Promoting the digitalisation in railway transport: the themes of the UNIFE event

UNIFE hosted an online event entitled ‘Boosting railway digitalisation thanks to EU Research and Innovation’, where industry experts explored the industry’s contribution to railway digitalisation, as well as the European Green Deal. The event, part of ‘The European Year of Rail’ campaign, aimed to discuss and explore how the industry can contribute to rail digitisation. The event, part of ‘The European Year of Rail’ campaign, aimed to discuss and explore how the rail sector can leverage emerging technologies to become the backbone of the sustainable mobility model.    

  European Green Deal Climate change presents problems and threats around the world, including rising temperatures, reduced air quality and loss of biodiversity. To mitigate the impact, the European Commission has declared that Europe needs a new strategy for growth and development, transforming it into a modernised and more efficient sector. The agreement focuses on the reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050, and on economic growth decoupled from resource use, the overall aim being to ensure that the EU economy is as sustainable as possible. During the discussion, the Green Deal was presented as positive for the rail sector, allowing better monitoring of potential environmental impacts. This will allow the industry to monitor its progress and ensure that the steps it is taking reflect the objectives of the agreement.   Autonomous trains The technology surrounding autonomous and driverless trains has been explored for many years by various players in the industry. With companies such as Tesla making strides in the automotive sector, it is hoped that the railways will soon follow with the implementation of similar technologies. Train automation has several tangible benefits for both travellers and freight: it allows more trains to run and therefore be able to transport more people and goods; it allows for greater regularity of service and makes it easier to respond to possible unforeseen events. It also reduces energy consumption. All rolling stock manufacturers and integrated systems specialists are on the starting blocks to take their place in this promising market which, according to estimates, will generate between 30 and 40 billion euros in turnover between 2025 and 2050 for component manufacturers and four times that amount in the new services sector for the exploitation of collected data. Benefits of digitisation Digitisation is a buzzword within the rail industry, defined as a process that uses digital technologies to alter and change a business model, digitisation will enable the rail industry to adopt new technologies and facilitate a range of new and old processes. Increasing capacity and reducing operating costs will be the most immediate benefits brought by digitisation geared towards monitoring critical assets, proactive condition-based maintenance and more efficient calibration of maintenance intervals. Machine learning systems, on-board systems and IoT platforms will shape the way operators carry out their daily tasks, and will also frame the way passengers and goods will move in the future.In order to guarantee an excellent level of quality at all times, Ansaldo Trasporti adapts and renews its designs to accommodate all the latest safety technologies, adopting state-of-the-art components that meet the highest quality standards, including in the design and production planning process for railway systems.    

Future trends in rail travel: news from Rail Tec Europe 2021

This year’s Rail Tec Europe event took place virtually in the form of a digital forum. For five days, the event covered all rail sectors, from how the industry can improve to attract passengers to the impact the pandemic has had on passenger numbers.

During two seminars “What are the expectations after Covid-19? and “Travellers’ behaviour during and after Covid-19” the importance of attracting passengers back to the railway and what can be done to achieve this goal was discussed, as well as the change towards more individuals preferring teleworking to commuting to the office.


Introduction of new materials

The introduction of new materials on train surfaces, such as handrails, could increase passengers’ optimism about train safety. In fact, a new foil material containing silver and copper has been discussed which, according to researchers, can eliminate most viruses and bacteria that come into contact with its surface, an extremely useful property for those surfaces that are touched by hundreds of different people during the day. It remains to be seen which is the most cost-effective way to introduce it, as the economic impact, considering the value of the source material, is significant. However, the benefits would be very significant.


Increased congestion on the roads

During the pandemic, car travel became more attractive and this saw the second-hand car industry flourish. Many people have chosen to replace train travel with travel in the comfort of their own car, which they consider to be safer.


Surveys in the Netherlands investigating the switch from train to car revealed that about 10% of the participants actually bought an alternative mode of transport, 50% of this 10% did so to specifically replace train travel.

This trend obviously means more vehicles on the roads, which presents congestion problems, and analysts expect that this situation will soon become unsustainable, making cars a less attractive means of transport, which could potentially cause a gradual return to rail services.

High speed China-Europe

China’s enthusiasm for high-speed trains has known few bounds so far, and now it has set its sights on a grand new scheme: reviving the ancient Silk Road through a state-of-the-art high-speed rail network for both passengers and freight. The $150 billion railway would start in Xinjiang and wind 3,700 miles through 40 Asian and European countries with a total population of three billion people. Although this formidable project might sound like wishful thinking, Chinese media have reported a rather short time perspective: an initial date is scheduled for 2022, followed by the start of operational services by 2030. Despite China’s confidence, there are a number of obstacles that could prove insurmountable for the project as a whole, not to mention the reported high-speed schedule.


The project’s biggest obstacles are geopolitical discrepancies between countries, which is why Chinese President Xi Jinping brought more than 100 European leaders and representatives together in Beijing in July 2014 to launch and discuss the idea. Even with the consensus of countries, the biggest problem remains differences in track gauges within the countries concerned, which is why high-speed trains for cross-border operations are being developed that are designed to run on different gauges, a feature that will allow these trains to operate on international routes. Typically, when operations change from one gauge to another, operators are required to change train bogies or deploy a new train, both of which are time-consuming processes. However, the new high-speed trains will be equipped with gauge-changing bogies underneath the cabs, allowing the vehicle to seamlessly change its driving mode as it passes through a particular section of track with a different gauge. The railway facility is part of China’s One Road One Belt economic plan to diversify and build new land and sea routes in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Ansaldo Trasporti, in partnership with the Ancona public transport company, is launching Italy’s first anti-smog bus project.

They are on the road, three in Ancona and one in Jesi, the four “smog-eating” buses of the Purifygo project, translated “Purify & Go”, requested by Conerobus, the public transport company of Ancona and its province in collaboration with Ansaldo Trasporti. The buses are equipped with a filter system capable of stopping particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micrometers (PM10) and then collecting particles measuring PM2.5. Each bus covers a different type of public transport area, ranging from the city centre to the countryside. Each filter unit is capable of filtering 486,000 litres of air per hour. Assuming that each bus is in operation twelve hours a day, the filtering capacity of each system installed on the bus is 12 million litres of air per day per bus. Therefore, the four buses are able to filter a total of 4.2 billion litres of air during the three-month trial period. Once the experiment is over, indications can be obtained from the filters themselves on the degree of pollution in the areas covered. Comparing the different filters will allow the most effective materials to be chosen for the next industrial steps.


Real-time filter monitoring Ansaldo Trasporti, a company active in various branches of public transport, is collaborating on the project with the Italian company AGT Engineering, which runs the control centre in Rome, where the most important parameters of the system are monitored in real time. Particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micrometers and especially PM2.5 are increasingly linked to health problems such as asthma and lung cancer, and road traffic is one of the main causes of this type of pollution in urban areas. Ansaldo Trasporti is looking to the future of public transport with ever greener technologies. “Sustainability is an integral part of our corporate identity,” said Gennaro di Sarno, CEO of Ansaldo Traporti, “our heritage is rooted in our determination to contribute to increasingly sustainable mobility through projects, investments and new partnerships. This project kicks off a new era of sustainable mobility, in which our company intends to play a leading role with projects and technologies that are increasingly geared towards safeguarding the environment”.

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