Innovative rolling stock – challenges, vision, priorities

Choosing rail as means of transport depends on factors such as time and comfort during the journey as well as ticket’s price. Availability and reliability are understood as a certainty of starting a journey, while the achievement of a final destination within the assumed timeframe plays a crucial point. The quality of infrastructure and traffic management are responsible for time and reliability of journeys, while the comfort depends on the equipment of railway stations, the level of customer services and rolling stock.

EU, Masovia and Wallonia Transport and Logistics Clustering

Manufacture of rolling stock is the 2nd largest branch of the global railway market with estimated valuein 2014 reaching EUR 48 billion, which constitutes about 32% of the entire railway industry value1. Until 2012 the rolling stock industry was dynamically growing – since 2006 global value of manufacturing market had grown by 70%, namely to EUR 48 billion. The growth was caused by various factors. In the years 2006 – 2010, the intensive growth of rail market (Chart 1) resulted mainly from execution of high-speed rail – continuing investment projects in France, Italy and Spain, as well as a substantial acceleration of high-speed rail construction in China. For example, in the years 2008-2010, the high-speed rail market more than doubled its worth from EUR 6 billion in 2008 to EUR 13 billion in 2010.

During the next period, i.e. from 2010 to 2012, not only high-speed rail growth was responsible for growth of the rolling stock manufacture. Investments in metro development in large global agglomerations became an important factor. In that regard, 2012 was a record year (Chart 2) – 198 km of underground railways, including over 150 km in China, were put into use.

A dynamic increase of demand for rolling stock on Chinese market caused also an increase of Chinese manufacturers’ potential, who already in 2012 achieved leading positions in world rankings (Chart3),and overtook previous European leaders. 

A competitiveness problem became more serious after 2012 when the rolling stock market experienced stagnation – during next two years an increase in the market by merely 0.6% was observed. That slow-down intensified competition between European manufacturers and Chinese companies made it necessary for Europe to take certain actions in order to regain the leading position and maintain their market share. Admittedly, according to experts, years 2015 – 2020 should not be so unfavorable like the period of 2012 – 2014 and should be marked by a steady growth (Chart 4).

According to European manufacturers of the rolling stock being members of UNIFE association2, modern, innovative technical and technological solutions should be the answer to challenges of global market until 2020. These solutions may lead to better quality, lower production costs and rolling stock maintenance costs, as well as to generation of additional demand for rail transport services. However, all significant rolling stock manufacturers already run their own research and development programs and spend in total, over 2.7% of their turnover, which constitutes about EUR 780 million annually, being the 3rd result in Europe after space and defense industry and electronic equipment industry. Starting more intensive research and development programs shall require huge financial funding. Luckily, maintaining the leading position of Europe is in the interest of the entire European Union and additionally, the rail sector is its flag exporter with over EUR 8 billion from sales to non-European markets. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that an efficient way was developed so that the rail sector would not have to compete against other branches in its struggle for European funds on innovation, but it had its own budget for researching technological advantages over their competition. 
On this background, the Joint Undertaking Shift2Rail was initiated and coordinated by UNIFE, starting from the development of a preliminary concept in 2010, ending with an official start of the undertaking in 2014. The key objective of Shift2Rail is to create a research programme, which would be half and half financed by the funds of rail industry and European funds, intended to conduct the research and develop activities within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme. The total budget of the Shift2Rail programme was set to EUR 920 billion. Its main priorities encompass the key elements of rail industry, such as: rolling stock, infrastructure, traffic management systems as well as IT systems and services necessary to prepare and implement modern transport solutions.
Consequently, new questions arise: what results can be expected from the implementations of Shift2Rail research programmes? What rolling stock is going to introduce to European and world railways after the expected EUR 920 billion is spent? The Strategic Rail Research and Innovation Agenda3, compiled by the Shift2Rail in consultation with European Rail Agency and a technological platform of the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC), answers these questions. The plan, as approved by the Council of European Union in February 2015, defines a vision of the rolling stock in the future and key research and development priorities for increasing the role of rail transport in European economy.
According to this plan, the future of the rolling stock looks bright, energy-sufficient, of high capacity, with optimized life-cycle as well as responsive to changing customers’ needs and expectations. A new generation of trains will make it possible to reduce the travel time and to slow wear and tear of railways; and be much environmentally friendly.  The negative effect of noise and vibrations on natural environment will be limited by implementation of innovative solutions and technologies. At the same time, operating reliability of trains will be improved by dedicated technical solutions so that travel disruptions are minimized, and punctuality as well as better passenger service is ensured.
For rail freight faster, more flexible freight trains with increased operational efficiency will enable better reliability and cost competitiveness, which are crucial for conquering new market segments. The IT systems will enable trading load areas, they will provide reliable “door to door” services with possibility to track and monitor real-time information about current and expected train position. These services will increase attractiveness of rail in rail freight sector. At the same time, performance parameters of the rolling stock will be improved. The engines will consume less energy, the components will be lighter and it will become a standard to use energy recovery during the process of braking and transfer the energy to the overhead lines.  
The implementation of this challenging vision will result from a number of research and development activities for which the Shift2Rail strategic plan defines three key targets:
  • Improving quality of services and customer service by increasing reliability and capacity of the rolling stock as well as passenger comfort.
  • Reducing the costs of purchase and exploitation costs of rolling stock including reduction of investment, operational and external costs.
  • Increasing interoperability i.e. following and implementing Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI).
Achieving these targets will be possible thanks to research and development activities performed in several key areas: train interiors, doors and intelligent access systems, traction, train management and monitoring systems, carriage bodies and buggies. When analyzing contents of the strategic plan, one can expect that successive generations of trains will be at least:
  • more reliable, functional and safer thanks to improving and simplifying those subsystems and interfaces, which are especially prone to failures and defects;
  • more resistant to extreme environmental conditions;
  • more capacious thanks to new technologies of designing the vehicles, better interior designing and using innovative boarding and disembarking systems;
  • more cost-effective and flexible, thanks to optimized mass and functionalities adjusted to different types of loads;
  • more energy-efficient, thanks to developing and implementing more efficient traction and braking systems, better aerodynamic parameters, smaller and lighter components, lower heat loss in the vehicles as well as improving engine drivers’ skills in terms of energy-efficient train driving techniques;
  • more ecological. Noise, emission and vibrations will be reduced by designing innovative solutions e.g. in traction systems, braking, bogies, carriage bodies and doors.
More importantly, Europe is not going to wait for long for many of these innovations. Even today, what is implemented is the range of solutions which already meet most of the described criteria. For example:
  • Alstom offers trains with zero emission drive which is based on fuel cells technology,
  • Knorr Bremse developed a boarding system for quick and safe boarding and disembarking meeting the needs of disabled persons, and platform door for safe movement of passengers on metro stations and additionally equipped with additional information functions for passengers,
  • Bombardier implements modern energy-efficiency management systems and systems for monitoring consumption of energy by rail vehicles. Additionally, it offers railway engines with hybrid drive and with braking energy recovery.
Although Polish companies intensively invest in research and development activities. By using the European programmes for support of innovation, the companies enter into cooperation with scientific sector, which results in development of technical solutions, unique in Europe and the whole world.
Source: Green Economy


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