In connection with the European Year of Rail, HÜBNER's General Manager Helge Förster speaks about the railway sector as an essential infrastructure component and how HÜBNER has been supporting its rail customers both in the local and long-distance segments. And he explains why HÜBNER has two special occasions to celebrate in 2021.
Förster: The corona pandemic has shown that we can truly rely on rail transport. Even under exceedingly challenging conditions the rail system has functioned reliably and has played a crucial role in ensuring the transport of essential goods such as foodstuffs – also across borders. While freight transport by road was impeded due to border controls in connection with various lockdowns, rail transport increased.
In passenger transport, on the other hand, there was a substantial decline. Particularly local public transport and the regional transit companies have been facing big challenges – at the height of the lockdowns in 2020, passenger numbers declined by as much as 80 percent. In this connection, it is crucial to regain the trust of passengers.
Because one thing is very clear: The climate goals of the European Green Deal and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector can only be achieved when we strengthen rail transport as a whole. Without it, we cannot succeed.
Förster: To begin with, immediate assistance is needed. As I already indicated, at the moment it's necessary to convince the public to make use of public transport once again. As a system supplier for the mobility sector, we can support our customers, for example, by helping with infection protection in public transport. On an exclusive basis, we are offering AIRDAL® - an antiviral surface coating product for application in public transport vehicles. The product makes it impossible for viruses or bacteria to survive on holding bars, in seating areas, in the rail vehicle entrances and gangways and in the driver's cockpit.
To strengthen rail transport in the long-term perspective, innovation will play a central role. For us at HÜBNER that means to continue to optimize existing products and to develop new, innovative solutions. Very concretely, I have in mind, for example, the gangway of the future which will be more than just a simple connecting element between two train segments.
Förster: The European Union stands for a high level in technology and in safety as well as the highest quality standards. As a globally active company, HÜBNER fulfills and embodies these standards at all of its locations – inside as well as outside the Union.
A good example for this is our group company, PolymerTechnik Ortrand GmbH (PTO), whose elastomer coated materials are used in our gangway systems. Particularly in the rail vehicle segment with its high safety and fire protection requirements, these materials are essential.
In the truest sense of the word, PTO is an outstandingly innovative company. The Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, for example, awarded PTO its "Innovative through Research" quality seal for the company's ongoing research and development work in cooperation with various scientific institutes.
For us in Germany and in the EU to maintain our lead in the area of research and development, Europe needs to be strengthened as a production and technology location. That means securing jobs in the EU and implementing strong local content requirements also in Germany and Europe. In addition, we need processes that are more agile and approval procedures that are leaner and faster in the EU, not to mention more courage to strengthen and promote our innovative capacities in rail transport. Because finally this is the only way that we can continue to maintain our technological lead in the future.
Förster: In this year, we actually have two reasons to celebrate: By chance the European Year of Rail comes together with our 75th company anniversary. We will be celebrating the anniversary with various activities. For example, a tram branded in the HÜBNER look will soon be operating in Kassel, Germany, where our headquarters is located. And we will be sponsoring a special day of free local public transport for all of the people in the Kassel region. We hope this will be an incentive for people to get back to using public transport again.
Our celebratory mood, however, is a little bit dampened by the fact that the big company party that we had planned will not be able to take place due to the pandemic. I regret that especially because our employees have been doing such a great job – despite all the challenges that the corona pandemic has presented particularly in the production areas. I hope very much that we will be able to make up for that next year. Our team certainly deserves it.