16 Jun 2023

Press Release: 2023 UNIFE General Assembly promotes the importance of European Rail Supply Industry to Europe’s technology, climate and growth goals

Gathering in Madrid, UNIFE’s 32nd General Assembly met 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: creating highly-skilled jobs with a focus on technology, tackling climate change and developing economic resiliency. 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 rail must position itself as Europe’s preferred mode of transport.

UNIFE finds itself in Spain at a crucial moment – with the country taking hold of the EU Presidency, while being in the middle of a General Election campaign. The issues which are pressing in Spain, are the issues we are certain our industry is central to resolving - providing reliable local job opportunities, improving technological capabilities and enabling greater sustainability.

To best complete these goals, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, former Chair of UNIFE, and Chairman and CEO of Alstom reiterated our industry’s central role to rail developments in Europe, “We can provide a major contribution to Europe’s transition to a climate neutral society, but for this vision to be achieved, the right incentives and the right regulatory framework are set. And we have seen progress in recent times on this front: Decarbonisation and level-playing field with other modes of transport; EU funds keep boosting rail investments; Innovation: European industry leads in critical technologies such as ATO, ERTMS, fuel cells and batteries; Level-playing field, the International Procurement Instrument will provide some much-needed leverage to increase market accessibility in third countries, while we expect the European procurement market to be monitored carefully by the European Commission when it comes to foreign subsidies.”

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: Innovation, Sustainable Mobility, Cybersecurity, Investment, Quality, and Trade. 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 enhancement of mobility with digital solutions, ensuring fairer competition via trade instruments and an update on the major rail developments in Spain, participants considered the important paths rail must follow in the months and years ahead.

In the keynote speech, David Lucas Parrón, Secretary of State, Ministry of Transport, Mobility and the Urban Agenda, Spain, stated "There is an importance of rail to decarbonise passenger and freight transport. Rail is a key component to ensure cohesion in the EU. The Spanish Presidency of the EU will promote the revision of the TEN-T regulation, as it is a key element for Spain and Europe’s cohesion. Further to this, we need to look for alternative ways to decarbonise transport such as hydrogen trains."

During the Competitiveness and global leadership of the EU rail supply industry roundtable, Lucian Cernat representing the European Commission as the Head of Unit Regulatory Cooperation and Public Procurement at DG TRADE highlighted, “In the current context of growing protectionist tendencies in public procurement markets worldwide, the International Procurement Instrument is more important than ever to ensure a level-playing field for EU companies."

Continuing our discussion on Rail mobility and digitalisation challenges in Europe the panel provided the following key takeaways:

Kristian Schmidt, Director Land Transport, DG MOVE, European Commission, We need to fight against fragmentation at EU level, underline the importance of ERTMS deployment in the EU, and call for higher modularity in the rail system. The importance of an integrated rail infrastructure needs to be highlighted, and high standards are necessary to achieve a true Single European Railway Area.”

Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director, European Union Agency for Railways, An efficient Single European Railway Area needs investment in infrastructure, removal of cross-border barriers, and driving down costs by standardisation and competition.”

Giorgio Travaini, Executive Director Ad Interim, Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking, “Deployment is key, as there is no innovation if ideas and concepts are not deployed. Otherwise, we are only researching good ideas, but creating no impact. The impact is when the solutions are deployed into the market and we are integrating them into the system. Europe's Rail JU with its two innovation and system pillars, will create the framework and conditions to deliver new technologies and speed up their market uptake.”

 Matthias Ruete, European Coordinator for ERTMS, “Ideally, each European state should elaborate a multiannual ERTMS deployment strategy, with stable funding, covering not only trackside but also on-board ERTMS. It should be deployed not on top of the existing national class B systems, but replacing existing systems across Europe. This is a wake-up call. Railways need to move rapidly, otherwise, the future will be green road transport.”

The third roundtable covered the Major Rail Developments in Spain with noteworthy inputs from María Luisa Domínguez González Chairwoman ADIF, and President EIM, Manel Villalante, General Manager Development and Strategy, RENFE, and Juan Tébar Molinero Director of Railway Exploitation, Metro de Madrid.

During its Statutory meeting, the UNIFE membership elected to expand its ranks by ratifying the applications of 14 companies: ABB Switzerland (SW), Bodet Time & Sport (FR), Comtest Wireless International (IT), Megger (UK), Pilz (DE), Škoda Transportation (CZ), Viavi Solutions (FR), Vibratec (FR), Camlin Rail (UK), Cellnex Telecom (ESP), DIGAS (LV), The Cross Product (FR), Irdeto (NED) Bode-Die Tür (DE).

As the host of new members join the UNIFE family, there will be a change at the helm of the UNIFE Presiding board. Henri Poupart-LafargeUNIFE Chair and Alstom CEO & Chairman will pass the role of Chair on to Michael Peter, the CEO of Siemens Mobility.

Michael Peter, the new Chair of the UNIFE Presiding Board and CEO of Siemens Mobility stated: ”It is an honour to represent the railway sector during this pivotal phase of transformation. In order to progress, we need to make an impact in three areas: First, we need to achieve a truly Single European Railway Area. Today, Europe is still rather heterogenous. To deliver interoperability, we need to accelerate the deployment of ERTMS, both trackside and onboard. Second, we now have the opportunity to define how transport in the future will look like. Digitalization will be the lever to make rail more sustainable, cost-effective, and comfortable. We can achieve so much if we agree on certain standards like APIs or cybersecurity to give operators a consistent overarching picture about assets and provide passengers with improved travel opportunities. UNIFE can help us to drive this and has played a crucial role in creating standards like ETCS in the past. Third, as our industry grows, the pool of experienced and qualified professionals is insufficient to meet the demand. Therefore, making the rail industry an attractive and desirable place to work should be compulsory and not optional. In all these three areas, UNIFE plays a vital role in connecting and strengthening the complete ecosystem of our rail community. This is a crucial factor to accelerate transformation, and one I am very excited to support in the years ahead.”

Subsequently, UNIFE outlined its ongoing commitments to ensuring a strong future for the rail supply industry. The board reaffirmed the direction of the STAFFER Blueprint (Skill Training Alliance For the Future European Rail system), as it moves into the second half of its development.

The blueprint alongside last year’s development of the Gender Equity Advisory Group and UNIFE Gender Equity Policy, shows the dedication to attracting a workforce which will be central to delivering greater digitalisation and sustainability solutions in rail.

As the continuation of these initiatives is taking place during the European Year of Skills, it shows the European Rail Supply Industry’s proactiveness in ensuring that we are not only creating the products needed for future generations, but the professional environments which empower young people to achieve their full potential.

In addressing the membership, UNIFE Director General Philippe Citroën voiced his ongoing confidence in our association and the continued success of Europe’s Rail Supply Industry: “Meeting here and now, you can see how much momentum is in rail with 14 new members joining our ranks and the rotation of UNIFE’s Presidency. I sincerely thank the outgoing Henri Poupart-Lafarge (Chairman and CEO, Alstom) and incoming Michael Peter (CEO, Siemens Mobility) for their commitment promoting the importance of the European Rail Supply Industry to Europe’s technology, climate and growth goals.

By engaging with the many major rail developments in Spain - amid the backdrop of a general election and the beginning of their EU Presidency - it shows we are at the heart of the action. It is truly an exciting time to be part of the European Rail Supply Industry.” 

Lastly, the UNIFE General Assembly concluded with the approval of Brussels as the location for the 2024 edition, to be held on 13 June.

In order to read more of the outcome from the past 3 day we recommend you to visit our Twitter channel.

For further information, please contact:
Andrei Ciufu
UNIFE Head of Communications
P +32 2 626 12 64

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