‘I’ve been the railway man in Brussels for 15 years, it’s time for a change’
He has represented the railway industry in Brussels since 2006, and was active in rail since he started working. After nine years as the Executive Director of CER, Libor Lochman decided that it is time for a change. “But I assure you that I will not leave the railway industry, and you can find me in Brussels from time to time”, he said.
The charismatic Lochman spoke extensively about his career choices in the RailFreight Live show on Friday 2 October. He would not reveal his next career step just yet. “This is a surprise”, he jokingly said. “But I think it is good to look for new opportunities, and for the organisation to have a new director. I am sure Alberto Mazzola is the right person for this role.”
Move to Brussels
Born and raised in Czech Republic, Lochman made the move to the EU capital in 2006, when he started working for the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) as the leader of technical affairs. Previously involved with the technical interoperability of rail in various working groups and from within the sector, he was appointed to represent this sector in front of the EU institutions.
This was a big change, he admits. “I was first in the bubble of technical engineers talking to each other, not aware of what happened in Brussels. This was a small world. Now, I suddenly had a political responsibility. This was a challenge, and I only got used to it gradually.”
Ruling the technical world
The core topic Lochman was dealing with was the TSI’s, a set of technical standards to create interoperability on the patchwork that is the European railway network. “This is really ruling the technical world today.”
The big change in that year was that the CER became the representative body of the railway industry in Brussels. “With that, it took over the role of managing the TSI’s on a European scale. That was the moment that there was a need to coordinate this technical work on behalf of the industry in Brussels.” And thus the then 43-year-old Lochman moved from Velim, a small town near Prague to Brussels.
“I have always been engaged with the railway industry”, Lochman narrates. This was the case when he worked for the Railway Test Centre in Velim, but even before that, when he started my career as a signal engineer. The topic that has been on his agenda throughout all these years is ERTMS. “This is how I started: with ERTMS. And now, 30 years later, I am still dealing with ERTMS. It is always on the agenda whatever the discussion is.”
“I have been involved from the start of the specification writing up till the point of the testing of the system and observing the rollout in Europe. We had a very good start, but somehow slowed down. Perhaps because of different interests, and because we did not have the unique understanding of the technical specifications. All of this resulted in the patchwork we have in Europe today.”
If you ask the Czech national, the rollout of the ERTMS system in Europe is ten year too late at least. “I expected the whole rollout on the European corridors to take twenty years. “I remember speaking somewhere ten years ago, telling the audience that we have a last chance to do this. It looks like we are pushing this last chance forward. But now we have stable specifications. Now we have the commitment of the Member States and the European Commission. We have to do it. We have to act now”, he emphasises.
User pays, polluter pays
Another topic that has been marked red in his agenda ever since he arrived in Brussels is the level playing field between rail, road and aviation. Or in CER terminology: the user pays, polluter pays. And just as with ERTMS, it is a topic that will be on the agenda of successor Mazzola too. “We still have a long way to go.”
“Since infrastructure managers have been responsible for offering track access neutrally to all operators on a non-discriminatory basis, the railway industry has paid a charge for each kilometre passed on a track. You do not have anything like that on the road or in aviation. This is a huge discrimination, which is dramatic for rail freight. You need a competitive coast-base in order to compete with other modalities”, he passionately explains.
To stick to Brussel terms, it is the “internalisation of external costs” that the CER has been pleading for. “Isn’t this a lovely term?” Lochman laughs. But he explains: “We as the railway sector completely cover for the external costs of railway transportation. We pay what we cause, unlike road transport and aviation. This results in a certain end price for the customer, which is not competitive as such. We expect that the ‘user pays polluter pays’ principle will be embedded in the upcoming European Directive, but a lot of work remains to be done.
Time to celebrate
Luckily, Lochman is able to give his successor some reasons to celebrate too. “In 2023 or 2024 the latest, there will be a silent fleet in Europe.” Noise reduction is one of the topics Lochman can take off his list, as most of the wagons in Europe are currently being refurbished with composite brake blocks instead of iron brake blocks.
“Noise reduction of trains has been on my agenda for more than fifteen years. In fact, wagon noise is one of those topics in the TSI’s. It started with noise reduction in passenger trains, but luckily we also have a programme for freight trains now. We have made huge progress. This is great, as it is something you can really hear as a customer, or as a citizen. Wwe can now say “hey citizens, you cannot hear us. So please help us shift more cargo to rail”.
Love for rail
Lochman will pass on the post as executive director to Mazzola on 1 January 2021. “By then, it will be exactly nine years since I took up this role. “ I was appointed on 1 January 2012. Altogether, my time at CER has covered fifteen years. And I have always been in rail, growing towards Brussels in stages over the years”, he summarises.
Despite the seriousness of his role, Lochman speaks freely, spontaneously and passionately. “I have never liked prepared questions and answers. You can ask me anything you like”, he urged. “You just have to be focussed and love what you do.”
You can watch the whole interview below, starting from 2.33 minutes.