Approaching two years into this process we are making good progress towards achieving the goals of the strategy’s three key mission statements, including through several projects which will come to fruition in 2017 (see below) Specifically, the statements are:
- to intensify research and development activities in order to improve railway safety, technology and operation while responding to customers’ needs and social change
- to develop professional expertise in all aspects of railways and, as an independent and impartial research body, to fulfil our tasks using the best science available in an ethical way, and
- to pioneer cutting-edge technologies and become a world-leader.
To implement this vision, and these missions, we formulated a five-year master plan, Research 2020, for 2015-2019, which aims to develop the necessary research and development (R&D) strategies.
This executive programme is the cornerstone of our current activities.
We categorise research topics from different viewpoints into four “objectives” and three “pillars” to clarify the purpose and to efficiently allocate resources. RTRI is also working to increase its international presence by applying RTRI-dependent original test equipment, cumulative know-how and test data to achieve high-quality results.
The four objectives are:
- improvement of safety with respect to enhancing resistance to large-scale natural disasters and preventing derailment
- cost reduction with respect to maintenance
- harmony with the environment through more efficient energy use, and
- improving convenience through greater speed.
The three pillars consist of R&D for the future of railways; development of practical technologies; and basic research for railways. Resources are well-balanced throughout each of these categories to promote effective R&D.
For example, railway R&D emphasises a strict selection of challenges to meet railway operator requirements and social trends, straddling multiple research fields, and strategically allocating resources. RTRI is mindful that many of these practical applications are around 10 years ahead, and plans with this accordingly.
In contrast, development of practical technologies considers matters that will immediately affect railway operations in order to provide practical results in a timely and precise manner. Furthermore, RTRI promotes R&D by receiving instructions from JR companies and lending its R&D to solve problems onsite, while voluntarily promoting its work with the goal of making railway business more practical.
RTRI positions its general R&D as basic research for railways. Here we work to clarify mechanisms and phenomena; construction analysis, experiment, and evaluation methods; advance simulation technology; and investigate new technologies, materials, and research techniques, all of which are necessary for solving various problems and addressing challenges relating to sources of innovative technologies.
As a way to promote this basic research, emphasis is placed on the following five topics.
- prediction, detection, and prevention of phenomena of disasters
- clarification of dynamic phenomena caused by train travel
- elucidation of deterioration/damage mechanisms
- improvement of the environment along railway lines and the global environment, and
- improvement of safety with a focus on human factors.
We also benefit from world-class research facilities, including a Rolling Stock Testing Plant, which incorporates a high-speed roller rig facility. The rig supports speeds of up to 500km/h, and can reproduce track displacements and simulate running conditions using an actual rail car, while testing running stability and ride comfort as well as the acceleration/deceleration performance tests of railway cars.
Although this system has been used for 30 years, the functions continue to be improved, for instance, adding an HILS (hardware in-the-loop simulation) function which can simulate the running conditions of three coupled cars by linking this facility with computerised numerical simulation.
When considering research and development for the future of railways in Research 2020, four major themes were carefully selected. These themes comprise 10 specific topics for research and development, and coordinating them promotes systematic R&D. The four main themes are as follows:
- Pursuit of enhanced railway system safety: in order to further increase railway safety, in addition to work on derailment countermeasures for conventional lines, R&D is underway to prevent accidents caused by human factors and to mitigate damage if an accident occurs. We are also working to prevent and mitigate the harm caused by natural phenomena. For example, development is underway of a derailment-resistant bogie for use on conventional lines.
- Renovation of railway systems using information networks: research is underway to develop energy-saving railway systems by reducing maintenance costs and enhancing train-running convenience through better utilisation of information networks as well as information and communication technology (ICT).
- Speeding up the Shinkansen: research and development of various components pertaining to current-collection systems, braking systems, and the environment along lines.
- Building railway simulators: the characteristics of each field comprising railway systems will be reproduced as simulator functions and these will be combined to form comprehensive analysis methods.
The value of RTRI is our ability to create high-quality results and, by widely supplying these and earning the trust of railway operators and society, adding value to the industry. RTRI aims to quickly grasp social conditions and technology trends and our goal is for our research into the latest innovative technologies to enhance rail technology and ultimately create a happier society. Research 2020 is our mechanism to achieve this.
RTRI 2017 research highlights
AMONG the stand-out projects that will make major progress in 2017 is an initiative to protect railway facilities from the damage caused by a high-resistance ground fault.
In this project, we will develop a high-speed, high-precision system to detect faulty current in excess of 100A within three seconds and to prevent power cables from breaking due to a high-resistance ground fault. The aim is for the protection mechanism to analyse current waveform, and in the case of a faulty current, to issue commands to cut off the current for train operation. We want to develop a system which does not add an extra wire, and in 2017 plan to examine possible methods to identify faults by monitoring the waveform of the current at substations and by analysing changes in load current. This work will inform development of a prototype system that will conduct confirmation tests.
As part of the “Renovation of railway systems using information networks,” a second project aims to develop superconducting feeder cables. The feeder cable is made of superconducting material to overcome the problems of regeneration failures, transmission loss, and voltage drop due to electrical resistance, and it will enable power transmission with no electrical resistance.
We have already installed and tested superconducting feeder cables on a test track at RTRI, and in 2017 will work towards confirming performance by constructing a new 300m test-track outside of RTRI, where we will install an 8kA superconducting cable. We will also work to develop a superconducting feeder cable system that meets specifications required for commercial operation. The aim is to begin testing on a commercial line in 2020.