Training workers for a digital rail sector, European fuel cells, and a lack of money for cycling infrastructure

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The future of rail transport may lie in digitalisation and automation, but workers needn’t worry about being replaced by machines, according to EU employment Commissioner Nicolas Schmit. However, employees will need to become more tech-savvy to meet the rail demands of tomorrow, the Commissioner qualified.

“Automation and digitalisation can and should create jobs, and often quality jobs. But to transition from one job into another, workers will need to develop the skills to integrate these technologies,” Schmit told an event on employment and education in the rail sector last Tuesday (27 April) as part of the European Year of Rail.

He called on train companies to offer reskilling programmes and expressed his desire to see more women and young people move into the sector, both underrepresented groups at present.

Austrian MEP Barbara Thaler warned that the rail sector’s old-fashioned image may make it hard to attract young people compared to transport companies that position themselves as being on the cutting edge.

“I cannot help but address the elephant in the room, which is competition – the competitiveness of the rail sector towards the road sector. To be more specific, the generated revenues and the resulting different opportunities each sector can offer highly skilled employees,” she said.

Read more below.

Road transport: rivals unite to manufacture hydrogen fuel cells

Truck manufacturers and market competitors Volvo and Daimler announced last week that they are partnering to launch “cellcentric”, a joint venture that will see hydrogen fuel cells manufactured in Europe by 2025.

“Partnerships like cellcentric are vital to our commitment to decarbonising road transport,” Volvo Chief Executive Martin Lundstedt said in a statement.

The companies called on the EU to roll out a policy framework that will ensure demand and affordability for zero-emission trucks, which are more costly than fossil-fuel models.

The company heads stressed that while they were uniting to manufacture hydrogen fuel cells, on the market they remained competitors, each secure in the belief that their trucks are the superior offering (full article at the link below).

Some good news emerged this week about European road safety (only somewhat overshadowed by the pandemic’s role in it): 2020 saw 4,000 fewer road deaths than the year before, making the EU the safest region in the world to drive.

A total of 18,800 people were killed in road accidents in 2020, a decrease of 17% compared to 2019.

Announcing the figures, the European Commission conceded that the pandemic, which saw people limit their mobility, had a major influence on the decrease. Read more below.

Aviation: green jet fuel and virtual reality

Low-cost airline Ryanair announced last week that its aircraft will use 12.5% green jet fuel by 2030, a higher figure than the 10% target recently set by British Airways.

“As Europe’s largest airline, we have a responsibility to minimise our impact on the environment,” the airline’s Director of Sustainability Thomas Fowler said, as quoted in a Reuters report.

The move comes ahead of the EU’s publication of the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal, which will require airlines to blend a certain percentage of sustainable fuel with kerosene to cut emissions. The percentage of green fuel required is expected to scale up over time.

Sustainable aviation fuels are popular with industry as a way to decarbonise air travel, as they can be blended with kerosene without requiring any changes to the aircraft engine.

In other news, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that it will allow Virtual Reality headsets to be used as part of flight training.

“This is a significant milestone in the evolution of Flight Simulation Training Devices,” said Jesper Rasmussen, EASA flight standards director.

The headsets, developed by a Swiss firm, will allow pilots to practice risky manoeuvres in a virtual environment.

Cycling: European cycling groups unhappy with national recovery plans

Around 14 EU countries have submitted their National Recovery and Resilience Plans as of the time of writing. EU countries must submit their spending plans in advance of accessing the EU’s €750 billion recovery fund, which is intended to help them rebuild after the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cycling groups have reviewed some of the plans and found the level of funding going to promote cycling disappointing.

The European Cyclists’ Federation questioned Germany’s decision to set aside €3.2 billion for the purchase of electric and hybrid cars in their plan while leaving out e-bikes entirely, arguing the decision will hurt the country’s goal of increasing cycling rates. Read more below.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Rail companies should upskill workers for shift to digital: EU Commissioner

The digitalisation of the rail sector will create “quality jobs” but many existing workers will need to reskill to meet the demands of new technology, according to EU employment commissioner Nicolas Schmit.

Daimler, Volvo plan hydrogen fuel cell production in Europe in 2025

Daimler AG’s truck unit and Volvo AB said on Thursday (29 April) they would start making hydrogen fuel cells in Europe in 2025 via a joint venture, and called for EU policies to help make the zero-emission technology commercially viable.

EU recorded fewest traffic-related deaths in 2020

In 2020, 4,000 fewer people died in the EU as a result of road accidents compared to the year before, according to the European Commission, making the bloc the safest region compared to the rest of the world and the global average of road traffic deaths.

ECF: EU recovery plans squander chance to boost cycling

European cycling groups have criticised some EU countries for neglecting cycling in their National Recovery and Resilience Plans, saying the levels of funding allocated by member states will see them miss out on billions in economic and health benefits.

Aviation bosses embrace sustainable aviation fuels as path to green flying

Two of Europe’s leading aviation companies have argued that scaling up sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) is an essential step to decarbonise flying, as hydrogen is not yet ready to be adopted on a large scale.

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