3 min

On-track to a high-speed future with railway certification

Traveling by train is one of the most sustainable ways to get from A to B: three-quarters of the train journeys people take are on electric trains. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), rail is one of the most energy-efficient modes of transport, “responsible for 9% of global motorised passenger movement and 7% of freight but only 3% of transport energy use.”

As the world heads towards Net Zero, the promise of rail to lower energy use and emissions means more and more people will travel by train rather than driving or flying in the coming decade. New railways are being built around the world to accommodate this shift, and innovation in mobility means new hybrid trains that run on hydrogen and electricity are entering the market.

The tracks and infrastructure as well as the trains themselves must be designed, built and tested before they can carry passengers or freight. To ensure trains are running safely and efficiently, operators require their suppliers to be certified against the International Railway Industry Standard (IRIS) – a global system for the evaluation of rail sector companies.

“In the end, as a supplier, you want to reach a certain quality with your processes and products, and to do that you can use a business management standard,” said Hakan Esgin, Operations Manager at Kiwa Turkey. “IRIS is the business management standard specifically for the rail industry, and it lets companies show they can meet the rigorous standards railway operators require.”

Working in partnership with Kiwa Italy, Hakan and his team assess and certify companies that design, manufacture and maintain the infrastructure and vehicles to support the railway industry as it transitions to a more sustainable future.

IRIS: a standard for the railway industry

IRIS is a voluntary global standard that was established in Europe. At its core is the quality management system standard ISO 9001, and it contains specific requirements for the railway industry. The requirements apply to all the elements of railway components, parts and vehicles.

“Whether you are a manufacturer of passenger coaches or interior lighting, if you are doing signalization or making the tracks, you can get this certification,” Hakan explained. “The big operators include IRIS certification as a requirement in their tenders, so as a manufacturing or maintenance company, you need it in order to make an offer.”

Before IRIS was established as a UNIFE working group in 2006, the big original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and system integrators manufacturing passenger coaches, locomotives, and freight wagons would perform their own audits. IRIS was developed to provide a standard level of requirement across companies and to help them prove and improve the quality of their processes and products.

“It’s a whole business management system that enables companies to target a required level of quality for their processes and the products,” Hakan explained. “It requires you to show your project management from concept and design through prototype testing to manufacturing and delivery.”

IRIS ensures reliability and inspires improvement

Products in the rail industry, from components used on the tracks to wagons that carry freight, may be in service for decades. They must be reliable, and IRIS requires companies to define the safety integrity levels of their products.

“Operators want to know their preventive and corrective costs, so as a manufacturer, you have to define the reliability of your product,” Hakan explained. For example, their product might function for 1 million cycles and then need to be changed. With this information, they can carry out a reliability analysis and calculate lifecycle costs for the operator.

Certification to IRIS shows that companies adhere to what Hakan refers to as “the working principle of the industry.” This means there is an expectation of continuous improvement built into IRIS: companies receive not just a certificate but a rating, enabling them to evolve their processes. There are three levels – bronze, silver and gold – reflecting the company’s overall performance.

The company is scored between 0 and 4 on each question, and the scores reflect compliance and maturity level. A score of 4 (‘optimised’), 3 (‘qualified’) or 2 (‘defined’) shows that the company is compliant with IRIS. A score of 1 (‘poor’) or 0 (‘insufficient’) shows non-compliance and comes with mandatory corrective action.

“We report the findings at the end of the audit and issue improvement action reports, in which we show the company the action they can take to improve on their scores,” Hakan said.

By inspiring improvement in this way, IRIS helps companies improve their quality and therefore also their image and competitiveness. In addition, when a company is IRIS Certified, it can be listed on the IRIS Portal, giving it visibility.

How Kiwa supports railway quality

Through a cross-border collaboration between Kiwa Italy and Kiwa Turkey, rail companies across Europe are already improving their performance. Rail travel is growing in Turkey, with the construction of new tracks for high-speed lines and new metro systems, but there was no IRIS accreditation scheme available. So when UNIFE, the European rail association behind IRIS, accredited Kiwa Italy about five years ago, they began to work in partnership.

“IRIS was really limited in Turkey at the time,” Hakan recalled. “I joined forces with Elio Poletti, Railway Business Unit Manager at Kiwa Italy, to offer certification and I started to build it up. Now we have a team of three auditors conducting IRIS certification for about half of the Turkish market.”

IRIS is one of a few certification services Hakan has established in Turkey for the rail industry. Hakan has MSc and PhD degrees and works in Industrial and Mechatronics Engineering. Prior to joining Kiwa, he worked in the plastic and metal industry and then at engineering company Meyer, where he performed conformity assessments for CE certification.

When Meyer became part of Kiwa in 2012, Hakan began to develop Kiwa’s rail and automotive services in Turkey. “It's curiosity, I think, and I like this business,” he said. “Our work brings together IT, laboratory equipment and technical aspects. So if there is a need from the industry in Turkey, they knock on Kiwa’s door and I develop a service.”

Alongside Kiwa’s IRIS certification service are special certification for welding (EN 15085), and for adhesive bonding (DIN 6701). Kiwa Turkey also offers certification for entities in charge of maintenance (ECM) and Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI) certification, which is mandatory.

“We are a complete railway business solution partner in Turkey,” Hakan said. “This is a niche business compared to some of the ISO schemes, but it has a big impact on quality in the industry. Working with Elio in Italy, we are trying to grow our customer base in Turkey. I hope we can continue to be successful together.”

Find out more about IRIS certification by Kiwa