Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (EU-Rail) is established by Council Regulation (EU) 2021/2085 of 19 November 2021. It is the new European partnership on rail research and innovation established under the Horizon Europe programme (2020-2027) and the universal successor of the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking. The vision of EU-Rail is to deliver, via an integrated system approach, a high capacity, flexible, multi-modal and reliable integrated European railway network by eliminating barriers to interoperability and providing solutions for full integration, for European citizens and cargo. EU-Rail’s draft Master Plan was presented to stakeholders on 19. November. EPF was able to give its feedback. 

To achieve a modal shift, we need to improve the attractiveness of rail, starting from the end-users’ needs and ensuring a wide uptake of R&I results by all stakeholders in the sector. Rail R&I as proposed in the EU-Rail Master Plan can help deliver this vision, on the condition that in all stages of innovation, sufficient attention is given to uptake – both by the passengers and the rail sector.

EPF welcomes EU-Rail’s ambition to ensure “a fast transition to a more attractive, user-friendly, competitive, affordable, easy to maintain, efficient and sustainable European rail system, integrated into the wider mobility system” as well as the ‘system of systems’ approach that is apparent in its draft Master Plan. Our main comments were:

  • Technological advancements can deliver great benefits, however in general we need to avoid a ‘technology push’ and adopt a user-centred approach. We therefore welcome that the Master Plan foresees research on user acceptance and user needs.
  • A holistic approach is needed, avoiding to think and act in silos: as stressed in the Master Plan, integration with other modes is very important; in addition alignment of existing R&I initiatives in the rail sector (and beyond) is also crucial.
  • It is positive that in the Master Plan attention is given to regional lines, necessary to ensure connectivity also in less densely populated areas. Here technological advancements can help make such services feasible and affordable to maintain or reopen.
  • In general, a clear ‘route to market’ or exploitation plan is needed: How can the whole transport ecosystem (rail, but also other transport stakeholders) benefit from the innovations that are being developed? Who governs these innovations? Who can apply them and under which conditions?

To conclude, the technological solutions proposed by EU-Rail are a starting base for operators to develop attractive products and services for customers, considering also changing customer requirements due to important trends (impact of Covid-19, but also for example ageing, and growing environmental awareness). To ensure that EU-Rail’s R&I meets actual user needs, involvement of both end-users and stakeholders in the development (at all stages of innovation) is crucial.

The EU-Rail Master Plan is available here.