Streamed live from Lisbon on the eve of the ministerial informal Council meeting dedicated to rail, the European Year of Rail 2021’s official kick-off took place on 29 March, jointly organised by the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
During the opening session, Portugal’s Minister for Infrastructure and Housing Pedro Nuno Santos, highlighted the importance of rail for passengers and businesses. This was followed by European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean announcing the launch of the #ConnectingEurope Express – a dedicated train which will start its journey across Europe in September to promote the benefits of rail for passengers, freight and the environment.
Stopping in most European capitals, the ‘Connecting Europe Express’ will visibly show how Europe is unified in diversity and connected by rail, in the words of Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, MEP and rapporteur on the European Year of Rail. The initiative will also raise awareness of the importance of financing sustainable infrastructure such as rail, and EU support for such investment, including through the recently agreed new Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), worth €33.7 billion, as part of the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027. The train’s journey is being made possible thanks to ongoing good cooperation between rail operators and infrastructure managers across Europe.
The European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said: “The Connecting Europe Express will be a real, tangible example of the power of rail to connect. At each of the almost 40 stops, events will bring together the rail sector at large, as well as civil society organisations, local and regional authorities, and the wider public, to discuss the benefits of rail, as well as what still has to be done so that rail can become the number one option for passengers and business.”
Commenting on the launch of the Connecting Europe Express, Shift2Rail’s Executive Director, Carlo Borghini, added ‘‘We are excited to be a part of this train’s journey through Europe, and look forward to showcasing Shift2Rail’s solutions for a smarter, more interoperable and sustainable railway in the Innovation Exhibition Coach. It will be an opportunity for citizens across Europe to see at first hand the work we are doing and envisage the positive impact it will have on the mobility and transport of the future’’.
A specific session was dedicated to the Report of the Platform on International Rail Passenger Transport which summarizes the findings following the Ministerial declaration of June 2020. Shift2Rail is proud to participate to the platform activities to ensure the necessary link with future rail research and innovation to concretely support international passenger mobility and services.
Several panel discussions also took place during the kick-off event. Our Executive Director, Carlo Borghini, together with Henri Poupart-Lafarge, CEO of our Founding Member Alstom, Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of ERA, and Francisco Cardoso dos Reis, Director of International Relations of IP- Infraestruturas de Portugal and Chairman of the UIC European Region, participated in a panel debate on ‘Rail Infrastructure, Interoperability, Connectivity and Territorial Cohesion’. The significance of advancing digitalisation and automation through the implementation of the latest rail research and innovation was underlined as the way forward. Europe’s Rail, the successor to the current Shift2Rail programme was also discussed, in particular highlighting the important role of the system pillar in bringing all rail stakeholders together to develop and implement harmonised solutions. The new Joint Undertaking also looks forward to working with regions to inform local decision making.
The programme also included contributions from Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, MEP and rapporteur on the European Year of Rail, Karima Delli, Chair of the Parliament’s TRAN Committee, Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, and Stientje van Veldhoven, the Netherlands’ State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management.