Interview RNE Award Winner 2022 – Daniel Haltner

Daniel Haltner (TVS) received the RNE Award 2022 for his extraordinary contributions to the Timetable Redesign (TTR) for Smart Capacity Management Programme since its inception in 2014, his outstanding work in the areas of Capacity Management and Timetabling in various leading roles, and a significant part as a key contributor in the technical setup of the Rail Freight Corridors.

RNE: Daniel, thank you for taking the time for an interview with us. You are one of last year’s two first RNE award winners. You received the award for a number of outstanding contributions and achievements, listed above.

Looking at these achievements – Can you walk us through what you were doing at which time, highlighting what were the most notable challenges and successes during this time?

Daniel Haltner: We started the transformation that is now the TTR Programme in November 2014, so it has been almost 9 years since we began. In the beginning, the biggest challenge was to convince and motivate people in the sector to leave the standard processes they were used to behind and be openminded for something new. Most people were satisfied with the process in general. They mainly wanted to make selective adjustments. It was therefore not easy to persuade them to rethink the process as a whole. Within the sector there were some ground rules, but still the different players accused each other of causing the down sides of the processes. So, the real success was to finally get people to look outside the box and jointly make the idea of change a reality.

In 2016, convincing the steering committee (members of the Managing Boards (MBs) of RNE and FTE) to introduce the rolling planning was a milestone. It was totally new, nobody had thought about it in the beginning. Very early on we realised that we had to split passenger and freight and then primarily investigate how freight should be treated in the capacity management process (e.g.: timelines, etc.). Time has shown that rolling planning is a good process (even the EC integrated it into the draft regulation), but the IMs especially are concerned that they put too much capacity aside for rolling planning and then this volume will be missed in the annual timetable. That’s one of the current challenges which will probably be solved once TTR has fully taking over.

Other intermediate highlights were for example in 2017 when the long process description (aka the bible of railways) was approved by the RNE GA and the plenary assembly of FTE. I started to write it with support from Sebastian Carek and other colleagues at RNE back in 2016.

RNE: International and national priorities are at times in conflict.
How did you experience and handle this interplay between national and international interests?

Daniel Haltner: I gained insights from being a member of the MB of RFC Rhine-Alpine. The governments and ministries have a different view on how to promote the rail sector. Depending on the situation in each country the national support for railways, political or financial, varies a lot, also, whether national or international railways are prioritised on a political level (satisfying voters by prioritizing e.g., national commuter instead of international freight trains). Therefore, it’s sometimes difficult to find a harmonised approach at international level. The newly published draft regulation by the EC is now reducing the decision power of the member states to have harmonised laws all over Europe in the future.  

RNE: You are looking back at a long and successful career: What is your legacy?

Daniel Haltner: One of my first successful career steps when I was working on the IM-side for SBB was in 2003. Back then I realised the path allocation process had not been adopted as it had been foreseen in the national and international laws (guideline 2001/14) in Switzerland. By taking the initiative and convincing colleagues to change this I gained the responsibility to create the path allocation process in Switzerland and in 2004 it was finally fully implemented.

Later, when I was working for RNE, the late path request process was approved by the RNE GA in December 2008. This was created by me, together with the Timetable Working Group.
There were also some intermediate steps, for example if you look at the figures of the PCS (back then Path Finder) usage at that time, which we were able to increase every year by two-digit-percentages, was a real achievement.

Also, there were further minor achievements like the TAF and TAP TSI where I was involved btw. 2008-2013. We were able to create processes which the ERA and the Joint Sector Group agreed on. Back then, these achievements were gamechangers, today with the development of TTR those are not as relevant anymore.

RNE: You have not only worked very closely with RNE but were also a member of the RNE Joint Office staff for several years, serving as Timetabling Manager. How has this experience impacted and shaped your perspective and views of various topics?

Daniel Haltner: From summer 2008 until fall 2011 I was working for RNE in the Joint Office. It was the time when the RFC Regulation was created and published. It was my responsibility to create the PaPs (define them) and what the roles of the C-OSS would be. The results were the guidelines for both the pre-arranged paths and the C-OSS. When the RFCs started, they were using those guidelines as a basis. So, this can also be seen as a legacy of mine.
Working together with project teams on a European level, I, as an independent member, identified the strong as well as the weak points of the individual member states. Processes are different in each country and it’s a challenge to find a harmonised approach. This experience helped later to create TTR. It’s nothing totally new, several elements are being applied in operation already in some countries. Briefly explained, TTR is taking the best practises and elements of various European countries, and then putting them together at European level.
I’m also very glad about the good relations I could develop over the years. Connections were built with RNE’s international partners as well as the European Commission. My legacy as an expert still lives on and is handed down to the successors of my former project partners, so I’m still involved as an independent advisor and am glad whenever I can help with my expertise.
The reason why I had to return to Switzerland in autumn 2011 was that Trasse Schweiz (now TVS) had to become a member of the MB of the RFC Rhine-Alpine and RFC North Sea-Mediterranean. Since I was responsible for all the preparatory work, I was the perfect candidate for this job to represent them in the MB. The other MB members already knew me well from my work at RNE and they put a lot of trust in me. So, the gained work experience at RNE helped me in setting up the RFC Rhine-Alpine and North Sea-Mediterranean.
Also, the ministries had to establish the FCA (Framework of Capacity Allocation) document, and I was in the working group helping to create it. So, these special experiences and responsibilities which I had at RNE facilitated my life later on a ministerial level and in the management of the corridors.

RNE: You are recently retired. What are your plans for this new phase of life?

Daniel Haltner: For me it was always important to focus on having an arch career. I saw many career developments within my family or friend circle, people who got successful fast and then dropped out at the peak. At TVS I was a member of the management and there was a risk that my career, too, would develop that way. This is something I wanted to avoid with stepping back gradually by semi-retiring. That’s why I was looking for a different career path and since my original education was in tourism, I found it fitting to go back to these roots. Having not this typical railway background also helped me in always bringing in a different view on things and most of my knowledge had to be self-taught. This came in handy in Capacity Management. As Capacity Management differs from line to line or node to node, it is not the theory but the practical experience that makes you to an expert. You are forced to analyse it to understand how it works.
As my second career I was looking for something with a little less responsibility, less stressful and more active than a typical desk job. Therefore, becoming a ranger at the lake Oeschinen in the Swiss Alps was the obvious choice for me. Having so much experience in working with international project teams also comes in beneficial as we have many tourists visiting our beautiful nature. Same goes for the gained experience in conflict management. Not all tourists are aware of how to behave in the best way to protect nature and themselves. With up to 6.000 visitors a day, of course I often get into situations where I must urge some of them to change their behaviour (e.g., drones and camping in the woods are forbidden, dogs must be on a leash, zones with rockslide must not be entered). Entering such a conversation already starts on a conflict level, yet I must stay calm and avoid any escalation. This shows that most experiences can be useful in different settings. My new job is also beneficial for my health as I do an average 40.000 steps per day, so I hope I can stay fit and enjoy this new career path for quite some time.

RNE: Daniel, we would like to thank you for taking your time for this interview, and we wish you all the best for your future endeavours.