Making the most of the digital revolution

7 December 2018

Jean-Pierre spoke about how rail systems could meet the mobility challenges of the future, about the economic implications of high speed rail, and about whether HSR was delivering on its promise of improving society, at the 4th, 5th, and 6th International Railway Summits respectively.

Jean-Pierre will speak at the 7th International Railway Summit about how digital technologies can enable smooth cross-border travel and trade.

The first thing to note is that rail appears as a key factor in the 21st century world.

Rail is essential but in complementarity, not competition, with other modes, as the backbone of a new mobility chain.

Rail from its origin has survived various revolutions:

  • The industrial revolution at the very beginning
  • An energy revolution in the 70s
  • An information technology revolution in the 80s – 90s

Today, we are now facing the so called 4th revolution: A digital revolution.

This revolution is generating very strong impacts on all decision-making processes, all production and maintenance processes and obviously on the whole information chain itself.

Rail must obviously profit from this technical revolution in order to rapidly and efficiently improve productivity, security and services thanks to connectivity.

One key word is “speed”, since we currently face very strong demands from the markets.

These markets can be intra-urban markets, inter-urban, inter-regional or even inter-continental markets if we consider the emergence of large inter-continental corridors.

Nowadays decision-making cycles are faster and faster. This can be seen as being in contradiction with the operating modes of rail, since investments are really important considering the size of their deployment, and the long cycles of ROI.

These rapid developments obviously demand new approaches and new competencies directly linked to the information domain.

But these have to remain fully compliant with rail technologies and the complexity of its system.

We must admit that, today, the rail sector, whatever the economic context might be, is running out of the resources that would allow the development and the implementation of these new emerging technologies.

Considering this statement, we definitely have to adopt new modes of cooperation.

  • Intermodal partnerships have to be enhanced in order to mutualize potential impacts on interfaces, and on shared customers.
  • Incubators allow us to work in a different way: Focus on research; Anticipation with the development of Proof of Concepts, demonstrators etc. Innovative funding modes have to be considered as well.
  • Links with universities since it is in their hearts and minds, their talents, that the needs of the market, of their market, will be expressed tomorrow. They are the ones who will answer these demands with the emergence of new expertise.

That is the reason why UIC works in close partnership with major actors such as UITP, UNFCC or IATA, why we have developed a Digital platform and an Alliance program with Universities.

Such collaborations enable a better design of our interfaces and the provision of seamless information to our customers, whether Freight or Passenger.

We wish to, and must, open this 19th century pyramid focused on closed working methods and create new circuits open to the outside world, with new partners and relays.

Category: Blog Digital Revolution International Railway Summit passenger rail Research and Innovation


About the author

Jean-Pierre was appointed Director General of UIC in March 2009. He holds a large scope of responsibilities at international and professional level; in 2014 he was appointed Member of the High-level Advisory Group to the United Nations Secretary General on Sustainable Transport, and he is Chairman of AFFI (the French association of railway engineers and managers).