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An Exclusive Interview with Jean-Pierre Loubinoux on The Value of Rail

Mr. Loubinoux, it’s a pleasure to have you with us. Can you start by sharing some insights from your tenure as CEO of UIC and now as chairman of the SEESARI board?

Jean-Pierre Loubinoux: Certainly. Over my 10-year tenure as CEO of UIC, the International Association of Railways, between 2009 and 2019, and now as chairman of the SEESARI board, I’ve gained significant insights into the evolution of rail and its upcoming projects.


Rail has seen many evolutions. How do you perceive rail as the future’s mode of transport?

Loubinoux: Rail holds a promising potential to be the transport of the future — within cities, between regions, countries, and even continents. It’s not just about rail in isolation, but how it interfaces with other modes of transportation. This creates what I’ve termed a SICICOM: a Sustainable, Integrated, Connected, International Chain of Mobility.


That sounds fascinating. Could you elaborate on the concept of “connectedness” in this century for the rail industry?

Loubinoux: Indeed. The 21st century is seeing rail, like all sectors, undergo a digital revolution, presenting ample opportunities for innovation, productivity, and enhanced service. This digital shift follows a series of revolutions — the industrial one with steam engines in the 19th century, the 20th-century energy crisis leading to electrification and high-speed rail, and the late 20th-century surge in information technology.


Speaking of shifts, what are the current paradigms railways are grappling with?

Loubinoux: Railways are navigating through three new paradigms:

  1. Transitioning from a “possess” mentality to one of “access”, shifting the focus from transport to mobility and accessibility.
  2. Balancing individual freedom, especially when it comes to travel, with collective interests. Urban and collective transport is becoming essential, a fact starkly highlighted by the current health crisis.
  3. A pressing need to evolve our working patterns from being rather insular to embracing shared ecosystems and new partnerships across technical, economic, and financial domains.


Given the global context, how does transport play a role in shaping economies?

Loubinoux: Transport orchestrates mobility for goods and people, directly influencing our economies. It’s susceptible to geopolitical situations and physical infrastructural stability. The COVID era has notably exposed the vulnerability of this sector. But despite potential setbacks, there’s an opposite trend with several rail accomplishments and projects sprouting globally, thanks to the intrinsic values of the railway system such as capacity, safety, and increasingly its contribution to sustainable development.


How do you foresee the future of mobility, especially considering the current pandemic?

Loubinoux: While the pandemic has popularized remote working, potentially reducing business travel, the overall outlook for mobility remains positive. Freight transport could quadruple, and passenger transport might see a 50% growth, especially in urban transport due to urbanization and the rise of megacities. We’re looking at investments upwards of $11,000 billion in the upcoming decades. A notable portion, around 40%, will be allocated for railway plans.


That’s a significant investment in railways. Can you give us a glimpse into these plans?

Loubinoux: Of course. Apart from the European corridor extensions impacting the Balkan region, SEESARI, the South East Europe Strategic Alliance for Rail Innovation, is an initiative that’s poised to make a massive difference. It aims to enhance interoperability and serve as the transport backbone of the SEE area, furthering mobility and economic goals in Europe. Various international corridors are also in the pipeline, conditional on the prevailing geopolitical climate.


With such major investments in infrastructure, how does the financial return on investment compare?

Loubinoux: While direct financial benefits often seem meager, the indirect benefits to the community, both socio-economic and through sustainable development, are substantial. For instance, benefits include job creation, increased GDP, time savings, better land planning, and reduction of road casualties. Also, considering the environmental advantages and savings for society, the combined return on investment can be twice as much as the financial ROI alone.


To wrap up, how would you encapsulate the value of rail, especially for political and financial institutions?

Loubinoux: Simply put, if we were to exclude rail, oil consumption would rise by 15%, and CO2 emissions would increase by 12% to meet mobility needs. This underscores the need for institutions to assess the cost of global mobility without rail transport. Often, we fail to recognize the value of what we have until it’s no longer accessible.


Thank you, Mr. Loubinoux, for your invaluable insights into the world of railways and its future.

Jean-Pierre Loubinoux: My pleasure. The journey of railways is an ongoing one, and it’s crucial to stay attuned to its transformative potential.