliable infrastructure, rail is, at least in certain areas of Europe, seen as something more secondary.

Generating the right levels of interest and cooperation amongst a wide range of stakeholders is one of the preoccupations of the UIC and why I am delighted to be here with you today along with Simon and Dennis.

Despite improvements in the overall economic position of Europe, rail continues to face a series of challenges and something of a dichotomy – if there is not the need for rail services from potential customers then it is not easy to attract the levels of investment that are needed to attend to the rail system’s structural challenges.

It is the attractiveness of the products that rail can offer (price, reliability etc), coupled with good connectivity that the customer is seeking but rail suffers when either the infrastructure or the rolling stock (or both) fail to live up to those customer expectations.

It is by linking all of these points together that the system becomes whole and rail can ONLY work efficiently if it is designed, constructed, operated and maintained as a system.

The Rail Operating Community of IMs and RUs from right around Europe, supported by bodies such as the UIC, can play a significant role in driving the vision, developing the objectives and delivering the reality.

We are here in the area of South East Europe that collectively has an important role to play in the connectivity of Europe as a whole and which forms a strategic part of the bridge between Asia and Europe. However, in order for this to be effective, it takes the strong cooperation of all stakeholders working collaboratively, identifying the issues and resolving them together so as to stimulate economic and social growth.

This event today offers an unprecedented opportunity to have an open debate over the future shape of rail transportation in this area and to identify the requirements that need to be developed in order to achieve this vision.   

There is now greater mobility of people and freight but rail’s market share is not where it should be and there is much that can and should be done to attract customers to use rail as the principle transport mode of choice. This was the core message set out in the Rail Sector vision for 2050 “Challenge 2050” that was published in early 2013. Building on the main pillars of policy, technology and services and amongst others the core components of capacity, cost, competitiveness and above-all attractiveness of rail to the customer, the next phase was to produce the Rail Technical Strategy, Europe that was coordinated by the UIC and which sets out how the vision of the future can be enabled – you can download both these documents from our website – www.uic.org.

It is really positive that the development of rail as a sustainable mode of transport for the 21st century is now firmly on the political agenda and attracting the interest of the financial institutions and other stakeholders.

We all know that the transport sector accounts globally for 23% of energy consumption and emissions but that rail accounts for only 1%. We all know as well that over the past 10 years the rail sector’s energy consumption and emissions have decreased by 30% and there is still more than can be achieved. Rail, therefore, has a lot of technical and social added-value that needs to be taken fully into consideration.

The challenge now is to couple that strong rail sector position to an equally strong rail investment programme that focuses on infrastructure in particular and supports the development of a sustainable Future European Railway System.

There is of course a cost, and the financial return is long and not high and more often than not extends beyond political mandates. And so it takes a longer term political vision, a solid and coordinated rail development policy and above all a strong degree of willingness to ensure that we are collectively building that Future European Railway System, a legacy for the generations to come.  

There are many issues upon which a sustainable system can be built and everyone you talk to has his or her favourite. What is important is that the politicians and potential investors can feel comfortable backing the development of the Future European Railway System as a really good, solid investment in the future of Europe and the South Eastern Europe Area in particular.

I have chosen four such issues that I believe can be considered as the cornerstones of our railway system; all these revolve around the word accessibility. Accessibility to first of all, the network, second, information and creativity, third, knowledge, and fourth, to other modes.

Accessibility to the network is key not only developing an attractive rail system that the customer wants to use and to continue using but also to encouraging new operators and traffic flows on to the system. This can only happen if the infrastructure is suitable to the various types of service and accessible to the train operator, and it is obvious that for that to happen that there has to be targeted investment for renovating the existing networks and developing new options both regionally and intra-regionally. There is a clear thirst to connect these various parts of the system, with the help of European funding, in the development of corridors linking regions together for the benefit of freight and passenger mobility across Europe or between Europe and the eastern markets.

For this connectivity to be maximised, rail needs to innovate and to do so with clear ideas of what it wants to achieve and with the backing and sponsorship from various governments and financial institutions on the basis of solid plans of action. There is a very clear need to embrace the significant advances in technology in terms of information technology and digitalisation that has occurred over the past decade. Everyone has a mobile phone and most of these have internet access, it this type of digital connectivity that the railway community must embrace.

The UIC has for many years developed and delivered a successful projects work programme to help its members to develop their business models. More recently we have been embracing the latest innovation instrument in Europe – Shift²Rail – and supporting a number of small and medium-sized rail operators (IMs and RUs) in the development of a consortium that will enable these companies to be a part of this major European innovation programme.
Here in South East Europe, I know that there is a very serious reflection ongoing on how the companies here can embrace these innovation opportunities and I know that we will hear more of that later.

On another note, knowledge is also very important. Not only the information that we impart to our customers to make their rail experience one that they would wish to repeat but also the education that we provide for our staff – the people that run the railway 365 days a year. We know that we have to prepare the next generation of railway personnel who will construct, design, operate and maintain the railway system of tomorrow.

This calls for a new approach, one that embraces the differing cultures that run through the railways of Europe but which also embraces the emerging technologies and harnesses the two.

Governments and opinion-formers need to get on board with this important concept of knowledge through better training processes and to help that development, the UIC has launched a new and unique programme of training development at various levels including a new and prestigious international railway MBA that is gathering a lot of interest.

Last but not least, there is accessibility to other modes. It is not possible for us in this century to continue to grow modes separately and in ignorance of each other. We need to optimise what we have and what we will develop, learn where we can collaborate with other modes and build on the many strengths that rail has to offer so as to maximise the transport opportunities for the people and the economy of Europe.

Again this takes a long-term political vision and a healthy dose of real willingness to make the best of all modes in the interest of society at large and foster inter-modal development rather than intra-modal competition. 

These are of course not the only aspects which would benefit the SEE area. Many of the railways in this area are key to the development of the interoperable Future European Railway System, not least amongst which the identification and coordination of projects aimed at improving capacity, removing bottlenecks and facilitating seamless transport.

Naturally this area is part of the wider European logistics chain and it is important that the right infrastructure is in place and that the operational processes are robust enough to ensure a regular, reliable and effective transport of people and different types and quantities of goods.

The method by which innovation becomes really strong is through standardisation. The UIC has been involved in this activity for all of the 90 plus years of its life and the UIC leaflets (now emerging as International Rail Standards) are the foundation of this structure. This standardisation strategy supports a range of rail system aspects including new ways to improve the technical, commercial, operational and environmental performance of rail transport, reduction of costs, and finally to support our members and the wider rail sector in their plans to improve the business of rail transportation.

UIC would be very happy to support the SEE in developing the future success of rail in the area and thus leading to greater attractiveness of rail and providing social and economic advantages.

So, the challenge of moving towards a reliable, sustainable and attractive railway system in the SEE region can significantly benefit from collaboration amongst all the stakeholders. This in turn will create a strong alliance that can collectively identify the main challenges and collaboratively develop and deliver them.

However, this cannot all only be for the sake of being seen to do something! Rail must be responsive to users’ needs, delivering reliable, affordable and attractive services as the core of a seamless and safe mobility network.  The sector must continue to apply its innovative skills to an assault on avoidable costs and to indentifying where innovation is needed. 

Massive modal shift will depend on attracting users.  Attractive services require adequate funding but that can in some ways be self-fulfilling by understanding the core issues and being speculative rather than reflective.   

A strong European railway system is the key to sustainable mobility in a low-carbon society; it is also essential to economic growth, social cohesion and people’s expectations of dynamic mobility.

For rail freight to be transported efficiently, we need there to be a level playing field with other modes and for the market place to be transparent, stable and as standardised as possible.

By working together, we can make much more of the capacity potential of our rail network and the combined opportunity to provide modern services to the customer and and efficient trade links – an improved Europe with rail at the very heart.

Cooperation and collaboration are essential to convince you, the political and financial stakeholders that rail presents an attractive investment; to make this work there is a need to look forward and to involve as many players as possible.

Thank you for your attention and I hope that these few considerations can help you in the discussions that you will have today and that together we can identify the core issues, develop the plans, encourage the right investment backing and collectively deliver a stronger more attractive rail system in this South East Europe area and its links to the wider European rail system.  

Europe is ready to help and LL and the other speakers will no doubt be explaining more about these not-to-be-missed opportunities.

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