Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: Using research to create a dynamic European rail sector, The Annual Reception of UNIFE (Association of Railway Supply Industries)

March 9, 2006

Brussels, 8 March 2006

The Annual Reception of UNIFE (Association of Railway Supply Industries)
Brussels, 8 March 2006

Mr Navarri,

Members of UNIFE,

Members of the European Parliament,

Distinguished Guests,

It gives me great pleasure to be here this evening to address representatives of the European rail industry.

It is not only your industry’s past contribution to research that must be acknowledged, but also your commitment to research and innovation as a means to achieve European competitiveness throughout the 21st Century.

Tonight I will address current developments in European research and what they mean for your industry. I also have high expectations of you for the achievement of the European research agenda and I will highlight these as we go along.

Europe’s leading role in rail technology

Europe plays a leading role in rail technology. You are the world’s largest railway equipment manufacturers, satisfying 70% of demand.

You ensure Europe’s leadership in rail technology; with High Speed Trains, Maglev trains and driverless Metros running all over the world.

This fits neatly within the Lisbon process to make Europe the world’s most advanced knowledge-based economy and society.

The importance of railway research for competitiveness and sustainability

The EU’s 2002 Transport White Paper established ambitious goals for modal shift, investment in rail infrastructure and, most importantly, for improvement in rail competitiveness.

Railway research must form part of the solution.

Today’s “state of the art” soon becomes the global industry standard. Constant research is needed to maintain a competitive advantage through the development of new concepts, smarter production techniques, materials and methods.

Encouraging the involvement of high tech SMEs and cooperation at international level will strengthen this process.

UNIFE has announced that its members are now investing 500 million euros in research and innovation each year and have invested more than 1 billion euros in the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

This is very encouraging, and it will secure high value jobs which support the Lisbon Agenda.

The increasing adoption of ERTMS means that it should now achieve its objective of becoming the signalling standard for Europe and the main catalyst for interoperability.

Furthermore, interest from India and China reinforces the export potential for ERTMS-based systems.

Role of Research for Europe’s future

The Rail Sector’s involvement in cooperative European research is well established. Your continuing engagement in research, innovation and implementation is essential for the future prosperity of your industry.

There are three main benefits from conducting research at EU level:

  • Firstly, EU research has a real technical and economic impact. Results of EU sponsored research, such as the SAFETRAIN project, have been used as a direct input to the Technical Standards of Interoperability;
  • Secondly, research in Europe is too fragmented. European joint research concentrates R&D investment, adding value through the coordination of effort and knowledge across frontiers;
  • Thirdly, European Research fosters excellence through training, mobility, career development and competition at European level. This is demonstrated in the rail sector through the EURNEX Network of Excellence.
The Framework Programmes, and all other efforts to improve investment in knowledge, are crucial for our sustainable growth and prosperity and to underpin the European Union’s position as a strong global partner.

In parallel, Europe enjoys most economic benefit when EU funding, Member State and regional research investment are complementary.

Targets to increase research investment

However, although Member States consider R&D as a top priority, only half of them have set research investment targets in line with the EU objective of reaching 3 % of GDP by 2010.

If current Member State commitments are met, the EU would attain the level of 2.6% of GDP devoted to research in 2010. You might think this sounds reasonable. But then bear in mind that, if current trends continue, China will be investing as much in research as the EU in 2010 and will thereafter overtake us. Today research investment in China is increasing by 20% every year, thanks to increases in private investment.

The 3% target can only be achieved if business also raises its share in Europe, from the current 55 % to two thirds of all R&D spending.

The Aho Report

I would like to draw to your attention to the AHO Group Report entitled “Creating an Innovative Europe”, which was commissioned by Council following the Hampton Court Summit last October.

Mr AHO, the former prime minister of Finland, chaired a small group of personalities that drafted this report, which contains several recommendations that are important for us today.

In particular, it stresses the key role of Technology Platforms in the creation and exploitation of innovation-friendly markets, and notes the priorities for action set by the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC).

The report highlights the importance of an integrated approach for transport and the role that rail has to play for tomorrow’s sustainable transport and logistics.

In addition, it reminds us that large scale action through Research and Innovation is necessary to maintain our way of life and model of society.

Role of Research in European industrial policy

Research has a prominent role in the wider European industrial policy. The new European industrial policy builds on a horizontal approach between EU policies in areas such as research, regulation and finance.

The 7th European Research Framework Programme - FP7 - is part of this wider picture. And so are the Technology Platforms such as ERRAC.

As part of this horizontal approach, my colleague Günter Verheugen and I presented a joint action plan on research and innovation last October.

The measures proposed include an innovation-friendly revision of the EU state aid regime, better use of public procurement to promote research and innovation, European guidelines on the use of fiscal incentives, guidelines on industry-academia collaboration, better use of intellectual property rights.

These measures would significantly increase the attractiveness of Europe as a natural base for industrial R&D. The aim is to ensure that manufacturing industries, such as yours, stay and expand in Europe.

ERRAC, European Rail Research Advisory Council

The European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) is one of the most mature Technology Platforms. It represents a major step forward. Before ERRAC there was a diffuse response from the railway sector to the Commission’s research Framework Programmes.

ERRAC has produced its Strategic Rail Research Agenda – the SRRA – setting out its research strategy for the next twenty years. It has defined a set of research priorities and critical technologies which helped consolidate the Work Programme for the Sixth Research Framework Programme, FP6.

ERRAC’s strategic agenda is clearly reflected in FP6. As evidence we have the principal Integrated Projects which include MODTRAIN (Innovative modular vehicle concepts for an integrated European railway system), INTEGRAIL (INTElligent inteGration of RAILway systems) and MODURBAN (Modular Urban Guided Rail Systems).

Inspired by ERRAC’s work to date, I look forward to your input to FP7.

The “Rail 21” vision which is launched today represents an impressive statement of your intentions. I would like to congratulate ERRAC on the energy and enterprise that has gone into defining research clusters that correspond to the priorities of both the SRRA and FP7.

The document states that the biggest issue facing European railways at the moment is the pressure to drive down costs. Lower costs would mean that the attractiveness of rail as a means of transport would be increased and the modal shift from other forms of transport enhanced.

Research for driving down costs therefore fits well with the underlying aim of FP7, which is to enhance the competitiveness of European industry while at the same time enhancing its environmental performance.

The worldwide export potential of an intelligent and integrated European transport solution that could be run at low cost is clear.

Looking ahead to FP7, I would now urge ERRAC to link with the other transport related platforms to establish an integrated approach that considers all modes of transport within the logistics chain in the context of the complete European transport system.

Ensuring the establishment of a research policy for rail

FP7 presents an opportunity for change. Transport has been recognised as an activity in its own right, strengthening rail’s position as one of the main pillars of European competitiveness.

The “Rail 21” approach clearly sets out “What” needs to be done in terms of research for your sector. But more needs to be done to define “How” to do it.

That is why it is fundamentally important that those of you here today – and the other participants in the ERRAC initiative – should ensure that a research policy framework is in place.

There must be a clear industry commitment to a recognised railway research policy.

I look forward to ERRAC getting to grips with this challenge and delivering the necessary research framework.

It will be important to see results during this term, under the Chairmanship of Ã…ke WENNBERG and the railway manufacturing industry.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to next year already, it is clear that 2007 will be a special year for the European Rail Sector.

The European High Speed Rail Network will take a massive leap forward with the completion of the High Speed Line to Amsterdam, the inauguration of the TGV Est services, the completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into central London, initial traffic on the Nürnberg-Ingolstadt High Speed line, and the opening of the link from Liège to Aachen.

Both the Lötschberg Base tunnel (in Switzerland) and the Betuwe line (in the Netherlands) will open, creating efficient arteries for freight flows through Europe.

A little further afield, in China, the route to Tibet (the highest railway line in the world) will start operating – using coaching stock built by Bombardier Transportation.

These events show that the rail sector has a bright and confident future based on European technology.

Build on these successes. Show that you have the talent and the energy to create a dynamic European Rail Sector.

I am sure that research and technology can serve as driver to deliver a 21st Century European railway system of which we can all be justifiably proud. I wish all those involved every success along this stimulating path.

Make the Rail 21 Vision a reality!

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/154 Date: 08/03/2006

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