Network Rail Chief Executive.

Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines addressed the RIA annual conference on November 5.

UK: Speaking at the Railway Industry Association’s annual conference in London on November 5, Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines expressed concern that the difficult political relationship between the UK government and the European Union since Brexit poses a risk to future access to European railway research programmes.

‘It is a genuine concern’, Haines told Rail Business UK. British participation in Shift2Rail had been ‘compromised by Brexit’, he confirmed, adding that NR wanted to ‘continue to be involved’, especially as — alongside Sweden’s Trafikverket — it had been one of only two national infrastructure managers to sign up as founder members of the original joint undertaking.

The Shift2Rail JU is now approaching the end of its mandate after five years, and a successor known as Europe’s Rail is currently being established under the EU’s Horizon Europe pan-industry research programme for 2021-27, which has a budget of €95∙5bn.

Haines felt that continued participation was particularly important as Britain was fighting to overcome ‘a lost generation’ of railway R&D, despite recent regulatory settlements allocating increased amounts to the field. ‘Access to the programme is on our radar and on that of government officials for sure’, he confirmed. ‘It’s a political alignment issue though — railway research in itself isn’t big enough to outweigh all the other issues affecting these relationships at the moment. The good news is that the government does see this as an important area for the railway.’

The European Commission is currently consulting on the draft Master Plan for Europe’s Rail, which was released on October 29. The JU to be formally established before the end of this year is expected to play an important role in developing and trialling innovations in digitalisation and the automation of railway operations, with a view to accelerating commercial uptake of new technology and driving down industry costs.

Shift2Rail Catalogue of Solutions

Tangible outcomes from the 100 or so research projects across the five Shift2Rail workstreams have included contributions to the Digital Automatic Coupler programme for European freight wagons, Automatic Train Operation using ETCS and the development of components for the Future Railway Mobile Communications System that will succeed GSM-R.

A mechanism for UK organisations across various sectors to participate in Horizon Europe as associates had been agreed in principle when Britain formally left the EU in January 2020. But increasing political tension between London and Brussels, particularly relating to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, appears to have put this approach in doubt. On November 7, the Sunday Telegraph reported that UK officials were considering withdrawing funding worth approximately €15bn from Horizon Europe.