The inaugural meeting of the UITP International Rail Forum for North America took place within the context of large-scale rail expansion in North America. It brought together domestic and global transport executives and highlighted three main themes affecting rail in the region.
The Forum took place from 8-9 December at the New York MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and assembled top executives from rail-operating public transit agencies such as New York, Portland, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, Toronto and Montréal with executives from London, Paris, Barcelona, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Brussels and Hong Kong. The Forum looked at a range of hot topics and highlighted three main themes that are affecting the rail industry in North America but also globally: keeping rail systems in a state of good repair, innovation and the renaissance of light rail.
Continuous modernisation is an essential need to meet the needs and demands of the public
Modernisation and innovation
“Renewing track, upgrading signalling, re-building tunnelling and bridges may not be the most politically appealing work but if nothing is done, performance and safety will suffer, leading to customer complaints, pressure from politicians and even network shutdowns. This work is essential and can ultimately affect cities’ vitality and competitiveness,” said UITP Regional Manager for North America, Andrew Bata. "There are periods of growth and investment and then there are periods of under-investment and neglect,” commented David Hughes from TfL in London. “Continuous modernisation is an essential need to meet the needs and demands of the public,” added Claude Andlauer from RATP in Paris.
Robotisation and advanced visualisation are the next phase in transport innovation
Closely linked to modernisation is innovation, which can be slow in many transit agencies because there is often a general management reticence to push innovations. “Recent improvements in service quality, integrated door-to-door services and smart information are all enhancing customer experience. Safety is often taken for granted in transit, but recent events demonstrate that the industry needs to constantly work and to innovate to keep-up with high safety standards,” said UITP Secretary General, Alain Flausch. “True innovation is to do what the Metro is generally not doing routinely,” explained Nadine Lee from LA Metro. Looking towards the future, Masaki Ogata, JR East and UITP President, predicted that “robotisation and advanced visualisation are the next phase in transport innovation”.
The renaissance of light rail
Meanwhile, light rail has been enjoying a dramatic renaissance in North America with more than 30 cities in the US and Canada currently introducing or expanding light rail. This revival is going hand-in-hand with new features such as low-floor design, clever urban planning and transit oriented development, which have all triggered high interest around light rail in the US.
Looking ahead, the second International Rail Forum for North America will be held in the autumn of 2017 in the USA. In the meantime, North American transport professionals will convene again with their international counterparts at UITP’s flagship event, the Global Public Transport Summit in Montréal, May 15-17, 2017.