Successful UIC Conference on “Low carbon mobility: making modal shift desirable” held on 13 February 2020 in Brussels


UIC actively promotes at international level a multimodal vision shared with public transport and supply chain stakeholders.

Based on its members’ expertise, UIC is developing the technical enablers to transform the concept into reality.

In order to share the initiatives already taken and to find the ways to make modal shift desirable, UIC organised a one-day conference on 13 February 2020 in Brussels attended by over 100 participants of 17 different nationalities. Among them, representatives from UIC members, UIC partner railway associations, European institutions, universities, local authorities as well as from the economy.

Simon Fletcher, Coordinator of the UIC European Region, delivered UIC Director General François Davenne’s message as an introduction to the event: given the current rate of global warming, making modal shift desirable should be a priority. He added that railways should be attractive to the end user and using railways should become second nature.

Click here to read the full speech:

Keynote speakers included: Francesco Dionori, Chief of Transport Networks & Logistics Section, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Umberto Guida, Senior Director for Knowledge & Innovation, UITP, Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General, POLIS and Judit Sandor, Programme Manager for the Cross-Cutting Activities, Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking.

The first roundtable, moderated by Simon Fletcher, addressed the topic of the initiatives already taken towards low carbon mobility. Speakers included Omi Iryo, Deputy General Manager of Corporate Planning Headquarters, JR East, Saïd Chandid, Director for Strategy and Communications of Moroccan Railways (ONCF), Thomas Möhring, Policy Advisor Environment & Sustainability & Eva Dijkema (ProRail and RailToCOP26) and Paul Hegge, Director Public Affairs & CSR, Lineas, Vision “30 by 2030”.

The second roundtable, moderated by Carole Escolan-Zeno from SNCF Voyageurs, explored how to make modal shift desirable by rediscovering the virtue of frugality. Speakers included: Bertrand Minary, Chief Innovation & Digital Officer Rail Freight & Multimodal Division / Fret (SNCF), Enrico Stefàno, President of the Committee for Mobility of the City Council of Rome, Dr Stefan Tobias, Head of Economics and Tax Policy (CER) and Laurent Castaignède, BCO2 Ingénierie.

Speakers’ insightful presentations brought to the audience’s attention that modal shift must go hand-in-hand with the use of low greenhouse gases emitting modes of transport like public transport, walking and biking and that individual cars, including electric ones, cannot be the solution to reduce congestion and space scarcity in urban areas.

Moreover, developing sustainable solutions requires political will and audacity: cities must regulate and move from a reactive to a proactive approach considering economic as well as social aspects and involve citizens in the process. Regulating is not an option anymore for local authorities, whether this is for polluting vehicles like SUVs in cities or for airlines. Systemic and administrative barriers should be broken down to facilitate a real shift.

Furthermore, railway research, innovation and digitisation can support modal shift and contribute to energy efficiency and increase rail attractiveness both for passenger and freight transport. Innovating together, for regions like the European Union, is also an important way to move forward and put an end to a strong intra-sector competition. There is for example an unused capacity in rail freight and digitisation could be a great tool to optimise modal shift and move from air or road to rail.

Tools such as MAAS (mobility as a service) can increase sustainable travel and lower dependence on private cars by promoting micro-mobility and shared mobility in public spaces especially for the first and last miles. Speaking of the key topic of space in urban, countries like Japan elaborate great projects such as developing stations as hubs – key elements for MAAS solutions – with added value to stations and, hence revitalising urban areas.

Additionally, the example of developing a high-speed line from Tangier to Casablanca in Morocco not only shows a great example of digitisation meeting sustainability but also demonstrates how rail can take passengers from road to rail, improving safety and security in the country.

Nevertheless, innovation was questioned during the event as innovating can cause rebound effects that can prevent the railway and the transport sector to curb greenhouse gases emissions. This should not be forgotten by transport actors and decision makers.

Modal shift is indeed desirable for the reasons listed above, but what the event showed is that we also need a change in mindset to make not only transport but also people rediscover some kind of frugality in their transport use such as maximising capacity and use the assets we already have.

Rethinking our transport needs – including for major events like COP – is not to be postponed, for if we do not act fast, modal shift might not be enough to be part of the solution to climate change. Many aspects seen as negative, challenging or discouraging for railways should be opportunities to improve and policy decision makers should encourage the creation of funding schemes for sustainable transport using revenue from more polluting modes of transport – based on the polluter pays principle – to fund sustainable modes.

Key messages from the event in Brussels will be used to create a statement from the railways, to be taken to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2020.

For further information please contact the UIC Sustainable Development team:

environnement2 at

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