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UNIFE has a long and rich experience with European research and innovation (R&I); both as an advocate for increased EU funding for rail research and as a partner and coordinator of dozens of projects dealing with different railway subsystems (e.g. rolling stock, infrastructure, signalling, energy, etc.) over the past decades. The association is actively involved as the Secretary of the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC), the European Technology Platform dedicated to rail which is a trusted partner of the European Commission. The UNIFE Research & Innovation Committee is steering the UNIFE R&I activities.

Perhaps in its most notable role in rail R&I to date, UNIFE was at the origin of the Shift2Rail rail research initiative (now Joint Undertaking (JU)). The Shift2Rail journey began in 2009, when key European rail sector players, under the coordination of UNIFE, began imagining a policy instrument that could facilitate a step change for the European rail system. UNIFE was in charge of the proposal phase and gathered more than 100 partners, resulting in an official European Commission proposal in December 2013. Following a vigorous advocacy campaign spearheaded by UNIFE, the Shift2Rail JU was officially launched in July 2014 with a budget of €920 million after its official regulation was adopted by the European Parliament and Council. At present, 20 UNIFE members are involved in the JU.

Regarding rail R&I, UNIFE seeks to
  • Advocate for sufficient European funding for collaborative rail R&I
  • Advise members of all R&I opportunities at the European Level, including providing all relevant information on Horizon 2020, Shift2Rail and other EU R&I programmes (e.g. satellite and big data programme)
  • Coordinate EU R&I projects essential for the European Rail Industry
  • Facilitate discussion with stakeholders interested in setting-up research consortia
  • Represent the rail industry within ERRAC and foster discussion between members and railway undertakings, infrastructure managers and academia
  • Prepare Shift2Rail 2 with the support of UNIFE members and the UNIFE Research & Innovation Committee. Shift2Rail 2 will be the new rail research Public Private Partnership in the next Eu Research Framework Programme.
UNIFE is also involved in standardisation and regulation activities and aims to link European research projects and their outputs with the activities of the European Union Agency for Railways(ERA), CEN/CENELEC and ISO. UNIFE is a “representative body” of ERA and a trusted partner of CEN/CENELEC and ISO. This cooperation enables UNIFE to ensure that the results of the relevant European rail research projects will be used by the relevant regulation and standardisation bodies.