TechBite on the latest developments in Railway

Key insights and resources taken from the International Conference on Railway Engineering (ICRE) in May 2016, organised by the IET Railway Network.

The global rail sector faces challenging times; demand for improved capacity, a shortage of skilled engineers and the need to provide greater value for money while meeting growth on tighter budgets. In response, railway operators around the globe are seeking new ways to increase efficiency, reduce failures and provide value-added services to customers.

In the UK, the 2015 Hendy Report outlined an ambitious image of a railway track tunnel programme to operate, maintain, renew and improve the rail network across Great Britain, and several interesting projects are underway or under discussion including Network Rail’s Enhancement Delivery plan to provide faster and more reliable public and freight trains. But the challenges and innovations go far beyond the UK’s borders. For example it was proposed that Network Rail use the European Railway Traffic Management System to address the minimisation of gaps between trains whilst maintaining safe travel.

Enabling technologies

Enabling technologies are making waves around the world as Dr Crinela Pislaru, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield explains. “The use of enabling technologies – biotechnology, nanotechnology, control engineering, artificial intelligence – for the design, development and implementation of smart, integrated systems will increase network capacity and customer satisfaction while reducing cost and carbon footprint.”

Some of the latest technologies appearing in this sector include communications-based train control (CBTC) for signalling, the long-term evolution (LTE) standard for communications, linear traction motors and contactless traction power systems. In addition, use of magnetic levitation, or Hyperloop technologies, is being trialled to achieve higher speed rail operation in the USA.

View Dr Crinela Pislaru’s presentation on IET.tv: Increasing Kinematic Performance of Rail Vehicles Using Adaptive Control Methods for Steering bogies.

Key benefits

“The key benefits of using these are mainly to increase the level of operation efficiency, reliability and safety of operation, optimise capital and/or operating and maintenance costs, improve environmental friendliness and shorten project construction times,” says CS Chang, Chairman and Director of Key Direction Limited.

Remote monitoring of railway assets is another of the technologies rising in interest, which should help optimise maintenance and reduce ‘track walking’. However, as Chris Marshman, IET Railway TPN Executive Committee Member highlights, there are still questions to be answered.

“Remote monitoring sounds great, but what do we do with all the data? Do we collect centrally or do we use local analysis and simply signal the need for a manual inspection? It’s a great opportunity, but potentially a huge problem!” Another discussion currently underway is the role of commercial off the shelf (COTS) equipment in lowering costs. “What about obsolescence? Is such equipment robust enough for the environment? Integration of COTS into systems can also bring other problems such as electromagnetic compatibility – we don’t want new rolling stock to change a red signal to green due to unwanted electrical interference,” Chris notes.

Solving the skills gap

And what about the growing skills gap: a universal issue that nearly all railway project managers are facing today? “The existing shortage of skilled engineers has a negative effect on rail projects and the situation might get worse as the workforce gets older, demand increases and new technology develops,” Crinela explains, but changes are afoot. “There are several initiatives involving government, industry and educational organisations which aim to address this shortfall.” Challenges may abound, but even so sector experts are also excited about what the future may hold. “[We will be likely to see] new forms of trains, stations, reservation and payment methods, better integrated transport systems and most importantly, safer operation,” enthuses CS. Chang. “As such, more people will use trains instead of planes for short- and medium-haul travel.”

View the rest of the presentations below by visiting www.theiet.org/ICRE 

  • What happens to Railway, Transport and Engineering if we leave the EU? - Sas Harrison, John Easton,
    Martin Halligan, Heather Douglas, Bello Sambo, Marcelo Blumenfeld
  • Why are train fares so expensive?
  • Shift2Rail - To deliver the ERRAC’s versions of the future railway? - Andy Doherty
  • Development of an Enhanced Bow-Tie Railway Safety Assessment Tool using Big Data Analytics Approach - Howard J. Parkinson
  • Investing in Productive, Efficient Infrastructure (“Out with the Old, in with the new”) - Stirling Kimeran
  • A Machine Learning Approach for Recognising Woody Plants on Railway Trackbeds - Roger Nyberg
  • Digital Electrification Design - Paul Rowlands
  • How does existing data improve decision making? Case study of wind-related incidents on rail network - Qian Fu
  • Visible Light Communication in Railways (TVLC) - Shabeeb Ahamed
  • Optimising Energy Saving in Metro Systems Through Characteristic Evaluation - Heather Douglas
  • A Systems Approach to Developing a new Metro for Megalopoleis - Marcelo Blumfield

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