Flying the flag for Transportforum 2024

Man speaking from stage.
Minister for Infrastructure and Housing Andreas Carlson initiates Transportforum 2024. Photo: Fotograf Satu/VTI

There was every reason to celebrate at Transportforum, VTI’s conference in Linköping with a focus on transport research which took place on 17-18 January. The largest transport research event in the Nordic countries celebrated its 40th anniversary. With a wealth of information regarding all types of transportation, with electrification, efficiency, and sustainable transition serving as the main themes.

The scientific community will face enormous challenges in the future, and new combinations will be needed. These were some of the observations made by Tomas Svensson, Director General of VTI, who is also a researcher in transport economics with a focus on transport and traffic in cities and regional councils (counties). He was also one of many who could see the changes that had occurred since the humbler beginnings in the 1980s. At this year’s conference, the 1,200 participants could choose from a record number of sessions, almost 90 with a total of 300 speakers.

Two opening sessions set the tone, one on the future and visions, and the other on the EU’s Fit for 55 climate programme. What challenges do we face and how can we use knowledge-based development to solve them, was the initial question, asked by moderator Karin Klingenstierna. The first to respond was Andreas Carlson, Sweden’s Minister for Infrastructure and Housing. Aware of not being able to address all subjects, he emphasized a holistic approach, where the various modes of transport should not compete but complement each other – intermodality, for increased accessibility and efficiency. When asked which initiatives needed to be prioritized, he had a clear answer:

“It’s all about maintenance, maintenance and maintenance,” said Andreas Carlson, who also chose to highlight research on road safety and one person in particular, VTI’s Professor Astrid Linder.

“She is better known internationally than nationally for her research on road safety and the development of the world’s first “average size” female crash test dummy. Now she has been named one of the 100 most influential and inspiring women of 2023 according to the BBC, he said, which brought strong audience applause.

Philippe Crist, advisor on innovation and the future at the ITF, the International Transport Forum at the OECD, had an eye on the visions, and he participated digitally. He always thinks that he doesn’t know what the future holds, but that he has the hope of shaping it and can tell you what it might look like. What is happening now will probably manifest itself in the future, although not quite in the way many imagine. The change is moving from building robust systems that are resilient to responsive systems.

Thursday’s conference began with the session Fit for 55 in practice. The EU Climate Law stipulates that the EU’s emissions must be reduced by at least 55% by 2030 and that the EU must achieve climate neutrality by 2050. How does this affect the conditions for the transport sector here and now?

The keynote speaker was Victoria Wibeck, member of the Climate Policy Council and professor at Linköping University. Accelerated climate change is required, as is a comprehensive approach encompassing the political, practical, and individual domains. In her research, she has used group interviews with representatives of business, government and political organizations. They highlighted the need for leadership, a long-term perspective and flexibility. There is a need to open up the world of ideas through good examples and social narratives.

It will be possible to meet the EU’s climate goals, according to the panel of representatives from different parts of the transport sector: Jenni Ranhagen, CEO of the Swedish Industry and Commerce Transport Council, Jessica Alenius, CEO of Drivkraft Sverige, Marcus Dahlsten, CEO of the Swedish Confederation of Transport Enterprises and Sofia Hellberg, Infrastructure and Public Transport Manager in Västra Götaland Region. But it will require a lot of investment and support.

The role of research in rapid social change was the theme of another session. Professor Mats Benner of Lund University, who researches what research looks like and what we will believe in the future was one of the people invited to speak. The development has been from large-scale, well-funded research programmes directed by higher authorities to increased economization. Now it’s more about adhering to the budget, having reasonably large projects that can be evaluated and measured. But he asked himself, among other things, if they are skilled at driving and capturing knowledge in a substantially correct way.

The session offered two concrete case histories. One through a research project on the East Link and a disturbance-free city, with Anna Fredriksson, project manager from Linköping University and Ulf Johansson Lorin, operations strategist at Linköping Municipality. And another, research programme to transform Sweden through new collaboration between the built environment and transport, in which hundreds of organizations want to participate. The application for Shift2Access has been submitted to Vinnova by project managers Emma Hult at IQ Samhällsbyggnads and John Hultén, Operations Manager at K2.

For the first time, the Transport Forum included sessions on research communication. John Hultén contributed with some excellent advice there as well. Senior VTI researcher Malin Henriksson gave an example of how a debate article about a national recommendation on children’s school trips triggered an avalanche media attention. Secretary General Cissi Askvall provided insight into the Swedish Research Council’s work on a new national platform for research communication. VTI’s chief librarian Birgitta Sandstedt took the opportunity to talk about the National Transport Library, her role includes disseminating and providing long-term access to research results and projects.

The session Where do the nuances go – the researcher’s role in the public debate provided other perspectives. The panel included Maria Bratt Börjesson, professor at VTI, Mats Eklund, professor at Linköping University, Ulrika Björkstén, Secretary General of Science and Society, and media strategist Brit Stakston. She raised the risk of attacks and hatred for those who participate in the public debate. She, and several others on the panel, emphasized that it is the employer’s responsibility to have procedures for this and that the employer must provide assistance to employees who encounter difficulties. At the same time, she urged researchers to take the plunge and participate in the public debate.

“Think about the silent audience. It is not heard, but it is a large majority. Of course, the debate has become more divisive and people often demand very quick responses, but it is still possible to have a factual, thoughtful discussion,” she said.

The sessions offered several deep dives, such as the one on strategic planning of railway capacity, moderated by Sofia Lundberg, Deputy Research Director at VTI. VTI researcher Kristofer Odolinski presented a life-cycle cost analysis of the best form of compensation for the maintenance of the trains’ switch systems. Ironically, he was late for the conference due to a switch malfunction. VTI researcher Tomas Lidén showed how a two-part optimization model can be useful to maximize the number of trains on a certain route.

New for this year was a digital poster where researchers could publish their results. VTI’s Head of Department Mattias Haraldson and Research Director Fredrik Hellman, who was also responsible for the conference, told us more about this. Next to the poster screen, a number of researchers also made four-minute elevator pitches.

Operations Manager Mattias Vahlne presented the Arctic Center of Energy initiative, a collaboration for the electrification of society initiated by Luleå University with several partners. VTI will increase its involvement in northern Sweden and is investigating the possibility of opening an office there as well, according to Magnus Berglund, Research Director at VTI.

Text: Gunilla Rech

Translation: CBG

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