Innovation for a paradigm shifts of railways


Flex-Rail – Paradigm shifts for railway – Technology uptake strategies for a lean, integrated and flexible railway system

Shift2Rail (S2R, develops the building blocks for the future rail system, as envisaged in the Multi‐Annual Action Plan (MAAP). However, S2R’s work programmes need to be continuously monitored and updated to ensure that they optimally make use of the potential of new technological innovations and developments rising in the society, other industries and specifically within the rail sector.

The Flex‐Rail project has the objective of identifying and assessing technological possibilities and innovative concepts that can shape rail operating and business models, aiming to contribute to the formulation of required paradigm shifts for the rail sector. In this view, Flex-Rail has the vision to target a lean, integrated and flexible railway system to stimulate further innovation of the rail sector and ensure that rail the services can address the future user needs.

In particular, the Flex-Rail project addresses the following aspects:

  • forecast the evolution of key fundamental technologies and identification of technical risks and potential blocking points;
  • analysis of possible achievement of future impacts, through the definition and implementation of an impact assessment framework and modelling tool for rail scenario and transition pathways;
  • formulation of technological concepts for a future rail system scenario developed on a participatory process involving the users of the rail system. Also, the scenarios build on the analysis of trends and innovations happening in other transport sectors;
  • assessment of business feasibility and analysis of the current safety requirements.
Left: - Right: Mercury high-speed train by Priestmangoode

Left: – Right: Mercury high-speed train by Priestmangoode

The Flex-Rail project develops an in‐depth overview of the state of the art of ideas and technological trends related to innovations of the transport industry and non‐transport sector technologies.

As such, it constitutes a knowledge basis for subsequent activities focussed on (i) the definition of key performance indicators, which are key assessment components, (ii) the identification of gaps and development of future (rail system) transition pathways and (iii) the impact assessment of these transition pathways and scenarios. A dedicate interactive website has been created to explore technological trends an innovations relevant for rail transport(*).

On these basis, a dedicated assessment framework has been designed to determine the impact of innovation packages and transition pathways on a number of key performance indicators for rail transport and per System Platform Demonstrator (SPD), as defined in S2R’s MAAP.

A gap analysis for each SPD has been developed, considering the fulfilment of user’s requirements of rail and modal competitors and for different market segments. This has allowed to identify potential market segments and rail modal share growth. By evaluating such possible paradigm solutions, with aligning or enabling trends and technologies, future scenarios have been developed and assessed on the basis of an open-innovation process for collecting additional future requirements.


Among its activities, Flex-Rail mapped projects, studies, initiatives and experts’ groups outputs related to new technologies and trends within and outside the transport sectors that may directly and indirectly have an influence on the rail transport sector.

Mapping such these activities ensured coherence with the worldwide global developments and guaranteed that factors influencing rail transport can be fully captured and understood. The research developed a comprehensive basis to create an inventory of innovations and trends.

On the basis of the research, Flex-Rail designed, developed and launched an interactive webpage accessible at, in order to provide complementary information to the project’s official website.

The interactive webpage gathers the results stemming from the comprehensive exploration of the broadest scope of innovations and trends and provide a sound understanding of the main opportunities and barriers for future applicability to the rail sector.

Furthermore, innovations and trends have been reviewed to analyse to what extent they are competitive with the rail market segments and the potential contribution to the innovation capabilities, programmes and application areas as they are defined in S2R’s MAAP.

The interactive webpage is organised to presents the results by (i) thematic areas, (ii) S2R MAAP research and innovation actions and (iii) Rail subsystems and barriers to overcome. Forty factsheets provide the narratives, tables of analysis and a summary of the key findings.

Archivio progetti

Project Description

Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking

2018 – 2021


Marco Brambilla