Wednesday 4 October 2023

Energetic NARA 2023 Meeting

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The North America Regional Assembly met in Canada in a knowledge sharing two-day programme focusing on how to effect modal shift to rail and decarbonisation options for the region.

Starting with a meeting hosted both online and in person by VIA Rail in Montreal, representatives from all the members of the region came together to share and discuss the exciting ambitions and opportunities for rail in the region. NARA Chair, Barbara Klein-Barr and Vice-Chair, Jeff Moller, reflected on the achievements and main events of the year and acknowledged the richness of sharing and connecting with UIC members from other regions and the importance of engaging in global conversations, such as the high-speed rail congress and Transforming Transport conference.

At the Tour de Table, Melissa Shurland from FRA, shared knowledge and detailed the work in progress at the impressive testing and innovation facility in Pueblo. Their projects concerned renewable and bio-diesels, density of battery technology for heavy haul, hydrogen, their GREET tool expansion for carbon emissions from track maintenance, and climate change resilience research, with a focus on coastal erosion. Karl Alexy shared his safety initiatives, including an open discussion on grade crossings, partnerships for smooth testing, and launches of new services, including the Brightline in Florida. SMGG (Station Managers Global Group) representatives Allan Fisher (Via Rail) and David Handera (Amtrak) presented their plans for a North American special working group; all agreed that the group should work closely in collaboration with the wider NARA community.

Toni Tinoco, the Central Valley Deputy Regional Director, and Annie Parker, Assistant Deputy Director for Communications from California High Speed Rail, updated the group on their progress, with discussions on benefitting from carbon caps and trade funding, how they will connect and collaborate with AMTRAK and Caltrain services, and their efforts to adapt to a changing climate and avoid impacts on animal movements, including the adorable kangaroo rat. The group discussed plans for NARA 2024 to be hosted in California.

The NARA Group heard from our VIA Rail hosts Rita Toporowski, Chief Service Delivery Officer, Arnaud Lacaze, Vice-President, Fleet Renewal, New Fleet Projects, and Jean-Philippe Quintal, Project Director, on the exciting investments in rolling stock, both recently made and in the pipeline. The group then had the privilege of taking the brand-new VIA Rail train from Montreal to Quebec City, seeing for themselves the new accessibility and sustainable catering features on their path to zero waste trains. Wheelchair users were able to access all the same features and services on the new trains as other passengers via integrated ramps to the platform. Single-use plastic was being phased out, and passengers could refill their reusable bottles at the integrated water fountain.

For day two in Quebec City, NARA experienced a commercially running hydrogen train travelling over UNESCO protected landscape along the St Lawrence River to Baie-St-Paul. The group visited the electrolyser, run by Harnois, where green hydrogen is produced from hydroelectric sources, supplying both road vehicles and the train. After riding the train while its maker, Alstom, talked the group through the technology, they witnessed the refuelling process at the dedicated depot. Before the return trip, the group workshopped the applications of hydrogen in the region, finding new ways for cooperation within the group regarding the ongoing trials and research. Lucie Anderton, UIC coordinator for NARA, introduced the ongoing UIC project H2T4R – Hydrogen Technology in the Railways.

For further information about the North America region, please contact Lucie Anderton at

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