Innovation as a basis for the development of rail transportation
RAIL – TRAINS, SUBWAYS, TRAMS – IS AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. THE DYNAMIC TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THESE MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION INCREASES THEIR AVAILABILITY, IMPROVES TRAVEL COMFORT, AND SHORTENS TRAVEL TIMES. AS A RESULT, THIS LEADS TO THE EXPECTED INCREASE OF THE SHARE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IN THE TOTAL VOLUME OF PASSENGER TRANSPORTATION.
In addition to the social dimension, the economic aspect of this process is also very important. The construction of modern vehicles as well as the modernization and expansion of the broadly understood rail infrastructure involve of a large number of economic entities. It has a positive influence on both industry and innovation, which is rightly seen as one of the main factors contributing to the wealth of society.
In today’s world research and development institutes, development centers operating within concerns and production companies, as well as universities constitute the main hubs for the creation of innovative solutions and systems.
For 67 years the Railway Research Institute has been closely associated with the Polish State Railways (it was part of it until 2000) as well as the entire Ministry of Transportation. The accumulated experience, unique competences, and specialist laboratories and research stations provide an excellent basis for creating and supporting innovativeness.
This raises the question of how to organize and finance research and development projects in a way that is compatible with the rules of modern free market, industrial competition, globalization of science, etc. Any attempt to answer this question should begin with a brief description of the current situation in this area.
The basic reflection concerns the place where innovative solutions are created. Due to the importance of business secrets and very narrow, specialized aspects of production[JC1] , most new products are manufactured in laboratories and design studios that are part of industrial plants, frequently owned by large concerns.
At the same time, the role of the manufacturers of, for example, railway vehicles, cars, or aircraft has also changed. Currently their task is to design a new vehicle, select appropriate equipment and subsystems, and then purchase and install them in the vehicle created. It is, therefore, more appropriate to refer to the modern manufacturers of rolling stock as integrators. The construction of a new locomotive, for instance, requires components from several hundred suppliers.
This reality sets out a specific role and tasks for the research community. I can illustrate this using the example of the institute that I manage. Our operation is focused on several areas.
The main task is, of course, to pay close attention to the development of technology related to rail transportation. This is why we closely cooperate with the domestic and foreign industry, take part in national and EU research projects, participate in many scientific and technical conferences, and organize them ourselves.
Another important area is the management and development of research facilities: specialist laboratories, research stations, dedicated measurement equipment, etc. The Railway Research Institute has a special, unique research testing ground, i.e. the experimental facility in Żmigród in Lower Silesia. It is one of eight such objects in the entire world.
With its extensive technical research facilities, the Railway Research Institute plays a special role in the economic system. Innovative system and equipment solutions developed by industry need to be tested. It would be too costly for manufacturers to own specialized testing facilities. However, they can – in full confidentiality – benefit from the “common”, domestic base of such stations, owned by a public research institution.
The use of this base is, of course, associated with certain expenses – 90% of the institute’s income is earned on the market of research and consulting services. Approximately 10% is acquired as grants from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. This brings us to the question of financing research projects. In line with previous remarks, these projects mainly concern systemic issues – not specific constructions or equipment. [JC1]
In Poland the main source of funding for research works is the National Center for Research and Development. Together with other institutes, universities, and entrepreneurs, we participate in numerous competitions announced by the Center. On a European scale, international competitions are launched under the Horizon 2020 research program with a total budget of over €80 billion. It also includes the Shift2Rail program, under which we undertake projects with, among others, companies from the PKP Group.
The UIC (International Union of Railways), with its headquarters in Paris, is a particular example of international cooperation between railways and their research base. This global organization includes the International Rail Research Board (IRRB), with me as one of its Vice-Presidents. As part of the tasks I was entrusted to coordinate, we are preparing the next edition of the document entitled “Global Vision for Railway Development”. Its contents will be discussed during a World Conference planned as a joint effort of the UIC and the Railway Research Institute, taking place in November this year in Warsaw.
It can, therefore, be said with full conviction that the atmosphere for the development of innovation in industry and rail transportation in Poland and Europe is very favorable. This is confirmed by the provisions of the “Strategy for Responsible Development”. It is a challenge for the scientific community to make good use of this time.
Andrzej Żurkowski, Director, Railway Institute
Last Updated on April 8, 2021 by Karolina Ampulska