"With increasingly pressing societal challenges, such as climate change, the rising price of petrol, congestion and fuel shortages, rail will have a very strong role to play, as the backbone of the sustainable transport system."
Today SmartRail World is delighted to be able to speak to Libor Lochman, Executive Director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), the leading European railway association. It was founded in 1988 with twelve members and now brings together more than 80 railway undertakings, infrastructure companies and vehicle leasing companies, including long-established bodies, new entrants and both private and public-sector organisations. CER members represent about 75% of the rail network length, more than 85% of the rail freight business and over 90% of rail passenger operations in EU, EFTA and EU accession countries.
Libor Lochman has a strong background in Control-Command and signalling systems and prior to his role as CER Deputy Executive Director and leader of technical affairs (2007-2011), he acted as director of the Railway Test Centre, a facility for testing European rolling stock, infrastructure and signalling components, in Prague (2000-2005).
Luke Upton (LU): At SmartRail Europe in February, you spoke about the railway of the future. What would you say is the most important characteristic of the railway of the future?
Libor Lochman (LL): The railway of the future will be a travel enabler, able to respond to user needs in an even more reliable and tailored way than it does today. It will be at the heart of an integrated and attractive transport system, acting as the backbone of the sustainable transport chain. Real-time travel information will become the norm, and rail will be even more involved in everyday life, providing increasingly comfortable solutions.
Against the background of increasing congestion and oil shortage, passengers will no longer be able to rely on private cars as much as in the past, and sustainable mass transport will become essential to cater their mobility needs. Rail will certainly have a key role to play, benefiting from its dense network and providing citizens with seamless, reliable and affordable services.
LU: Thanks and so how are changing passenger demands, in particular with regard to technology, shaping your members plans for the future?
LL: Adapting to changing trends in customers’ behaviour is crucial for our members. Also evolution of technology has a significant impact on our members’ services. One particularly good example of this can be found in the field of ticket distribution. Customers are increasingly technology-savvy, and expect to get all relevant information at their fingertips in a few clicks, through a wide variety of data channels offering real time and personalised information. The emergence of smartphones and new Information Technologies (IT) is driving this technological and behavioural revolution in the transport world. The rail sector itself is keen to embrace these solutions in order to better meet the needs and expectations of modern customers, and has already started doing so, with the development of door-to-door multimodal journey planners, smart apps, ticketless solutions and close partnerships with other modes.
LU: Recently, we have recently seen a number of exciting ticketing developments making it easier and more efficient to engage with Pan-European train travel. Where do you see the sector going in terms of ticketing?
LL: Rail ticketing has indeed come a long way in the last decade, with numerous exciting new developments. Railway operators have taken up opportunities offered by modern technologies, e-business and the emergence of chip cards and smartphones. Further improvements will take place in the coming years , and providing more choice and information to passengers will be essential. In this respect, European passenger railways, members of CER, and ticket vendors represented by the associations ECTAA and ETTSA launched in October of last year a joint initiative called the Full Service Model, designed to enhance end-to-end journey information and make it easier to book train and intermodal journeys on a diversity of distribution channels. This initiative will facilitate cross-distribution and allow railways to offer more choice and information to passengers, by making the most of modern IT developments. This will of course have a strong bearing on the future of rail distribution.
Aside from this, I think it is fair to consider that the biggest trend with ticketing is and will continue to be progressive dematerialisation of tickets, with the disappearance of tickets as we know them today. In practice, electronic applications will be offered on more and more destinations, allowing passengers to travel without paper tickets.
LU: With these new ticketing developments have made rail a more attractive mode. How else can rail operators challenge airlines to grow market share of cross-European modes of transport?
LL: Indeed new ticketing developments have and will continue to increase the attractiveness of rail, by making it easier for passengers to use rail transportation. But other parameters also come into play, such as speed, reliability, extensiveness of the network, the ability to offer door-to-door links using the intermodal solutions, and comfort, to name but a few. All of these parameters are important differentiating factors in a competitive environment.
Rail operators and airlines are often perceived as competitors, and this is partially true when considering medium distances in Europe. Here, rail operators have managed quite successfully to challenge airlines, due to the emergence of high speed links between major European cities. High speed trains running in the range of 300 – 320 km/h have for instance cut travel time by rail by 45% between Brussels and Frankfurt and by more than 60% between Madrid and Barcelona, making rail a much more attractive option. These new and faster links have also better equipped rail to compete efficiently against the private car. All in all, experience has shown that when new high speed lines are built, a large part of the traffic- over 70% - is actually transferred from air and road: for example, in its twenty years of operations, Eurostar has managed to take around 80% of the traffic between Paris and London. New traffic is also induced which would not have occurred without the creation of a high-speed link, demonstrating that high-speed lines not only result in modal shift from air and road to rail, but also attract additional passengers and contribute to the territorial cohesion within countries as well as between EU Member States.
But rail operators and airlines are not only competitors; they can and should be strong partners. Rail has a tremendous role to play as feeder for long distance flights, increasingly replacing short-haul flights. Recognising this potential, a growing number of bi-lateral collaborations between rail operators and airlines are taking place, both at national and pan-European level. Here, intermodality in the field of distribution and ticketing offers clear opportunities to both air and rail. The emergence of e-ticketing, of new forms of commercial partnerships, and new distribution models are facilitating the enhancement of existing collaborations and the emergence of new ones.
LU: Fascinating, and finally what excites you most about the future of rail in Europe?
LL: Technological developments, in terms of speed of rail connections, smart ticketing or innovative apps providing tailored and real-time information, are all exciting developments. They will allow our sector to continue serving the needs of its customers, and will help rail attract an increasing number of passengers.
With increasingly pressing societal challenges, such as climate change, the rising price of petrol, congestion and fuel shortages, rail will have a very strong role to play, as the backbone of the sustainable transport system. The European rail sector has the potential to become the essential land transport mode, the solution of choice for the future, by providing efficient solutions to both societal and individual mobility needs.
To a large extent, however, rail’s future will depend a great deal on investment in infrastructure, which will drive, to a large extent, rail’s performance, reliability and attractiveness. This is true for both the transport of passengers and freight – something we have not mentioned today, but which also constitutes a crucial part of rail current and future services. Red tape should also be limited to a minimum, in order to allow entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish. If these conditions are in place, I have no doubt that rail has a very bright future ahead.
Libor Lochman was one of over 100 industry leaders who spoke at SmartRail Europe in Amsterdam in February 2014. SmartRail is the definitive European rail signalling, telecoms and technology congress and expo. For more on the event click here and to find out more about CER's important work in our industry visit www.cer.be