The rail system in Europe is faced with a challenging situation. The Railway Business Scenario 2020 drawn up by the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) has set a goal of almost tripling passenger traffic volume and more than a threefold increase in rail freight transport throughout Europe in twenty years. To achieve this ambitious goal, the competitiveness of the rail systems over other transport modes must be considerably improved, with the support of innovative products and services. This is because the European railway system is very fragmented, being a patchwork of disparate systems and networks, with their own technical and operating standards evolved independently over the last 180 years. This wide range of different rail systems in Europe presents a huge challenge for achieving pan-European rail interoperability.
The new European Rail Research Network of Excellence EURNEX aimed to provide essential contributions to meet this challenge. The 'new culture of co-operation' between all stakeholders of the European rail system prepared the ground to develop a long-lasting EURNEX network and established projects, for instance, for high speed and conventional rail
- European Driver's Desk,
and for urban rail
The strategic objectives of EURNEX were:
- to integrate the fragmented European rail research landscape by combining research activities in a network of mutually shared facilities, tools and platforms;
- to promote the railway contribution to a sustainable transport policy;
- to improve the competitiveness and economic stability of the railway sector and industry, for instance with flexibility, regarding the new challenges for rail research in a shared process;
- to achieve a self-standing and long-lasting business package for the network beyond the granting period, thus creating a durable, integrated network of excellence in rail research, technology innovation and knowledge management from the research capacities of universities and institutions, implementing knowledge from rail operators and the rail industry including SMEs.
EURNEX was organised in seven already existing regional and interregional networks. One of the most important tasks was to transform the initial geographical structure into thematic poles and platforms of excellence. The guideline for the definition of the poles was given by the research priorities of ERRAC's Strategic Rail Research Agenda (SRRA) 2020 (see www.errac.org) but EURNEX would be flexible enough to react to new rail research issues coming up in the future.
EURNEX regional and inter-regional networks involved 63 universities and research centres from 18 EU Member States and Russia, and more than 600 researchers. The members of the regional networks provided the researchers and research projects that would be integrated and form the research base for new joint projects.
EURNEX adopted a customer-oriented approach. Besides the Advisory Board representing all interested stakeholders (such as railway undertakings and infrastructure managers, the system and component suppliers and their national associations), the project included in its consortium international associations such as UIC, UNIFE and UITP.
The EURNEX project was organised in the following eight groups of activities:
- Research Programmes and Competence. This group of activities reported on the rail research projects that members had completed in the last 5 years, current projects, or projects planned to start in the next 18 months. This information was used to identify opportunities for greater project collaboration and to help to determine future research poles. It also reported on the competencies of each of the members, which will be used to help to determine membership of the research poles.
- Mobility of researchers and integration of current research. The objective was to promote personal relationships and knowledge exchange between researchers. Two important measures to support the integration process were the plenary sessions and researcher visits.
- Research poles and platforms definition. The aim was to promote new knowledge, excellence and integration in European railway research by defining areas for joint research, establishing poles and platforms of excellence.
- Validation and testing methods and product qualification. The aim was to develop common validation and test procedures and a process to enable a consistent approach to product qualification throughout EU Member States guaranteeing quality of interfaces, interoperability, safety and performance.
- New J
On 30 October 2007, EURNEX was founded as an association according to the German law at the TSB-FAV premises in Berlin. As a consequence the objective of creating a durable, integrated network of excellence in rail research, technology innovation and knowledge management was attained. The EURNEX Network of Excellence comprised of some 70 scientific institutes in the area of transport with particular expertise in rail research all over Europe. As direct docking points to the research customers, the international associations UIC, UNIFE and UITP also became members of EURNEX and integrated in the Advisory Board.
With EURNEX, the integration of the excellent European rail researchers was achieved and EURNEX became more and more visible in top rail research at the international level. This also included the launch and the further development of EURNEX Scientific Poles of Excellence, which provided the involved and committed EURNEX scientists with a number of opportunities:
- internationalisation through establishing new and trusting partnerships with colleagues from other countries, thus complementing the own capabilities to improve 'individual scientific competitiveness';
- improving knowledge about the specific challenges and future issues of the rail system in other countries (an important contribution toward enhancing the understanding of the European dimension for the future rail system);
- learning more about and discussing future issues and project approaches to cope with these challenges through direct dialogue with industry and operator representatives in the Poles;
- initiating and developing R&D projects on European scale within in the poles and with cross-pole multidisciplinary cooperation (already done with FP7 1st call, for instance).
- A set of decentralised corporate services were defined and further developed under the EURNEX umbrella.
- EURNEX EU Rail, the virtual rail university (first step: post graduate training, including short training courses).
- Rail knowledge library within the EURNEX KMS (knowledge management system) to preserve and to improve integrated knowledge about the rail system for all stakeholders.
- Neutral support for harmonised product qualification methods, railway testing and simulation; to support the European Rail Agency (ERA).
- Gender equality promoting activities to skill women for leading positions in rail research, and launch of the mentor-trainee programme.