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ITE Transport and Logistics

5 big trends shaping rail technology worldwide

The world is experiencing a period of huge technological innovation, and the rail technology sector is no different. But railway tech does not develop in a vacuum. Its affected by any number of factors. From shifting industry requirements to changing societal and climatic demands, the way rail networks across the globe run is changing every day.

Rail technology will continue to evolve towards as we head towards the decade’s end. Here are five of the biggest trends shaping railway tech right now – and what they mean for the future of railways worldwide.

Digitisation hits the rail industry

The digital revolution may have hit railways slightly later than other transport modes, but now doing things digitally is quickly becoming the established way of doing things. Seemingly all processes behind rail operations are being digitised. From signage to on-board communications, journey analysis and even maintenance, trains are firmly pulling into the digital station.

The Internet of Things (IoT), the inter-connectivity of devices and the internet, is driving this change. Smart on-board monitors allow for the real time capture and storage of crucial data. Analysing the collected info allows rail operators to identify problems before they cause delays, facilitate automated and preventive maintenance, and give dispatchers a full view of networks.

For example, Sweden’s commuter train network is relying on what it calls the “commuter prognosis” to smooth out its service. Analysis of data allows trains to be fully visualise trains up to two hours in advance. This enables forecasting of potential disruptions, and allows the traffic control centre to keep an eye on the ripples that result in delays.

Trains to run on alternative energy sources

The days of diesel-electric are numbered as rail operators seek to cut emissions down to size. Fuel sources being explored at the moment, outside of electricity, include liquid natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen cells could be the way forward. France’s Alstom is pioneering the use of hydrogen to power trains with its Coradia iLint EMU-challenger. The train’s fuel cell powers an electric motor, with excess energy stored in a lithium-ion battery, resulting in what Alstom claims is the world’s first 100% emission free train unit.
Elsewhere, Canadian firm Bombardier recently received a €4 million funding boost from the German Transport Ministry to help develop its Talent 3 EMU project. Talent 3 will also run on lithium-ion batteries. Bombardier believes this will ensure its trains are more eco-friendly going forward. 

Trains are already seen as a fuel efficient alternative to other transport modes, for both freight and passenger transport. The car journey from Paris to London, for example, generates 244kg of CO2 3.5 hours. The same route takes 2.75 hours and creates just 22kg of CO2 when travelling via train. The above measures will likely result in rail being seen as an even greener transport method in the near future.

High-speed rail gives way to hyper-speed

High-speed rail is a driving force behind rail development at present. Turkey’s high-speed railway ambitions, for example, are second to none, and are fuelling a greater demand for cutting edge rail technologies in the country. Their efforts may have been premature, as hyper-speed rail is coming.

Several nations already enjoy ultra-fast rail networks. Japan is home to over 2,250km of track for its maglev bullet trains. Likewise, the Shanghai Maglev Train has been in operations since 2003 and has recorded top speeds of 311mph. Now, competition from rival modes is fuelling the railway industry’s need for speed.

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop could prove a game-changer if successfully implemented. The system, which involves pressurised capsules travelling rapidly in a reduced pressure tubes, powered by electrical motors, is promising to be twice as fast as aeroplanes at full speed. However, there is a lack of political will to implement Hyperloop on a large scale – nor is there the cash at present.

High and hyper-speed rail is already here, established and running well. But, with the threat of Hyperloop on the horizon, rail operators are likely to want to go even faster as the decade rolls on.

Automation: the new face of rail technology

Automated trains are affecting both freight and passenger services across the globe. Indeed, the recent service issues experienced by the UK’s Southern Trains has its roots it the automation argument. So, should rail operators turn towards self-driving units?
In some corners of the globe, it makes sense. Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining firms, is pioneering its driverless AutoHaul system on a 1,700km route in Australia, as a cost-cutting measure. The firm’s human drivers can earn up to $224,000 a year making them almost certainly the highest earning train drivers in the world. Given Rio Tinto employed 400 plus drivers prior to AutoHaul’s implementation, it makes financial sense for them to turn towards automation.

For freight carriers, the potential is endless. Germany’s DLR unveiled its vision for driverless cargo trains in April 2017. The NGT Cargo concept suggest trains could be automatically re-routed to avoid delays, while also offering automatic loading/unloading capabilities.

However, this new technology could come at a human cost. Reducing the number of staff on trains has resulted in huge rows, strikes and service delays in the south of England. Yet, there is no doubt automation does over some key benefits for railway service providers.

Railways will be affected by climate change

Climate change is very real and is affecting all aspects of life – transport included. Spiralling average temperatures have their own effects on rail networks. Tracks can expand and buckle under intense heat, which may lead to more regular repairs, speed restrictions, delays and disruptions.
Stations, depots and terminals are also unlikely to be spared by the predilections of nature. Underground tunnels may be subject to flooding or weather damage. Likewise, storms can prove incredibly disruptive to rail travel.
As such, the global railway industry is having to shift towards a “predict and prevent” ethos when it comes all operations – including technology procurement.

For producers, the onus is now on the be as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. The fact that rolling stock manufacturers are now exploring other fuel sources demonstrates the industry’s repositioning towards sustainability – and offers a glimpse of how rail tech producers need to be going green.

Discover new rail technologies at Istanbul Rail Tech

To uncover the latest in rail technologies, or to exhibit your latest innovations, you need to be at Istanbul Rail Tech - a two day exhibition dedicated to rail technology in the Turkish and Eurasian markets.

The event is a cost effective and time efficient platform to meet, negotiate and conduct business with buyers from rail networks, stations, and governments across Turkey, the Balkans, Eastern and Central Europe and Middle East regions.

You can get more information on Istanbul Rail Tech here, or you can contact us to learn more about this latest event on the Turkish transport and logistics calendar.


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