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As the world’s resources become scarcer and climate change poses an ever-increasing threat, the future of Europe lies in embracing sustainable development strategies and investing in sustainable solutions to meet its long-term challenges.


The success of delivering the S2R Programme starts with the joint willingness of its Members, that such as Plasser & Theurer represent the excellence of the European Industry in a global market.

Guest article
Carlo Borghini, Executive Director of Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking

Endorsed by the Council of Ministers of Transport of the European Union, the 2015 Shift2Rail Master Plan (S2R MP), identifies eight key challenges being faced by the European Rail sector:

• Strengthening the role of rail in the European transport system and the global competitiveness of European industry

  • Quality of service
  • Cost
  • Integrating the European market
  • Infrastructure
  • Competitiveness
  • Skills
  • Innovation

In the recent years, these challenges have been topped up with three key priorities: sustainability (including decarbonisation), digitalization, and automation: they will underpin tomorrow’s mobility.

The S2R MP provides a high-level view of what needs to be done, it sets the framework for the research and innovation (R&I) activities to be performed within and beyond the S2R Programme 1) and the deployment activities to be carried out by all operational stakeholders, coordinated to achieve the Single European Railway Area. 

This was the Legislator’s objective with the Council Regulation No. 642/2014, creating and tasking the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking (S2R JU) to manage all rail-focused research and innovation actions co-funded by the European Union. 

Established in 2014 as a public-private partnership, the S2R JU has been fully operational since May 2016. The S2R JU functions as a platform bringing together different stakeholders from the railway sector (e.g. rail equipment manufacturers, infrastructure managers, railway undertakings, infra­structure managers, etc.) for them to collaborate, coordinate innovation efforts and exchange expertise. In addition, as a platform, it offers opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Research Centres, and Universities to join the research and innovation activities.

Through involvement both from the Union and from the sector 2), the S2R JU is a joint venture, which benefits from a wealth of ideas and active participation from actors throughout the value chain who are committed to achieving their mutual goals. The Shift2Rail JU is on the way to deliver the following results:

  1. Cutting the life-cycle cost of railway transport (i.e. costs of building, operating, maintaining, renewing and dismantling infrastructure and rolling stock) by as much as 50%
  2. Doubling railway capacity
  3. Increasing reliability and punctuality by as much as 50%

Through these efforts, the Shift2Rail JU paves the way for the rail sector towards a circular economy approach – a system that aims to eradicate resource and energy waste through highly efficient practices and long-lasting design, construction, and maintenance – making use of digitalization, automation and any future science discovery and technology. 

In order to realise its vision, the railway needs to establish and develop a range of new Innovation Capabilities. 

The S2R JU and its Programme are designed to make a decisive contribution to delivering the essential knowledge and innovation that will provide the building blocks to develop the Innovation Capabilities. 

The work conducted within the S2R JU to deliver the Innovation Capabilities is structured around five asset-specific Innovation Programmes (IPs) covering the different structural (technical) and functional (process) sub-systems of the rail system.   

These five IPs are supported by work in five cross-cutting areas (CCA) covering themes that are of relevance to each of the projects and which address the interactions between the IPs and the different subsystems. 

The practical demonstration of S2R R&I activities is being carried out using a combination of single technology demonstrators (TDs), integrated technology demonstrators (ITDs and the resulting Innovation Capabilities), and system platform demonstrators (SPDs). 

By the end of 2017, EUR 333.2 million has already been invested in R&I activities by the partnership that are expected to reach just below EUR 0.5 billion by the end of 2018. 

The benefits of reaching the S2R targets through focused and coordinated S2R R&I include, accordingly with the impact assessment of the S2R Programme, the following: 

  • An indirect leverage on industry R&I related to the development of industrial products exploiting H2020 innovations, worth up to EUR 9 billion in the period 2017-2023 
  • Creation of additional GDP at EU level worth up to EUR 49 billion in the period 2015-2030, and spread among a large number of Member States
  • Creation of up to 140 000 additional jobs in the period 2015-2030
  • Additional exports worth up to EUR 20 billion in the period 2015-2030 thanks to the worldwide commercialisation of new rail technologies developed under H2020
  • Life-cycle cost savings worth around EUR 1 billion in the first 10 years and then, through continued implementation, worth around EUR 150 million per year

Concretely, the R&I activities performed within the S2R JU include:

  • Rolling stock development of concepts towards the next generation of traction systems able to master technologies breakthrough developments like Silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors applied to different railways traction applications to achieve optimal traction and braking effort in the future. New concepts and architectures for train control and monitoring, with specific applications in train-to-ground communications and high safety electronic control of brakes.
  • Rail signalling technological advancement and traffic management synchronizing the development of different aspects of required technological solutions, e.g. on-board automation systems, high-capacity radio communications systems, safe train separation systems, cyber security systems, innovative testing processes, etc. By offering improved functionalities and standardized interfaces, based on common operational concepts, facilitating the migration from legacy systems, we will decrease overall costs, adapting it to the needs of the different railway segments.
  • Infrastructure whole system-approach progress enhancing and enhancing existing switch & crossings and track systems in order to ensure the optimal line usage and capacity. Investigating novel ways of extending the life of bridges and tunnel assets through new approaches to maintaining, repairing and upgrading these structures. Managing assets in a more holistic, intelligent and consistent way, using lean operational practices and smart technologies that can contribute to improving the reliability and responsiveness of customer service and the whole economics of rail transportation. In addition ambitious research for a step, yet radical, change in the design and the technology of the track system, in particular the switches and crossing (S&C) sub-system.
  • Passenger centric IT solution enriching the suite of support facilities for the “one-stop shop“ sale and use of transport products and ancillary services across multiple transport modes as well as travel companion and travel tracking to enable the delivery of next generation traveller experience, including the support in case of disruptions across multiple modes. This work is key to enable a better accessibility and connectivity of the rail system seamlessly with other modes and embedded in a local, regional and cross border context. Therefore, conditions for a market uptake of a multimodal market place supported by a semantic web of transportation will be as well researched setting up the ground for future “interoperability framework” developments.
  • Research activities targeting increased freight attractiveness through automation of the chain of processes including equipment, nodes, lines, leading to testing of autonomous freight train prototypes. With particular attention to noise and LCC, new developments on freight locomotive are planned with improvements for last mile freight distribution concepts and research to enable longer freight trains or driver advisory systems (DAS). Disruptive concepts for intelligent freight wagon with predictive maintenance will be investigated to increase attractiveness and competitiveness of the rail freight transportation, especially for perishable, dangerous or expensive goods by providing traceability of the cargo with a low cost system.
  • Cross-cutting activities starting with the definition of socio-economic factors that can contribute to an attractive railway system and how in particular in relation to the innovations that will be achieved in the S2R Programme. Transversal evaluation and methodologies around energy, noise and vibration to ensure that all potential improvement brought by the S2R technical innovations are well identified/able when applied together into rail products and system solutions. An integrated approach to deal with the safety and security of the railway system and an integrated planning that takes into account interdependencies in the railway system. This will deliver precise railway network simulation to support railway operational planning and best decision making concerning global safety aspects.

Demonstration activities are a priority within Shift2Rail, as they will enable the entire rail sector to visualise and concretely test the transformations that they are able to create. Demonstrations will also enable a more appropriate quantification of the impact of each new technology (either alone or in combination with other innovations).

In addition to the R&I Roadmap and to ensure a consistent deployment strategy, other key aspects involved in the way forward include placing innovation within a standards and regulatory framework, developing a credible business view, implementing an efficient risk assessment strategy, and establishing effective collaboration with other key organisations involved in the future of the European rail sector.

The success of delivering the S2R Programme starts with the joint willingness of its Members, that such as Plasser & Theurer represent the excellence of the European Industry in a global market. The S2R JU started a paradigm shift in the way to achieving a major system transformation in the rail systems, rethinking the way of delivering R&I results.

1) The S2R Programme runs between 2014 up to 2020 with the possibility of final implementation and phasing out by 2024.

2) Founding Members: European Union, ALSTOM Transport SA, ANSALDO STS S.p.A., Bombardier Transportation GmbH, Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles S.A., Network Rail Infrastructure Limited, Siemens Aktiengesellschaft, THALES, Trafikverket.

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