Shift2Rail: the Joint Undertaking to Build the Railway System of Tomorrow


Shift2Rail is the first European initiative to deliver focused Research & Innovation (R&I) and market-driven solutions by accelerating the integration of new and advanced technologies into innovative rail product solutions, meeting key objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy and the EU Transport policy.

Shift2Rail is an unprecedented joint effort of all the stakeholders of the European rail sector to invest together in research and innovation in order to:

  1. Reinforce the attractiveness of rail transport toward passengers and business; and therefore achieve the ambitious objectives set:
    • by the European Commission in the 2011 White Paper on Transport – including the completion of the Single European Railway Area (SERA)
    • by the whole rail sector in the ERRAC RailRoute2050
  2. Increase the competitiveness of the European rail industry in a world of ever fiercer competition with
    Asian companies
  3. Create and preserve high-quality jobs in Europe


  • Lifecycle Cost Reduction: Reflecting the need to reduce rail ticket/shipment costs for users and public subsidies for the tax payer.
  • Capacity: Enhancing the Capacity of the European rail system in order to cope with increased passenger and freight demand
  • Reliability/Punctuality of Rail Services: Increasing reliability of next generation products and solutions to attract passengers and businesses to use rail transport


  • High-Speed/Mainline Passenger Rail
  • Regional Passenger Rail
  • Urban/Suburban Passenger Rail
  • Rail Freight

The multiannual budget of Shift2Rail will be jointly funded by the private sector and the European Union. The estimated budget of the S2R JU will be at least €920 million (for the period 2014-2020) – €470 million by the private sector and €450 million from the European Union.

Background of the Initiative

The companies supporting Shift2Rail during the preparatory phase determined that maintaining the status quo for rail research in Europe was not an option. Global leadership of the market can only be maintained if a critical mass of committed EU industry joins forces to develop innovative, high-capacity, and high-quality products. Capitalising on the previous success of the rail sector in EU-funded collaborative research projects since the mid-1990s, Shift2Rail will help meet the ambitious targets of EU transport and climate change policy. Shift2Rail is the natural evolution of EU industrial research cooperation in Horizon 2020.

Fully aware of both the need to act to make rail transport more innovative – and to complete the SERA – and of the readiness of the rail sector to engage in such an undertaking, the European Commission announced its legislative proposal of December 2013 to establish the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking and the Council of the European Union adopted it in June 2016 with a favorable opinion of both the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee.

Expected Outcomes of the Initiative

Thanks to the four-year investigation period by the European rail industry and the wider rail community, a long-term strategic Master Plan will be built around key research clusters segmented in five Innovation Programmes (IPs). As mentioned in the Council regulation establishing the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, these five Innovation Programmes address:

  • IP1 - COST-EFFICIENT AND RELIABLE TRAINS, INCLUDING HIGH CAPACITY TRAINS AND HIGH SPEED TRAINS: Comprehensive and systematic re-evaluation of the structure and on-board systems in order to boost capacity, efficiency, and sustainability of all types of passenger rolling stock.
  • IP2 – ADVANCED TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT & CONTROL SYSTEMS: Building on existing ERTMS/ETCS specifications, interoperability across the EU network – including urban rail networks (CBTC) – is increased and research is dedicated to keeping ERTMS technology ahead of the competition.
  • IP3 – COST-EFFICIENT AND RELIABLE HIGH CAPACITY INFRASTRUCTURE: Offers a comprehensive and systematic approach to improving the durability, capacity and efficiency of track and energy systems to cope with increased train traffic and speeds.
  • IP4 – IT SOLUTIONS FOR ATTRACTIVE RAILWAY SERVICES: Fosters inter-modal passenger transit across Europe with an attractive and efficient conventional as well as urban rail network, and smart connections to road and aviation networks.
  • IP5 – TECHNOLOGIES FOR SUSTAINABLE & ATTRACTIVE EUROPEAN FREIGHT: Door-to-door transport time, security, and traceability, thereby demonstrating a real business case for smart interoperable rail freight that offers reliable, competitive, sustainable, flexible transport services that are efficiently interfaced with other modes.

For each Innovation Programme, so-called Technology Demonstrators – each addressing specific topics – have been defined. They will integrate innovative technologies and develop prototypes to generate future competitive sub-systems, and will be assessed with Key Performance Indicators. This research activity will take into account functional and operational specifications as well as the interfaces among the various subsystems.

The resulting Shift2Rail innovations will be validated, tested, and simulated in a rail environment to demonstrate the expected benefits at system level. Four of these ‘System Platform Demonstrations’ will be developed on high speed/mainline, urban/suburban, regional, and freight train platforms.

UNIFE’s key role in the creation of Shift2Rail

UNIFE has played a major role in the creation of Shift2Rail since it coordinated the whole preparatory phase of this new European PPP from 2010 until its adoption in 2014. Specifically, UNIFE coordinated the in-depth input of hundreds of engineers resulting in a detailed Technical Proposal submitted in December 2013 to the European Commission. UNIFE also participated in national information events organised in no less than 24 Member States with the aim of notably increasing the number of stakeholders taking part in the technical working groups of this preparatory phase. Finally, UNIFE led a successful advocacy campaign to convince not only the European Commission but also the European Parliament and the 28 Member States to adopt the Council Regulation that officially and legally created the SHIFT²RAIL Joint Undertaking. 

Going forward, UNIFE will closely follow the activities of the SHIFT²RAIL JU and will provide support to its interested Members in accessing the funds available in the framework of the future Open Calls for Proposals that the JU will regularly launch from 2015 on.

A major opportunity for future participants

As foreseen in the Council regulation establishing the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, Shift2Rail will offer many ways for interested stakeholders to participate in future R&D activities. In addition to the list of the JU Founding Members already identified by the European Commission, a large number of industrial partners, SMEs, operators, infrastructure managers, universities and research centres will have the opportunity to engage in the R&D activities, be it as Associated Members – individually or within a consortium –as partners in the framework of the future regular open calls for shorter-term projects (which will be launched by the Joint Undertaking) or as subcontractors.

2014: last steps towards fulfilment

After the adoption by the Council of the European Union of the Regulation establishing the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, the Joint Undertaking entered into force on 7 July 2014. The European Commission is now in charge of its establishment and the initial operations have now started with the Governing Board composed by the JU Founding Members. 

For more information and updates on Shift2Rail, visit the website 


For more information please contact:
Nicolas Furio
Head of Unit - Technical Affairs
+32 2 626 12 62


Key Publications

  • About UNIFE Guide

    An overview of our research, standardisation & regulation and public affairs activities. In addition the publication presents our Organisational structure, Committees and Working goups.

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