Industry expects strong impetus from Innotrans 2018


- The future of the railway has become digital

Consistent digitalisation and networking of rail operations is key to making the railway fit for its future tasks. This is the firm conviction of Olaf Zinne, managing director of the ZVEI trade association for electric railways and vehicles and head of the ZVEI platform "Smart Mobility". Railways had a key role in the many challenges posed by the rising requirements for mobility.

However, the planned growth in passenger numbers and freight transport can only be achieved if there is better use of existing track capacity. "In order to increase the frequencies, greater digitalisation and networking of trains with each other and with control and safety technology is essential", Zinne emphasised to the Innotrans trade fair. The Ministry of Transport predicts a two-fold increase in passenger numbers by 2030. More passengers than ever have been transported by rail, with 150 million long disance passengers being transported in Germany in 2017. Moreover, there is a strong growth in the volume of goods.

"Innovative railway technology increases environmental compatibility, improves safety and comfort while the railway runs more economically", Zinne explained. As a result, digital, automated systems can save up to 30 percent of energy consumption if, depending on the route profile and the utilisation of the routes, acceleration and braking are optimised and energy is fed back into the power grid.

The sensors on the tracks, trains or switches allow the systems and the rolling stock to be checked during operation. In this manner, anticipated maintenance is possible instead of maintenance at fixed time intervals. This is where the 5G mobile network might also set more innovation in motion.

High-speed networking - obviously from a cyber-security perspective - is also the key to automated train operation.On some routes in suburban and underground trains which have limited data volumes, this already provides experience in regular operation.   

Zinne called for the improvement of the railways not to stop at national borders; this should be perceived as a European endeavour. The electrical and electronic industry have therefore vigorously supported the political measures taken to achieve the greater interoperability of the railway system.  A Europe-wide introduction of the European Rail Traffic Management System, which has been available for over 20 years, is long overdue. It is intended to replace 25 different systems in Europe. The European train protection system ETCS must also be implemented swiftly so that trains travelling across Europe - such as the direct connection from Paris to Warsaw – do not remain an exception.

Railways are already the most environmentally friendly means of transport. However, it is necessary to move more strongly to technologies such as hydrogen-powered trains throughout Germany – for instance, from 2022, the first scheduled service is to start in Hesse. "And we also have to push even harder when electrifying individual routes," emphasises Zinne.

"I am particularly pleased that the vast majority of technical innovation in rail transport emanates from the innovative spirit of the electrical industry. It is an enabler industry," says Zinne. The Innotrans trade fair demonstrates this once again this year, as numerous electrical companies have joined the list of exhibitors. "What automation has achieved in the field of digital transformation with the Industrie 4.0 project - namely to lead the world in technology - has also got to be the objective of the railway industry". The electrical industry views itself as the number 1 innovation partner of such efforts.