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Q&A: Virginie Willaert, Strategy and Development Director, Egis

Virginie Willaert, Strategy and Development Director at French multinational infrastructure and transport systems company Egis, tells us what to expect from urban mobility in the future.

Climate change, the deterioration of biodiversity, the digital revolution, demographic growth, and increasing urbanization are all major challenges that the rail industry must meet with ingenuity and technical progress.
Virginie Willaert, Strategy and Development Director, Egis

What are the most important trends in mobility today? And what is Egis focusing on?

Climate change, the deterioration of biodiversity, the digital revolution, demographic growth, and increasing urbanization are all major challenges that the rail industry must meet with ingenuity and technical progress.

 

Egis has pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and double its turnover over the next five years to €2.5 billion by 2026. To achieve this, we are focusing our attention on three trends in mobility: technological innovation, digitalization, and decarbonization.

 

Technological innovation, the first trend, has always been critical to the development of transportation systems, but the pace of change has quickened. We expect hydrogen, autonomous shuttles, battery recharging systems, and digital technologies to be key areas of growth in this decade. Digital technology, the second trend, has made it possible to dematerialize various aspects of mobility, including ticketing, seat reservations, and route selection – removing the need for printed tickets, cash payments, and paper timetables. Decarbonization, the third trend, is about the impact of the political and regulatory environment on the transport sector – the ongoing energy transition and policymakers’ efforts to enhance sustainability and achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

 

Electric transport such as electrified rail has long been seen as an eco-friendly and safe form of transport but is not enough to justify its inclusion in urban transport networks. Rail must add social value and support urban development, and its construction and operation will still create a carbon footprint that will need to be reduced over time. 

How can stakeholders from different sectors come together to plan these big systemic changes?

The technological and engineering demands of state-of-the-art rail systems mean they can be best delivered by partnerships of companies and institutions with complementary strengths.

We aim for partnerships that have tight-knit relationships in local project areas – a day-to-day proximity that guarantees our understanding of local issues.

 

To develop the best value proposition and address clients’ needs, we need to develop new partnerships with global players such as Siemens, as well as with major construction companies. In France, procurement law is evolving to allow more and more industrial and engineering companies to form partnerships and propose innovations for public tenders.

 

Publishing standards together will enable wide and rapid standardization of numerous ground-breaking technologies, including vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications technology for autonomous vehicles. This way industry can innovate, meet user expectations, and avoid tunnel vision when developing proprietary solutions.

Are there any areas of innovation in urban mobility that you expect to grow in importance?

Modern railway design and development must take into account the broader urban and environmental contexts. Intermodality is key here, and it will increasingly shape both urban planning and rail project planning and execution.

 

The multiplication of modes of transport, and the need to be frugal in optimizing investment, will require us to rethink the concept of interchange hubs to include as many of these modes of transport as possible – especially in denser urban areas. So the number of new types of interchange hubs is likely to increase – probably with the integration of services, which could also be addressed in the design, construction and even operational phases.