The rapid development of Asian economies, particularly China, India and Russia has dramatically increased the trade volumes between Europe and Asia, with the largest trading partners of Europe actually being located in Asia. Nowadays, the most important trade loads are being transported between the two continents by sea.
Railway transport, using the existing and new land routes for the Trans-Eurasian land bridge presents a viable alternative to the maritime routes, which is gaining significant momentum. Due to the origins and current nature of this rail land bridge, numerous issues need to be resolved to bring the system to a modern state of infrastructure, services and operations. Furthermore, to build the capacity to fully exploit the systems potential adaptation of new technologies, interoperability solutions and optimized operations should be considered.
To support this objective, NEAR2 proposed the development of a Rail Research Network, drawing knowledge and expertise form leading institutions and researchers from both continents.
The project capitalises upon the existing structure and leverages the achievements of the existing European Rail Research Network and builds upon the reservoir of expertise of the proposed project partners gleaned from the most relevant past and on going research projects and other activities. The Network aims to become the resource arm of the relevant industry.
NEAR2 will establish a unique, international, interdisciplinary research capacity with the goal of contributing in advancing a major sector of the region's economy, as well as broaden the knowledge basis of the railway research and practice.
Europe-Asia Railway Transport: Issues and Prospects
An EU-led team established an international research network that examined the prospects and challenges facing the further development of Europe-Asia rail freight corridors. It assessed relevant policies and strategies of involved countries to identify problems hindering further corridor development and propose measures to improve their performance.
Asian countries account for about 42 % of European trade. Sea freight carries the bulk of goods, but rail potentially offers advantages such as shorter travel times and access to landlocked countries.
Yet, a number of issues remain before rail becomes a sustainable intermodal alternative to air and maritime transport, which the EU-funded http://www.near2-project.eu (NEAR2) (Network of European – Asian rail research capacities) project addressed. The 13-member consortium identified technology needs, knowledge gaps, market and policy issues to be addressed to improve the physical infrastructure, services and operations across the European-Asian rail corridors. Doing so requires introduction of new technologies and capacity for interoperability, integration and harmonisation starting with the legal step-by-step harmonisation in the states participating in the trans-Eurasian corridors.
The NEAR2 Rail Research Network brought together and engaged research centres in a continuous and fruitful international cooperation, supporting policy decision, exploiting the market potential and improving operations in the Europe-Asia rail corridors. It comprises members of the European Rail Research Network of Excellence (EURNEX) and 20 associate member institutions from the Czech Republic, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, India, China and Lithuania.
Consortium results suggest sustainability of the trans-Eurasian railway concept, given certain conditions are met. The project defined and documented the key issues, offering solutions detailed in ten Concept Documents. Each Document reflected the outcome of a separate Working Group. Topics included: strategy and economics, operations and system performance, rolling stock, product qualification methods, intelligent mobility, safety and security, energy efficiency, plus infrastructure and signalling. Remaining items covered human and social factors, plus training. The Documents were validated by a group of experts, including industry representatives and researchers who participated in three workshops organised by the project.
The project's final publication detailed relevant policy information from the EU, China, India, Kazakhstan, Russia and other Asian countries. The publication also documented existing rail services and commodities currently transported by rail. The consortium recognised the need to document additional candidate commodities, potential routes and ways of interfacing the rail link with other forms of transportation.
NEAR2's network yielded suggestions for improving and operating a Europe-Asia freight rail transport system. The concept should mean improved EU trade with Asia.