Trial of hydrogen-powered trains in passenger service complete

The world-first trial of two hydrogen fuel-cell trains in passenger service has been successfully completed.

The two Alstom Coradia iLint trains have passed 530 days and 180,000km of operation for LNVG, the transport operator for the German state of Lower Saxony.

With the trial now completed, 14 Coradia iLint trains will enter service in 2022, replacing the existing diesel multiple units.

Alstom will manufacture the trains and maintain them at its site in Salzgitter. Gases and engineering company Linde will construct and operate a hydrogen filling station near Bremervoerde station.

Jörg Nikutta, managing director for Germany and Austria of Alstom Transport Deutschland said that the new trains are a step forward for emissions-free transport.

“Our two pre-series trains of the Coradia iLint have proven over the past year and a half that fuel cell technology can be used successfully in daily passenger service. This makes us an important driving force on the way to emission-free and sustainable mobility in rail transport,” he said, noting that data from the trial will inform the development of hydrogen propulsion technology.

Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economics and Transport Bernd Althusmann said that the completed trial has a significant beyond transport.

“Alstom has made hydrogen history here. The project is of a great importance to industrial policy that goes far beyond Germany. Here, we are witnessing the first competitive product of hydrogen mobility at industrial level.”

When used, hydrogen produces no emissions, apart from water, and the hydrogen-powered propulsion system also reduces the amount of noise the trains produce. The Coradia iLint has been designed to replace diesel units on non-electrified lines. Enak Ferlemann, parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said that this was where hydrogen could play a big role.

“Hydrogen is a real low-emission and efficient alternative to diesel. Especially on secondary lines where overhead lines are uneconomical or not yet available, these trains can travel cleanly and in an environmentally friendly way. We would like to see more such applications.”

Full schedule of services resume on Main Western Line

Services on the Main Western line have returned to full capacity after work crews completed repairs to line the line following bushfires and flooding.

Over 150,000 man hours have been put in since the Gospers Mountain Bushfires hit the railway in December. Flooding following heavy rains in February also washed away sections of track.

Some freight services and diesel-powered passenger services had resumed in mid-January, however due to the damage to signalling equipment and overhead powerlines, regular Intercity commuter services were cancelled.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said that the repairs had covered great lengths to get services back up and running.

“We know just what a vital transport link this line is for both passenger and freight services – and our crews have put in a superhuman effort to repair the devastation caused by the summer bushfires and flash flooding soon after,” said Toole.

“More than 200 employees worked to replace more than 50 kilometres of fibre optic cables and 37km of high voltage power lines damaged in the fires.”

Other equipment that had to be replaced included 75 power poles, a signal control hut, a substation, thousands of small pieces of safe working systems. The high-voltage power supply also had to be rebuilt and 540 trees removed from the corridor.

“It’s been a huge task but it’s great to know services on the Blue Mountains Line are now back on track – and ready to support essential travel for those returning to work and school and from June 1, those looking to enjoy a break in the bush,” said Toole. 

Acting chief executive of Sydney Trains Stewart Mills acknowledge the hard work of those who contributed to getting services back up and running.

“I’d like to thank every person who has worked so hard to rebuild, test and commission infrastructure critical to the safe operation of passenger and freight trains between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.”

Federal govt gets behind rail as solution to Australian urbanisation

The federal government has supported a report that encourages the prioritisation of freight by rail and faster rail connections within and between cities and regions.

The Building Up & Moving Out report, released in 2018 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities makes a number of recommendations relating to rail transport. Specifically, the report recommends that the federal government develop a fast rail or high-speed rail network between urban centres, create a more sustainable public transport network, and prioritise a national freight network with a focus on the movement of freight by rail.

In its response to the report, published in May 2020, the Australian government agreed in principle to the rail-related recommendations. The government highlighted its 20-Year Faster Rail Plan and the establishment of the National Faster Rail Agency as working towards connecting communities with rail.

In responding to the report’s recommendations on freight, the government highlighted the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, as well as the government’s investment in Inland Rail.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the government’s response, highlighting the recognition of the value of Australia’s rail network.

“We have seen during this current pandemic how important our freight networks are and rail is a crucial part of that,” said Wilkie.

“It is good to see the inquiry’s emphasis on rail and we support the recommendation to separate freight and passenger movements where possible to make our rail networks the most efficient they can be.

Wilkie also noted the government’s stated commitment to connect Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane with their satellite cities in the next 20 years.

“The Government’s response recognises that faster rail will make it easier for people living in regional centres to connect to work and other opportunities in their capital city,” said Wilkie.

Budget allocates $1.2bn for rail in NZ

NZ$1.2 billion ($1.11bn) has been earmarked for rail in New Zealand’s 2020 budget.

The NZ Coalition government has targeted investment in track and locomotives, as well as a replacement for the Interislander ferries as key initiatives in the first post-coronavirus (COVID-19) budget.

State owned enterprises minister Winston Peters said that rail was critical for the country to emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

“Rail is a critical part of our integrated transport network. Not only is investment essential to address decades of under-investment, but further investment in rail will play an essential role in our economic recovery post-lockdown,” he said.

Peters’s responsibilities cover state-owned rail operator KiwiRail, which owns most of the rail track in New Zealand while also providing freight services and the Interislander ferry, which is rail-enabled. The budget approved $400 million for new Interislander ferries and port-side infrastructure. This will enable KiwiRail to tender for international builders to design and construct two new rail-enabled ferries for delivery in 2024-2025 said KiwiRail chief executive, Greg Miller.

“Our Cook Strait ferries are an extension of State Highway 1, moving 800,000 passengers and up to $14 billion worth of road and rail freight between the North and South Islands each year,” he said.

“They are a must have for NZ Inc. The two new rail-enabled ferries will be more advanced, have significantly lower emissions and last for the next 30 years.”

In addition, $246m was allocated for investment in rail track and $421m for new locomotives, which will help shift freight onto rail, said Miller.

“The Government’s investment allows us to continue with our locomotive replacement programme and raise the standard of our rail lines, bridges and tunnels across the country. This will enable KiwiRail to offer better and more reliable train services for our customers and move more of New Zealand’s growing freight task onto rail,” he said.

Funding will be targeted at areas with significant freight demand, such as the Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga triangle, the North Island Main Trunk Line, the Midland Line from Rolleston to Stillwater, and the Main South Line from Lyttleton to Rolleston. The funding also includes upgrades to Wellington Railway Station, damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake, and resilience work on the National Train Control Centre.

“This funding recognises that rail has a greater role to play in New Zealand’s transport sector, and that it can make a valuable contribution towards lowering our transport emissions, reducing road congestion and saving in road maintenance costs – which benefits our nation as a whole.”

Rollingstock upgrades are expected to include 10 new main line locomotives in the North Island, the first tranche of replacement locomotives for the South Island, 10 electric/battery powered shunting vehicles, the first order of 20 short haul locomotives. The first locomotives are expected to arrive in NZ from late 2022. KiwiRail freight locomotives will also be upgraded for electronic train control to operate on the Auckland network.

An ongoing extension of previous funding
The $1.2bn comes in addition to the $1b allocated in the 2019 budget and will continue to modernise the NZ rail network.

“KiwiRail is a major contributor to New Zealand’s infrastructure projects, and currently employs almost 4,000 people,” said Peters.

“The investment in rail infrastructure, is not only helping to secure the thousands of existing jobs at KiwiRail but will be a huge boost to New Zealand’s civil engineering and construction sector, with hundreds of contractors, and their material suppliers, needed nationwide for track renewal, mechanical facility upgrades and ferry terminal projects.”

In addition to the direct funding, legislative changes will allow for network investment to occur through the National Land Transport Fund. An extra $148m has been earmarked for investment through this fund once the legislation is passed.

NZ has been part of the Australasian rail renaissance, with the Transport Minister Phil Twyford releasing the NZ Rail Plan in December 2019 that outlined the priorities for investment in the rail network.

“The Coalition Government has a bold vision for a 21st century rail network as outlined in the draft New Zealand Rail Plan. We need a resilient and reliable rail system to support freight and get our cities moving,” said Twyford.

“Budget 2020 builds on the substantial investments we’ve already made in rail through past Budgets, the Provincial Growth Fund, and the New Zealand Upgrade Programme which will help future proof the economy and reduce emissions.”

Light rail misses out
In the budget announcements there has been no mention of the Auckland Light Rail. The project was included in the coalition agreement signed between Labour and the Greens however with an election in September 2020, it seems unlikely that funding will be allocated in this term of government.

Twyford confirmed to NZ media that the light rail project is on pause while the government responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two bids have been received for the project, one from private sector backed NZ Infra, and one from the government transport authority NZ Transport Agency.

Alstom results

Alstom releases results for the 2019-2020 financial year

Alstom has released its results for the financial year 2019-2020, ending March 31, 2020.

The Paris-based, Euronext listed rollingstock and signalling manufacturer booked orders of €9.9 billion ($16.6bn) over the year, and had sales results totalling €8.2bn ($13.76bn).

The figures were driven by orders in Europe, including very high speed trains in France, metros, and regional trains, as well as Alstom’s winning of the Metronet railcar build and maintenance contract in Perth and the contract to supply further rollingstock and signalling to the Sydney Metro Southwest extension.

“Although considered a stabilisation year, Alstom enjoyed strong commercial momentum in a very dynamic railway market,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom chairman and chief executive officer.

“We won major orders especially in Europe and in Asia-Pacific. In addition, we secured pioneering orders for our green mobility solutions, illustrating the potential of such technologies and the dynamism of the shift to carbon free transportation modes.”

Research and development spending accounted for 3.7 per cent of sales in 2019/20, with focus particularly on emissions-free mobility, including electric motors, hydrogen fuel-cells, and battery traction systems. Alstom was awarded contracts for its hydrogen train and battery electric train in regions in Germany.

The effect of COVID-19 is not fully realised in these accounts, as they finish at the end of March, 2020, however Alstom noted that it would not issue dividends to shareholders in July. The company calculated that the impact on sales of COVID-19 is roughly €100 million ($167.9m), due to a slowdown of sales recognition. As of May 12 a restart of production is occurring, and the company expects a fast recovery in the rail market.

“Alstom considers the health and safety of its employees and stakeholders as its top priority during this period. We are confident for the resilience of Alstom’s business in the mid-term, given the fundamentals of the rail market and in particular, the need for greener mobility,” said Poupart-Lafarge.

Recycled

Recycled materials in use at multiple transport projects

Recycled materials are being used on transport projects in Victoria and NSW, making the most of the many infrastructure projects currently underway.

In Melbourne, the newly opened Kananook Train Storage Facility, located in Seaford, used over 11,000 tonnes of recycled rail ballast. The ballast was previously in use on the Melbourne train network and was extracted during the Carrum Level Crossing Removal Project. Instead of going to waste, the ballast was used to build the new storage facility.

The re-use of materials such as ballast reduces the use of raw materials and cuts associated energy used in the mining and transportation of these materials. The project’s environmental impact was also improved by the installation of solar panels on the building’s roof.

The Kananook Train Storage Facility will allow for more trains to run on the Frankston line. A signal control centre at the same site will also help to minimise disruptions by centrally managing train movements. The site includes room for further train storage or a train maintenance facility if required in the future.

In NSW, the Parramatta Light Rail project, which is partly following the former Carlingford Line corridor, has maximised the retention of rail infrastructure from the former line.

Over 15,000 metres of single rail, 13,650 rail sleepers, 13,000 metres of overhead wire and the existing track ballast will be reused on the new light rail line.

Across the entire 12km light rail route, which travels from Westmead, via the Parramatta CBD to Camellia and finishes in Carlingford, recycled components will provide around 30 per cent of the track.

Community getting involved in shaping rail projects

Community members are having their say in the identity of rail projects around Australasia.

In New Zealand, City Rail Link has announced that its tunnel boring machine (TBM) will be named after Dame Whina Cooper, who campaigned for social justice and land rights for Māori in New Zealand. Chief executive of City Rail Link Ltd Sean Sweeney welcomed the choice.

“We were looking for the name of a New Zealand woman who inspired – brave, compassionate and fearless – and all those outstanding leadership qualities are well and truly represented by the very remarkable Dame Whina Cooper.”

Dame Whina Cooper was one of three women who were shortlisted to inspire the name of the TBM and the final decision was made by a poll that attracted 3,500 votes. The two other women who were nominated were Margaret Bradshaw, an Antarctic scientist, and the world’s first elected openly transgender Mayor and Member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer.

“I am grateful to all New Zealanders for their support and their nominations and votes, particularly at a time when we were all grappling with a pandemic. I would also like to thank Dr Bradshaw and Ms Beyer for allowing their names to be considered for our TBM,” said Sweeney.

The TBM will arrive on site in October, and will be reassembled at the Link Alliance project site at Mt Eden. The TBM will excavate two 1.6km tunnels from Mt Eden to Aotea Station.

In Western Australia, over 2,400 community members were involved in the future of Cockburn Central Station Tower.

After the removal of the controversial Cockburn Faces artwork in October 2019, the Cockburn community was asked to select a new use of the tower. Options included a new artwork, clock, digital screen, or the return of the faces.

After a month-long survey, 43 per cent opted for a new piece of artwork, and 37 per cent preferred an analogue clock.

“The community has spoken and, with almost half of the votes going for new artwork, our attention will now turn towards selecting an appropriate piece for the tower,” said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

The WA Public Transport Authority will release a tender for the new artwork for a local WA artist in the coming months. Jandakot MLA Yaz Mubarakai said the site is significant for the local community.

“Thousands of motorists and train commuters see the Cockburn Tower every day so it’s important they’ve been able to have their say and the most popular option has been selected.”

Growing a nation-building industry

Fourteen days into her tenure as CEO of the ARA, Rail Express sat down with Caroline Wilkie for an exclusive interview – her first major interview since taking over from incoming chairman, Danny Broad.

In her opening address to the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference, the new CEO of the ARA, Caroline Wilkie highlighted that the next 10 to 15 years would see the opening up of major opportunities across the rail sector.

In almost each major city in Australia, a new rail project will begin operating in this period. In Canberra, stage 2A of the light rail project is scheduled to open as early as 2023. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro tunnel is looking at completion in 2025. In Perth, the Metronet project’s components will start to come online from 2021. In Queensland, Cross River Rail is due to be completed in 2024, while on the Gold Coast, stage 3A of the Light Rail project could be up and running by 2023. Finally, in Sydney the next stage of the Sydney Metro is scheduled for opening in 2024.

While there will be many opportunities for ribbon cutting at each of these projects’ opening days, it will be ensuring that the continued benefit of each rail project extends from the construction into the operational phase that animates Wilkie as she makes her mark on the industry.

“Now is a good time to talk about what role rail will have into the future.”

Wilkie, who was for nine years the CEO of the Australian Airports Association (AAA), highlighted that she would be taking a collaborative approach to communicating these benefits and looking for future opportunities.

“If I’ve got to a media release or I’m banging on the door of a minister’s office, I certainly feel like I’ve not done the right thing,” said Wilkie.

To successfully advocate for an industry sector as the head of its representative association, Wilkie nominates three essential ingredients. Number one being research.

“Define the issue. A clear policy proposal backed by research should be the basis of your advocacy. If you can’t present the facts in a coherent narrative you’re not going to get very far.”

The next step, highlighted Wilkie, was having a cohesive voice as an industry.

“The second thing is then having all the partners and stakeholders on board. There’s no point us advocating for an outcome on behalf of a third party if that third party isn’t saying the same thing,” said Wilkie.

This also extends to ensuring that the government department that she is working with is onboard to convince the key decision-maker.

“If you can’t get the department on your side – both at a state and federal level – they’re not going to write a favourable brief up to the minister,” said Wilkie, who has been closely involved with federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s office during her time at the AAA.

“The minister is going to have a million and one things on his plate and if I’m coming in and saying one thing and the department is saying something opposite, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

The final element is understanding but not playing the politics, said Wilkie.

“Playing a straight bat is really important. I know that there’s government and there’s opposition, but at the AAA I always made sure that we briefed both, to make sure that everyone is aware of our views. That has been the ARA’s history as well, and I intend to maintain that bi-partisan approach.

“I will never attack the government in the media, it’s making sure that those in the departments that we talk to, state or federal level, and the ministers, state or federal, know that we’re positive partners and that we really want to engage with them in a constructive fashion.”

EXPERIENCE IN MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
In her nine years at the AAA, Wilkie oversaw a number of initiatives, but in 2019 her efforts paid off in the form of an unprecedented $100 million fund for regional airports. The products of two years of lobbying, the funding vindicated Wilkie’s collaborative approach to advocacy.

“When we started the campaign, we knew it would take two years and we were right it took two years. We knew we were not going to get this budget cycle, but we could catch the next one if we do the right meetings, get the right messages out there, and generate the right noise and buzz.”

The effort was in the context of infrastructure being devolved to local councils, who were unable to pay for the upkeep of expensive and underutilised assets. Wilkie recalled that essential to the campaign’s ultimate success was the range of voices engaged in the campaign.

“One of the greatest things we did was actually getting our members to be advocates for us, talking to their local member about why it was important and getting that local member to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister.”

The program’s ultimate success drew on these insights while also being realistic about what could be achieved within that timeframe.

“Too often you see some people saying, ‘We want this and that.’ But to be successful, you need to understand to the perspective of the Government of the day and the circumstances in which it is operating. You need to be collegiate in understanding the department’s mandate and its context, ” said Wilkie. “For example, there’s no point going to the Commonwealth this year and asking for additional expenditure, because we’re in a difficult period with the bushfires and coronavirus, so we’re planning conversations for next year.”

However, Wilkie’s experience at the AAA also highlighted that just as much as getting government to fund something or take an action, effective industry leadership can be just as much about ensuring a change does not happen.

In 2012, a proposal was put forward for airports to cover the cost of the presence of Australian Federal Police (AFP) at the facilities.

“It was a classic case of lobbying against a bad policy,” said Wilkie. “Sometimes the greatest achievement is making something not happen.”

Framing the issue as one of national security, and therefore the responsibility of the federal government, and getting other stakeholders on board, was to ensure this extra cost was not imposed on airports.

“I think the greatest traction we got in that campaign was arguing that if you want to charge us for that, we want KPIs, we want to have a say over the resourcing,” said Wilkie. “If we’re paying for it, then we want a say and you can well imagine the AFP saying ‘Absolutely not, this is a national security issue.’ This, of course, was our whole argument in the first place. We were able to get a lot of people in the community on board for this particular campaign.”

In other areas, Wilkie has found the value of research in effecting change. In late 2019, the Productivity Commission finalised a report into the airport sector, which found that the current regulation of the sector was fit-for-purpose.

“We were engaging with the Productivity Commission on the facts because we took the view that as they are the greatest economic minds in the country, they will consider the case on its economic merits. That was probably the best example in my time at the AAA of fact-based research and making sure that you got all your members to really be focused on that fact-based research.”

Wilkie sees reports such as the Value of Rail report, prepared for the ARA by Deloitte Access Economics as forming this evidence base for government decision-making, and is something that Wilkie will be looking to update further.

CONTRIBUTING TO THE GREATER GOOD
With these experiences under her belt, Wilkie is aware of the differences between the airport and rail sector, one that she describes as “issues rich”.

“After my first 14 days it’s pretty clear to me that there are distinct groups in the membership, and they each have their distinct issues. I think we can clearly advocate for each of the sectors’ needs without conflicting with someone else.”

Rather than seeing these different sectors as competing Wilkie highlighted that in coming together, the sectors can improve outcomes for the industry as a whole.

“With any membership organisation you go on the principle of ‘do no harm’, as in with any policy I don’t want to advance one member at the expense of another member. More broadly you want to do what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

Apart from her experience heading the AAA, Wilkie has a deep knowledge of the role of industry associations and peak organisations from prior roles at the Tourism and Transport Forum and the Financial Planning Association.

“I love working in industry associations. I enjoy the variety of the role as CEO and I love the advocating for the greater good,” she said.

“For all the work that I did at the AAA the thing that brought me the greatest joy was doing anything that helped people in regional communities, hence why I always say that getting that funding for regional communities is our proudest professional moment. It was a gut-wrenching decision to decide to leave but I had always looked very warmly on the ARA, I knew Danny Broad previously. I am excited about rail and I like the fact that it’s a nation-building industry. It still has that connection with the regions, and it’s obviously got a really exciting trajectory.”

Less than a month into the job, Wilkie is already looking at where rail can have a greater presence in the national conversation.

“We’re looking at doing refresh on some of our statistics; what is the value of rail and why is it important, particularly after the summer bushfires the issues of climate change and emissions are very much front and centre in the policy debate.”

As Europe increases its spending on rail to reduce the carbon footprint of mobility, Wilkie sees the ARA as having a role to play in setting the agenda for a decarbonised economy.

“That’s an area where rail has an amazing story to tell about what it can do, not only in metro areas in terms of increasing use of passenger transport, but even in regional areas, and particularly in terms of freight.”

In other areas, Wilkie is hoping to continue the work already being done by the ARA.

“The other area that’s a big focus for the ARA and which I will take the mantle up on, is about workforce development and skills development. I think that promoting rail employment as something that’s not old fashioned, but modern and dynamic is important. The many environmental benefits of our industry lends itself to being promoted as a green alternative to enriching life. That modern perception will actually greatly impact making it an employer of choice and making younger people decide to work in rail.”

In these areas, Wilkie has been doing her own, firsthand research.

“I grew up in the Hills district in Sydney and now we have the North West Metro. Over Christmas I took my son on it, just to go and ride it, because it was extraordinary. Having grown up in Castle Hill, the best you could hope for was an occasional bus down to Parramatta. So for kids, the new Metro has opened up travel, and allowed people to engage with the city. With developments like that you’re seeing people have a legitimate choice and that’s the difference.”

NEXT STEPS
Wilkie, who describes herself as “conservative” in her approach to association budgeting, stresses that the current ARA team and structure is key to the ongoing success of the association.

“Listening is going to be key in this period and then we’ll go to the ARA Board with a rough plan of how we can service the needs of the distinct groups within the rail industry. Then can we ask for each of these issues what do we need to do? Do we start from basics, is it a research project, do we need to do a submission to government?”

More broadly, Wilkie notes that the role of the industry association is to find areas that can benefit the sector as a whole.

“I think for a body like the ARA, it’s not necessarily about advocating for build more, I see a role for us in trying to move the industry to do better and more with what we have. So, what are the vagaries of the national system that aren’t working for us as an industry, and where can we see productivity improvements? It’s not particularly sexy. I don’t know that anyone can cut a ribbon around it, but when you look at the productivity for the sector, that’s where we as the ARA can actually add the greatest value.

“That really comes back to what the role of the association is about, bringing together the voices of the sector, and putting their issues front and centre with the decision makers.

“As a collective voice, we can achieve things for industry.”

Air France pushed to cut flights where high speed rail operates

Air France must limit domestic flights between cities connected by rail in less than 2 and a half hours, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

The decision is part of the French government’s €7 billion ($11.8bn) bailout package for Air France and is the furthest governments have gone yet to encourage the shift from air travel to rail.

Air France can still fly customers on these shorter domestic routes if they are connecting to an international flight, however with major flight hubs such as Charles De Gaulle already having high-speed rail access, there may be even more incentive to choose rail over air.

Le Maire’s decision to make state aid conditional on limiting domestic flights is part of the government’s push to make the airline more environmentally friendly. In addition to cutting short-haul routes, the airline will have to reduce CO2 emissions by passenger and kilometre by 50 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030.

“This new and drastic condition will lead us to review mobility on French territory,” said Le Maire to French reporters. “As soon as there is a rail alternative to domestic flights with a duration of less than 2:30, these domestic flights will have to be drastically reduced and limited simply to transfers to a hub.”

Once implemented, domestic flights between Pairs and cities such as Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, and Lyon would be cut and train patronage increase.

“The plane should no longer be a means of making transport in 1 hour or 1 hour 15 minutes which could be done at a lower cost of CO2 by train in 2 hours or 2 hours and 30 minutes,” said Le Maire.

French state-owned railway company SNCF, which operates the TGV service, has also been in talks with the French government about a bailout, with losses reportedly reaching €2bn ($3.37bn).

digital rail

The digital rail revolution

As one of the leading providers of digital technology in the digital rail sector, Mark Coxon of Alstom explains what changes rail can expect to see in its digital future.

Since the beginning of the modern era, rail has been closely connected to each major industrial innovation. Initially, in the first industrial revolution, the use of steam to textile mills was almost as iconic as the steam-powered train engine, which became the symbol of increased productivity and modernisation during the 19th century.

In the next era, the adoption of hydrocarbons as a source for fuel also enabled the diesel train, able to haul large loads for transcontinental journeys. Simultaneously, widespread electrification and the urbanisation of worldwide populations saw the adoption of electric, underground metro services that have kept crowded cities moving. Now, as the information revolution looks to set to be the next defining wave of innovation, train technology is leading the way in innovation.

Alstom is one of the early adopters of the digital wave in rail, and indeed has become one of the drivers. The significance of this shift is not lost on Mark Coxon, managing director of Alstom Australian and New Zealand.

“Digital Railways doesn’t have quite the romantic ring of the great train services of the past – the Orient Express, the Canadian Pacific or the Trans-Siberian. But digital is the next big wave in the railway sector, and train users can look forward to higher service standards, more timely information and even better ticket pricing,” he said.

The two primary technologies that have come to define digital rail are digital train control and digital signalling. Although there is an array of other technologies, according to Coxon, these tools will have a fundamental impact on the evolution of rail during the current industrial revolution.

“Digital signalling and digital technologies in general will have a huge influence on the evolution of rail services. They are just the latest developments in an industry that has a great track record (pun intended) of technological innovation. From steam to diesel to electric power, the railroad’s evolving technologies have unleashed economic potential and social mobility wherever the rails were laid.”

Indeed, the new technologies exist in order to improve the usefulness of rail networks, rather than being a cosmetic add on.

“Today we are entering an age where digitalisation allows operators to have real- time information on train movements and analyse overall performance – ultimately reducing costs by streamlining processes and improving efficiency and reliability,” Coxon said.

UNLOCKING THE URBAN
For many cities, including Australia’s urban centres, the efficiencies promised by digital rail could not come soon enough. Traditional signalling systems have reached the end of their useful life, while patronage continues to increase. Additionally, building new rail lines through cities is often not an option, and tunnelling underneath poses significant cost challenges. This has put pressure on existing technology, said Coxon.

“Railways have been part of the urban landscape for so long that networks in many countries have become extremely dense, especially on commuter lines in major cities, making it difficult and costly to implement major upgrading projects. Instead, the kind of improvements in efficiency that digital technology excels at can have massive operational impacts.”

Digital rail can also extend to find connections with other forms of transport, across heavy rail, metro, light rail and also bus and micro-mobility networks. Finding these efficiencies in the digital ecosystem can deliver major benefits to transport and city planners.

“Digital technologies hold out the promise of true transport integration, linking main-line rail services with other urban transportation modes, enhancing efficiency and passenger convenience,” said Coxon. “The introduction of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Intelligent Transport Systems and open- data/open-source transport applications are transforming urban transportation, optimising the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.”

Within the railways themselves, the enhanced data and feedback gathered by digital sensors form a connected railway that can reduce costs and improve service delivery.

“New transport data collection technologies are also being deployed to provide information about delays, downtime, and predictive maintenance which could lead to huge improvements in service standards, safety, and unlocking the potential of railways. Passengers will also be able to make real-time decisions about their journeys based on the features that matter most to them such as reliability, safety, travel time, and cost,” said Coxon.

In addition, as governments and individuals increasingly identify a project’s sustainability as a key factor, adopting the digitalisation
of railways can enable railway operators to reduce energy usage, improving air quality, while also delivering a seamless experience for the commuter.

“Enhanced safety, predictive maintenance, and automated driverless operation are all part of rail’s future,” said Coxon.

PUTTING THE PASSENGER FIRST
Perhaps an even more fundamental shift will be occurring in the way that passengers interact with transport. Currently divided into discrete journeys often limited by transport mode, a connected digital railway can enable the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Via data-enabled apps, commuters can move through transit modes made as one seamless trip, with real- time information to smoothen the transition.

“From the passenger’s perspective, access through online apps to real-time information on travel times, potential service interruptions, ticket prices, seating arrangements and even on the least crowded places to wait on a station platform, will enhance convenience and reduce the stress of travel,” said Coxon.

Reducing disruptions also enables transit time to fit into the other rhythms of daily life, with enhanced services available onboard.

“Railways today offer a connected service all along the passenger journey with on-board Wi-Fi for internet and entertainment options. Passengers are able to experience these services using their own mobile devices –laptops, tablets and smartphones,” said Coxon. “This approach to train connectivity can unquestionably deliver a significantly improved passenger experience.”

These developments occur as part of a strategy of putting the individual first, rather than forcing the individual to comply with the requirements of the service.

SEIZING THE DIGITAL FUTURE
However, just as digital rail offers solutions, there are challenges too, as Coxon acknowledges.

“The path to digitalisation will not, of course, be entirely smooth.”

The benefits of digital rail require collaboration and coordination between companies, agencies, and organisations that have up until now existed in their own silos, with limited interaction. In addition, the skills and knowledge that is required to build and run a digital rail system is quite different to those needed in an analogue rail environment, although Coxon notes that these changes could have their own benefits.

“Despite the challenges, the railway sector’s move to digitalisation is clearly unstoppable. Digital technology in the railway sector will see a shift from the traditional emphasis on heavy engineering, to software and data handling skills. In the future, once the hardware is installed, upgrading a signalling system will no longer require hundreds of workers out on the tracks; it might be more like upgrading the software on your phone.”

Getting to this digitally enabled future may require some difficult transitioning, however through collaborating across industry lines, returns can be found.

“Rail operators should take this digitalisation opportunity to integrate different mobility options into their existing offering and consequently focus on value creation through innovation,” said Coxon.

“Without a doubt, it is the quiet efficiency of digital technology that will take rail systems and their passengers into a new age of rail travel that is safer, more convenient and comfortable, more economical, and more climate-friendly.”