At its first in-person convention since the outbreak of COVID-19, UNIFE gathered its members in Paris for our annual General Assembly to discuss the future of the rail supply industry at a time when Europe is ever more in need of the benefits this unique mode of transportation provides communities throughout the EU and globally.
As the safest and most sustainable form of mass transit, rail is the clear choice for policy-makers wishing to formulate responses to Europe’s most pressing concerns: economic recovery, climate change and resiliency. Just as rail suppliers proved indispensable during the pandemic by transporting patients, medical professionals and suppliers as needed, we are certain our industry will be central to confronting current and anticipated crises.
To best coordinate our industry’s contribution to overarching European objectives, UNIFE members convened in several Dialogue Forums throughout the first day of the event. In total, there were 6 conversations covering a wide array of topics: Quality, Investment and Public Procurement, Digitalisation and Innovation, Trade, Interoperability, and Sustainable Mobility. These meetings allowed for introspective analysis of lessons learnt, emerging challenges and potential opportunities for suppliers as they build the next generation of reliable, multimodal transport with rail as its backbone.
On the second day of the assembly, UNIFE members met in a series of roundtables to assess emerging developments in the worldwide rail sector. Covering topics ranging from the industry’s competitiveness to the Single European Railway Area and France’s mobility network, participants agreed that our mode of transport stands at a critical juncture. Faced with shrinking accessibility abroad and increased interest from third country companies, but empowered by expanding EU financing for new projects, now is the time for a resurgence in rail.
A full implementation of the Trans European Network – Transport (TEN-T) equipped with the cutting-edge technologies designed by our members, such as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), will be requisite to realising a cohesive, seamless, resilient and decarbonised Europe professed to be the goal of the European Union. Sustained and deep collaboration across the rail sector, namely with our collaborators at the Railway Undertakings and the Infrastructure Managers, is critical to achieving these complex and essential goals.
In a video keynote speech during the Competitiveness and global leadership of the EU rail supply industry roundtable, European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton highlighted rail’s pervasive presence in modern society and potential contributions at this moment of significant change in Europe by stating: “[Rail is] part of the daily life of millions of our citizens… but the mobility ecosystem is confronted with massive challenges – sustainability, digitalisation, competitiveness and resilience to major crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. And this is why it has become urgent to harness our twin green and digital transitions according to our own ambitions and values.”
Elżbieta Lukaniuk, Member of Cabinet of Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, stated: ”Looking at the long-term challenges, we need to minimise the impact of transport on the climate but without reducing mobility for people and goods. There is no doubt that clean, efficient and affordable public transport, and rail transport in particular will be absolutely key. For rail, the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy sets the targets to double rail freight and triple high-speed traffic by 2050. This means extensive, high-quality local and long-distance networks that offer frequent and comfortable connections and services better adapted to customers’ needs. The role of the rail industry will be instrumental in reaching these objectives!”
Similarly, when prompted to discuss key enablers for greater interoperability across European railways, Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director at the European Union Agency for Railways, said: “The technical pillar of the 4th Railway Package has been a step change in railway legislation – unique authorisation of passenger vehicles will further remove stumbling blocks on the way to interoperable rail transport in Europe.”
Continuing our discussion on connecting Europe under a Single Railway Area, Kristian Schmidt, Director of Land Transport at DG MOVE, reiterated our industry’s central role to cornerstone initiatives: “By setting clear technical specifications, we are creating a shared future for Europe’s railways. We invite the rail industry to embrace this change and to invest in these common new solutions. A modern and competitive rail system is at the heart of our green transport transition.”
As with previous editions, the event’s Statutory Meeting allowed UNIFE’s membership to exchange on the tracks ahead for the European rail sector and set priorities for its supply industry. The UNIFE General Assembly– which is composed of its members and takes any measures or actions required for the achievement of the association’s mission and objectives, as well setting the collective’s general policy – used these conversations to inform the association’s 2022-2023 Advocacy Strategy. Cognisant of the European Commission’s climate ambitions and its envisioned role for our sector as Europe grapples with industrial challenges from third countries and the detrimental effects of both COVID-19 and the Russian war on Ukraine – which has cruelly created a new refugee crisis and have heightened security concerns across the continent – our association’s advocacy objectives for the coming year will be structured under 3 pillars:
- Firstly, we will focus on how the EU can help European suppliers to continue to produce the best rail products and solutions on the world market.
- Secondly, we will work on improving the business environment in the EU and internationally to ensure that European suppliers can produce and sell their products in the best conditions.
- Still, the best products and a satisfactory business environment are inconsequential if there is no demand for rail products. Therefore, stimulating demand in the EU and globally will remain the critical third pillar of our policy strategy, especially in the post-COVID-19 period.
To best complete these goals, the membership elected to expand its ranks by ratifying the applications of 10 companies: Express Service ODD (BG), Dual Inventive Holding (NL), Scheidt & Bachmann Signalling Systems (DE), Expandium SAS (FR), Cylus Cybersecurity (IL), Softil (IL), DAKO-CZ (CZ), RailNovation (CH), RazorSecure (UK), Gillet Group (FR) and 1 Associate Member Rastia (BG).
Appreciating the considerations of UNIFE’s wide membership and the challenges posed by the current circumstances, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, UNIFE Chair and Alstom CEO & Chairman, welcomed the association’s newest members and the approval of the latest Advocacy Strategy by stating: “We are the global leaders of the sustainable mobility market with off-the-shelf solutions ready for deployment to decarbonise our transport systems. Rail is ever more part of the solution.”
Subsequently, UNIFE announced the establishment of the Gender Equity Advisory Group – a body dedicated to officialising our association’s longstanding commitment to representation and empowerment of all rail colleagues. The new UNIFE Gender Equity Policy calls attention to gender disparities in rail, advocates for increased equity as essential to our sector’s optimal performance and reiterates suppliers’ obligation to address these divides. Fittingly created during the European Year of Youth, the European Rail Supply Industry remains proactive in ensuring that we are not only creating the products needed for future generations but also the professional environments which empower all young people to achieve their full potential.
In addressing the membership, UNIFE Director General Philippe Citroën voiced his confidence in our association and the continued success of Europe’s Rail Supply Industry: “Europe and Europe’s rail suppliers can achieve even more similar successes if we use this moment – that people are beginning to recognise as a resurgence in rail – to create even greater interconnectivity across Europe. UNIFE agrees with the Commission’s recent Action Plan to boost long-distance, cross border passenger rail: Acceleration of ERTMS deployment, revision and actualization of the TEN-T Regulation, financial support for suitable rolling stock, support for a rail skills strategy, promoting rail among young people and creating a level playing field between modes and in public procurement will be key to decarbonisation and digitalisation.”
Lastly, the UNIFE General Assembly concluded with the approval of Madrid as the location for the 2023 edition, to be held between 14 and 16 June.