The future of sustainable surface transport - Head of unit talks to CORDIS News

May 28, 2002

Brussels, May 2002

Shifting the transport balance away from road transport cannot be done by technology or policy alone, said Head of unit for surface transport and marine technology Christos Tokamanis in an interview with CORDIS News.

With sustainability in mind, the Commission is therefore funding activities in a number of fields: energy infrastructure, vehicle technology, intermodality, educating road users, mobility services, road infrastructure and dynamic navigation. These issues will be addressed in Valencia on 4 to 6 June at the Commission's 'Surface transport technologies for sustainable development' conference. The aims of the conference are to consolidate progress made in developing the new generation of technologies for automotive, railways, ship building and intermodal transport, said Mr Tokamanis.

The conference will also look to the future of surface transport technology within the European research area (ERA) and innovation area. In addition to the immediate future, Mr Tokamanis said the conference will also look at the future from a longer term perspective. Advisory councils have already been established in order to help the Commission think as far ahead as 2020 and 2030.

'The conference is a kind of premature launching of the Sixth Framework programme [FP6] within the European Research Area, and at the same time, a look at the policy environment,' said Mr Tokamanis.

While some may question the wisdom of addressing the issues faced by road transport, rail transport and marine transport at one event, Mr Tokamanis states that there are synergies between the different modes of transport, and that these could be a building block for further work.

Sustainability has always played a key role in the Fifth Framework programme's Competitive and sustainable growth programme. But the Lisbon declaration and the more recent Gothenburg Council, which stated that sustainable development must be one of the Commission's key future policies, has given the issue a new prominence, Mr Tokamanis told CORDIS News.

Asked whether Commission should be discouraging Europe's citizens from using road transport as the least sustainable method of surface transport, Mr Tokamanis replied that 'discouraging' is not the right word.

'Today we are suffering from the success of one mode against the others. It has much to do with personal preference. People like private mobility. They buy cars and treat them as part of their home, and with the increase in prosperity and the standard of living, people are acquiring two or three of them. The Commission policy in the white paper on transport and the green paper on energy advocates a shift in the transport mix and in the energy mix,' said Mr Tokamanis.

The Commission therefore favours a shift away from the road, both for passengers and for freight, and towards railways and shipping, combined with a shift away from traditional fossil fuels to renewables and hydrogen.

But can the Commission influence transport habits with the research it chooses to fund? 'It can't be done by policy alone, and it can't be done by technology alone,' believes Mr Tokamanis.

Mr Tokamanis does believe however that by using all the available technologies, the balance can be shifted. 'The current approach relies on a very limited technology base, whereas we have at our disposal a lot of technologies,' he says.

'We want these technologies to be used in a more balanced way, taking the load away from one system and transferring it to another, thus reducing the demand for transport in the urban area [...] and transferring it to other modes of transport.'

There are drawbacks to other modes of transport, such as interoperability and interconnectivity problems on the railways, but these are some of the areas that Commission funded research has been addressing.

Research in the field of railways under FP5 has addressed passive safety, crashworthiness, new propulsion systems, energy efficiency and noise reduction. Marine transport research has meanwhile been tackling a new type of vessel which 'won't be based on empirical construction rules, but on rules which are based on risk assessment,' said Mr Tokamanis.

The Commission's support doesn't stop at the research stage. 'We are not only developing individual technologies, we're developing critical technologies which we're trying to integrate into technology platforms resembling the final product or process - that's what we're showing in Valencia - that the whole innovation process, from the idea to the research to the new product to the implementation,' Mr Tokamanis told CORDIS News.

Looking to the future, the Head of unit has already had feedback from the research community on areas that could be addressed in an integrated project or network of excellence. Integrated safety is a likely candidate for an integrated project, and networks of excellence could bring together rail research institutes to develop new standardised ways of measuring and producing. A network of excellence will also benefit the 3500 shipbuilding designers and manufacturers working in pockets around Europe.

Mr Tokamanis doesn't expect the Growth programme to lose out at all in the transition to FP6. 'The Growth programme more or less remains the same,' he says, pointing out that the transport field will see an expansion. The combined budgets for aeronautics, aerospace and surface transport research far exceeds the 2.7 billion euro budget available in FP5. 'Overall we are winners,' says Mr Tokamanis.

For further information on the conference, please consult the following web address: th/valencia/index_en.html

For further information on surface transport, please consult the following web address: th/gcc/ka03.html#top

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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