OFF THE RAILS: Secretary General of the AERRL, Carole Coune

Posted: 18 April 2024 | | No comments yet

In this week’s ‘Off the Rails’, I spoke to the Secretary General of the Association of European Rail Rolling Stock Lessors, Carole Coune.

carole coune

What was your route into rail?

I started in 1992 as Secretary of the Board of Directors of the SNCB, where I learned a lot about governance and strategy. I got the chance to observe visionary managers like Michel Damar (experienced public manager) and Etienne Schouppe (visionary rail transport manager) and to collaborate with Marcel Verslype (future ERA Director) on management of rolling stock maintenance and liberalisation topics. From 2003 to 2018, I have been focused on combatting barriers to market access to the belgian infrastructure and strengthening the conditions for growth in rail transport. I contributed to the separation of Belgian rail infrastructure and railway undertaking.

As Director General and Chairman of the Ministry, I ensured that the bodies essential to the smooth running of an open market were set up, and I was involved in such strategic issues as ERTMS deployment and freight corridors. I took a step back from frontline action for a limited period of time to develop new skills (a.o. negotiation) only to return in 2018 as a lobbyist, first for ERFA and now for AERRL, which I set up under the leadership of Fabien Rochefort (CEO Akiem), Torsten Lehnert (CEO Railpool) and Bart Lam (COO BRCE). The purpose of the association is to promote interoperable, sustainable, efficient and safe passenger and cargo rolling stock transport for the European railways. AERRL is also supporting an increased open access to railway infrastructure. The knowledge acquired at SNCB in rolling stock maintenance at the beginning of my career still help me today. But rolling stock leasing is much more than maintenance and is really fascinating. I am convinced that lessors play a key role in achieving the Green Deal objectives by mobilising private funds and effectively managing the assets acquired. I feel a strong sense of continuity in my career.  I’ve always worked to make rail more accessible to companies of all sizes, and today more than ever as lessors are the catalyst for competition in the rail transport market.  I’m proud to be their voice.

What are three characteristics you believe are integral to a successful career in rail?

What is a successful career?  In my view, a successful career is when you have got opportunities to contribute to realise a vision, something you imagine for the future. I’m a kind of dreamer. I have a dream, which is a European transport system with rail as backbone of the European mobility. So, first characteristic is passion. The people who stay and succeed in the rail sector are passionate people, if you enter the sector, you will quickly understand this.

Second characteristic is cooperation. Rail transport is made of a lot of different players which are interdependent of each other. If you really want to perform in rail transport you need to be able to co-operate with other types of players. Technical cooperation is key between the different players, and even between competitors, in particular due to the complicated national railway systems which are not yet integrated in one European railway system.  In lobbying activities, it means being able to focus on interests and not on positions.

In my view, the third characteristic is a European mindset. Lessors are providing rolling stock to railway undertakings mainly active in cross border traffic. Their locomotives are performing higher than average regarding safety and ability to cross the borders. Therefore, they have anticipated the development of a real European mindset. Most of the great recent success stories in the railway sector have come from people who thought that they had to “think European”, even if railways were a national story in the past. This means meeting other Europeans, understanding their conception of railways and building with them and with the support of the European institutions a new railway system conceived on a European scale.

How would cross-border rail infrastructure benefit the rail industry?

The present situation of varying safety systems across different countries is a factor that primarily diminishes transport capacity while significantly increasing costs. The players who are suffering the most of this situation are the players acting mainly in international transport, while this type of transport is where rail is more relevant.

We dream of a railway infrastructure without national barriers, whether in terms of the safety system, the electrification standard, the gauge, the operating rules or the preliminary tests to be carried out.

Just one single European infrastructure would increase capacity, reliability, safety and affordability of rail. This is also key for a seamless transport of goods and passengers across Europe. How would the rail industry benefit with this evolution? The increase in traffic would enable each stakeholder to make economies of scale and increase its profitability.

What is the future of alternative fuels for rollingstock?

In July 2022, AERRL launched the first phase of a study to identify and promote technologies to cut the climate impact of existing diesel-powered rail fleets in the near future. The conclusions of this study – carried out by eolos ( with support from Akiem, Beacon, Cargounit, Crédit Agricole CIB, ING, KfW IPEX-Bank and Société Générale have been presented during a webinar organised on 4th of May 2023 and still available on the AERRL website. (

I share with you an extract from the report AERRL Study on Alternatives to fossil diesel use in railways, published last year.:

“While electrification remains the most efficient solution from a holistic perspective, complementary solutions can help to accelerate decarbonisation. HVO is rated as an immediate candidate. It can reduce CO2 emissions by 85 to 90 percent and is easy to implement. Obstacles due to higher taxation can and should be adjusted by future regulation. RNG and Ammonia ICE are considered short- to medium-term options, though several operational challenges remain. Hydrogen has a high energy density (per kilogram), but “green production” is still very limited and requires high expenditure. It is an option for applications where no other solution is available (e.g. long non-electrified routes) and after substantial infrastructure improvements are achieved.

Though major problems remain, battery technology is a solution for the rail sector. Especially dual-mode battery/electric trains combined with partial electrification for the longer term could become a game-changer. To enable the sustainable transition of the rail sector, the different stakeholders need to come together in a “freight transport system for efficiency” organised either by the Commission or an appointed actor in the field. The investments between rolling stocks and infrastructure need to be balanced. To achieve maximum leverage for industrial decarbonisation, the rail sector should be, after pipelines, the first choice for green hydrogen transport. With such a position in a new supply chain, the rail sector can increase its freight market share and provide safe and reliable low carbon-emission energy to today’s most emissive industries.”

You went on the new European Sleeper, how was that, and how will that journey improve connectivity across Europe?

The trip allowed me to discover wonderful landscapes in all the countries crossed. The best time is the sunrise and see the cities and countryside waking up. This is the most sustainable way to connect West and Central Europe. This is something a lot of people can enjoy if they enjoy travelling in company of other people and on a more human speed. When you travel by night train, you really enjoy the trip. When you start your trip, you are not yet looking forward your arrival, like this is the case by plane or by high-speed train. You know that you will enjoy the trip, enjoy watching the wonderful European landscape, enjoy having fallen asleep to the sound of the wheels on the rails and heard one stop or another in the middle of the night in unlikely places, enjoy receiving your light breakfast in the morning, enjoy saying hello to other passengers, enjoy arriving at normal train speed. If you love life and slow life, do it. If you love the TV programme “Des trains pas comme les autres”, do it. It’s really a way of life. Finally, the market will decide if this kind of service will really improve connectivity across Europe. I hope people will understand that they have the power to save the environment by adopting this way of life and making this kind of service a success. If this is a success, a network of night-trains will be built or re-built, and a good business model could be created to finance more comfortable rolling stock. But in any case, consumer will decide.

What is the biggest challenge in a major shift to rail freight for the industry?

A shift to rail freight requires infrastructure capacities and reliability. More capacity and improved reliability (linked to safety) can be achieved through the deployment of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

AERRL firmly believes in the objective of a single European railway area, enabled by ERTMS deployment.

The target should be one core system version for a realistic, Europe-wide coordinated roll out, with long-term maturity.

This target must be achieved by creating a first stable plateau as industry standard, which consists of

  • proven and available ETCS technology
  • the new requirements for FRMCS.

Innovations that improve the sector’s competitiveness (e.g.: ATO) are encouraged for inclusion in future TSIs, but implementation on rolling stock should be on a voluntary and economically sound basis.

What is an innovation you’d like to see in the next year?

A united sector. We must join our efforts to achieve the key objective of coordinated ERTMS deployment on track and on-board to facilitate cross-border traffic. We must design together a common strategy to address the challenge of transitioning from fossil diesel. We must collaborate to promote a more competitive European maintenance and a spare parts market as key enabler of circular economy in rail. We must get together to develop and maintain a sustainably successful and defragmented European transport system, where all stakeholders feel included.

This year, 2024, is Global Railway Review’s thirtieth birthday, our pearl anniversary. Do you have a pearl of wisdom you’d like to share?

An anniversary is all about looking back and looking forward. It’s about tradition and change. Sometimes the biggest change is in the way things are done, but there’s no doubt that the greatest advances are those that benefit the whole community. I wish you a great celebration of your anniversary, gathering all your community. Don’t forget to raise your glass to the future, because the best is yet to come.

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