The power of synergies to modernize the railway sector

The power of synergies to modernize the railway sector

An interesting talk with Mr Francois Davenne, UIC General Director, who discusses future opportunities for the railway sector, taking into account the important investments and new attitudes towards this means of transportation.
In the first excerpt of a long interview, he reveals his point of view on how various different initiatives in Europe can help shift gears in the railway industry.


13 January 2022
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The international railway landscape will benefit from the intense integration of networks, systems and strategies, propelled by the general move towards digital transformation.

Based on your experience and involvement in different initiatives (The UIC Railway Climate Responsibility Pledge, The Connecting Europe Express, FRCMS - Future Railway Mobile Communication System, etc), where do you see synergies in international objectives, challenges and strategies to modernize rail?

International connections are one of the most important issues in rail today. Railways have historically always been a very national concern, especially when it comes to the movement of passengers. The UIC is, however, has been concerned with breaking down these barriers right from its inception in 1922 (we are in fact celebrating our centenary this year!).

If you think about it, 1922 is very late for the foundation of an international union, especially when compared with other industries such as energy or telecoms, where the first union was founded in 1875. 

I mentioned this to highlight that interest in an international network has been relatively weak to date. Even when there is a will to form an international network, the challenges we come up against are significant, first and foremost the need to achieve interoperability and its complexity. For example, how do we interconnect and establish common rules for things like ticketing or signalling? The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is still proving slow to roll out, for example.

To build an international structure we need a technical common base and, specifically, we need full interoperability to cooperate on operational facilitators, at least at European level. For instance, freight transport in Europe will only survive as a competitive alternative to road transport if this is achieved. And we have some great examples to learn from: take Russia for example, here, integration was driven with incredible purpose and strength so that now 57% of freight is transported by rail. International cooperation is a growing concern across the globe; think of the Chinese Road Initiative and the Eurasian network which are going to link the world from east to west revolutionising the freight transport world. The UIC is heavily invested in creating a similar mindset for internationalisation in Europe.

At UIC we also believe that Integrating rail with other distribution systems is key to ensure its future competitiveness. This is partially the reason we designed the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), a UIC telecom project that will support digital operations in the future. 
Existing UIC GSM-R, a mid-nineties product, supports data throughput at 32Kb/s and does what it needs to do to move a train, but it provides no additional value and certainly not enough throughout for fancy services. To activate innovative digital projects, we definitely need 5G.

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Roman Kurzo
Fincons Group
Global BU Transportation General Manager