June 2022 saw the 13th World Congress on Rail Research, jointly hosted in Birmingham by RSSB and the University of Birmingham. Usually held every two years, the event brings together researchers from around the globe to present their work, learn about what others are doing, and build collaborative relationships. The theme for this year’s congress was “Reshaping our railways post pandemic: Research with an impact”.

As well as keynotes, and plenary sessions, delegates at this year’s event had 60 sessions to choose from exploring research across eight key themes. There were in-person and interactive options to hear about novel research, a masterclass programme of topics for the future of rail, and a how to programme of professional growth sessions looking at how to innovate, communicate and implement research successfully.

For more information about what took place at the event, read the 13th World Congress on Rail Research Highlights and Reflections brochure.


The big picture

What will rail look like in the post-pandemic landscape? That was the topic for the first plenary session, view this on page 3 of the brochure. The panel of experts gave their views on the role of rail and its competitiveness in the context of changes to travel demand, customer expectations, resilient and green logistics, and new technologies.

Their future vision was for a much more integrated and coordinated, multi-modal transport system. One that’s intuitive, affordable, and dependable. Rail also needs to better communicate and convince people about the societal and environmental benefits that it can deliver.

Research that has had an impact was taken up in the second plenary session, view this on page 4 of the brochure. It comprised leaders from UIC (International Union of Railways), UNIFE (Union of European Rail Industries), Network Rail, RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute, Japan) and MxV Rail (formerly Transportation Technology Center, USA). Four of the key ingredients for research success were:

  • collaboration and partnership
  • balanced portfolios with strategic intent
  • the ability to demonstrate value
  • the right people to transition from research to implementation.

The priorities

The third and final plenary brought things together, view this on page 5 of the brochure. It looked at current and future priorities, and how to get the most from research outputs. Discussions covered moving the work already done to higher readiness levels and get it ready to use, putting the customer first in research and implementation, making future proof investments that deliver value for money.

The importance of digital technologies for capacity management, recovering from disruption. But there remains the challenge of accessing and connecting data from different sources. Another innovation that will promote a shift from road to rail, indeed revolutionise freight, will be Digital Automatic Coupling.

Finally, to deliver the change that the railway needs to succeed, the railway workforce needs to become more diverse and inclusive.