Brussels, 18 May 2005
When ten new Member States joined the European Union on 1 May 2004, the land surface of the EU increased by a quarter to over 6.4 million square kilometres. Creating an interoperable rail system is therefore a key goal of the Commission, but one that presents a major challenge.
According to Luisa Prista, Head of Unit for surface transport at the Commission's Research DG: 'Railways can be a major factor in Europe's Lisbon strategy to achieve high growth and employment by 2010. But there has to be an effective EU-level appraisal of rail transport demands and how they can be best met in the coming years.'
Ms Prista continues: 'Efficient transport systems represent a force for overall socio-economic cohesion, linking rural and remote areas and disparate regions, helping with the development of cultural, regional and economic connections.'
The problem, however, is that the rail sector is characterised by a lack of interoperability and relatively low levels of research and innovation investment. But according to Ms Prista: 'The rail sector can learn from other transport modes, such as road and waterborne transport, benefiting from their experience, in particular in respect of innovation strategy and organisational research issues.'
Improving competitiveness not only calls for increased capacities and encouraging the shift from road to rail, but also depends on the delivery of improved vehicles, equipment and systems based on the latest results of technological research, she adds.
Ms Prista welcomed the creation of the European rail research advisory council (ERRAC) in 2002 and the adoption of its strategic rail research agenda as steps in the right direction, and also highlighted the rail projects funded under the Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
She also stressed the importance of research collaboration with partners outside the EU, which is still somewhat limited in the rail sector. 'These extended partnerships can bring more than technological know-how. Partners from other countries and continents bring different problem-solving approaches and mentalities and are often more commercially-oriented than we are in Europe,' Ms Prista concluded.