The European Commission designated 2021 as the European Year of Rail, thus shining a spotlight on an industry that will have a sustainable impact on our lives in the coming years.
There are four needs that play the primary role in selecting a mode of transportation: comfort, time, price and for an increasing number of people, also sustainability. How can you travel from A to B in the quickest, most comfortable, affordable and environmentally-friendly manner? The answer to this question must be: public transport – in urban centers as well as long-distance transit. This requires an absolutely customer-friendly mobility service that enables trouble-free and seamless travel from the front door to the destination. Rail constitutes the backbone of sustainable mobility when it comes to this service.
The first major aspect is the network. We have to be able to optimize how rail hubs are linked – whether you are traveling from the city or the countryside. The growing automation and digitalization will progressively introduce autonomous driving as part of our daily lives and therefore also mobility services such as the self-driving bus shuttles from the front door to the train station. However, with much higher frequencies than today and adapted to individual travel itineraries. Just how this works is currently being demonstrated in Singapore, where there is perfectly coordinated, intelligent traffic management; all traffic lights, intersections and traffic routes are incorporated into it. Real-time data enables better control of traffic flows, resulting in the elimination of traffic jams and long waits. Autonomous vehicles are in pilot operation on test routes. What is possible there can also be achieved in Berlin or Hamburg. And in fact, the technology for self-driving vehicles with roadside infrastructure and passenger operations is being tested in the course of the HEAT project with Hamburger Hochbahn AG. .
Technology and innovation are also the key to success when it comes to making our train stations intelligent. It is a matter of using integrated app solutions to automatically lead tourists, visitors or commuters automatically to the right train platform, so that they can catch the next train or the optimum connection in a timely manner. This makes it even easier to reach destinations, while saving time and for that matter nerves. Once in the train, we can then enjoy all the advantages it has to offer and that cars and aircraft cannot provide to the same extent – namely room to move and comfort. New train furnishings must consider the customers’ changing needs. This means: creating more room for children’s play corners, rooms for talking on the phone and working, on-board restaurants with a view through a glass roof and of course, a stable Wi-Fi connection at all times. Trains that are coordinated and connected with each other increase punctuality and efficiency on routes and enable a safe, comfortable and particularly seamless journey – throughout the day as well as at night, thanks to the new generation of night trains, which we currently construct for our customer ÖBB.
But railways themselves can become even more sustainable. Modern drive technologies such as hydrogen trains of the second generation with a refueling time of just 15 minutes make the travel offer even more climate friendly. Our Mireo Plus H2 which is currently piloted with DB is a good example for this technological progress. Furthermore, predictive maintenance of trains can be carried out with the help of connectivity, algorithms and artificial intelligence, thus enabling the elimination of faults before they even occur. This would ensure the 100 percent availability of trains and only require minimal additional investments. Autonomous driving by rail can transport up to 20 percent more passengers than today, while reducing energy consumption to the same extent. Such conditions would allow us to speed up the mobility transformation and accelerate the transition to public transport.
The foundation for all of these ideas of a networked and integrated mobility is and will remain an efficient rail infrastructure – in Germany as well as throughout Europe. Furthermore, this is the only way to ensure that we will achieve the European climate targets and significantly reduce our CO2 emissions. At the same time, the European rail industry is making an important contribution to the creation of value and prosperity on our continent. Thanks to the world’s leading position of the European rail network, it also has a very high export ratio, it employs nearly 400,000 direct or indirect employees and is the contractor for thousands of suppliers extending beyond numerous internal national borders, including many in the small and medium-sized industry. Investments in the industry will secure an advantage in the future and introduce a made in Europe transportation system to the world.
Why is it such a delight to write about such developments? Because it offers new perspectives and encourages us to think about how we want to shape our environment and use it in the future! Regardless of whether in the city or in the country. The right mobility services will open numerous doors. The European Year of Rail serves as a great opportunity to discuss the topic.