Sunday Afternoon Workshop – Green Railway: Challenges and Solutions in Train Control Systems

With transportation responsible for nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction of emissions from transportation is imperative. Around the world, policy reflects this need. For example, the European Union has set a target for a 10% reduction in overall transportation emissions by 2020. Japan is targeting a 30% reduction in emissions from railways by 2020 and European Railvision hopes for a carbon free railway network by 2050.

At the same time, energy makes up a significant portion of a railway’s operational cost. In the last 5 years the Belgian National Rail Operator (SNCB) has seen a 30% increase in energy costs. In the UK, the energy cost of running a train for its lifetime is generally estimated to be equivalent to the cost of the train itself.

Therefore, the reduction of energy use in railways is a win-win strategy: saving costs for railway operators and aiding the environment by contributing to the reduction in carbon emissions.

Sunday afternoon’s workshop featured 6 presentations of research pertaining to this area. Emissions reductions can be realized from a number of perspectives, from a big-picture measure such as timetabling, to efficient driving techniques, to the effectiveness of sub-systems. A theme of the afternoon’s presentations was that strategy, information and train control play an important role in increasing the energy efficiency of railway systems.

Dr. Clive Roberts (University of Birmingham) discussed his research in the use of simulation to give an understanding of the origins of energy loss within a railway power system. Dr. Ingo Hansen (Delft University of Technology,) showed that intelligent railway traffic management contributes to energy savings.

Dr. Thomas Albrecht (Dresden University of Technology) concluded that standardized interfaces between traffic control systems, driver advisory systems and conflict detection and resolution, can lead to fewer delays and unplanned stops, resulting in a more energy efficient driving. Along similar lines, Dr. Rob Goverde (Delft University of Technology) highlighted the importance of the interaction of the timetable and train control system in the context of capacity, stability and robustness. Here the main conclusion was that timetabling can be a prerequisite for effective train control.

Dr. Tao Teng, (Beijing Jiaotong University) talked about the future of train control systems and equated the state of current technology to a tower of toy bricks, with several separate pieces stacked on top of one another, but not necessarily working together. The trends in new technology include on-board technology, more automation, more integration, and convergence of European and Chinese as well as mass transit and mainline technologies.

Of course for a sustainable railway system, safety is also critically important. In the final presentation Geltmar von Buxhoeveden (Technical University of Braunschweig) showed the development of a tool to statistically analyze safety indicators in the Swiss public transit system.

As we all know, conference presentations can be rated somewhere on a scale from snoozefest to super interesting and engaging. Here, and in future posts, I will take the opportunity to give shout-outs to interesting and engaging presenters. Geltmar von Buxhoeveden deserves such a shout-out from this session.

Much of the research presented in these sessions is a part of the europe-wide “on-time” project. For more information, check out the website.

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