IN this European Year of Rail, much of the conversation revolves around rail’s value in spurring on a post-pandemic economic recovery, improving accessibility for citizens and rail’s unique sustainability credentials. In many ways, these strengths find their roots in rolling stock. Today, the European railway supply industry is working hard to conduct research to craft the next generation of innovative trains.

With the start of the new European Commission (EC) in 2019, led by its president, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, there has been a noticeable increase in policy prioritisation for climate action in Brussels. The EU Green Deal has served as the guiding light since von der Leyen instructed the EC to work towards moving a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road onto rail and inland waterways.

More recently, the EC’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, presented by the EC’s vice-president, Mr Frans Timmermans, and transport commissioner, Ms Adina Valean, aims to reduce emissions by 90% by 2050, partly by doubling high-speed rail traffic by 2030 and rail freight by 2050. Such ambitious targets will require behaviour shifts by users and a transformation of the European transport landscape.

To achieve these goals, the rail community must continue to innovate to create the next generation of trains capable of acting as the backbone of a seamless, eco-friendly transport network.

Three projects - NextGear, Recet4Rail and GearBodies - illustrate the potential for generating truly innovative rolling stock.

Shift2Rail has proven a capable facilitator of the pan-European collaboration on rail research necessary to deploy high quality and sustainable products across the EU. Through public-private partnerships like Shift2Rail, consortia are working together to explore emerging technologies for rail to develop traction systems, lightweight materials, automation, driver assistance, energy efficiency and digital automatic couplers, the latter being critical to achieving the freight traffic goals.

Three projects - NextGear, Recet4Rail and GearBodies - illustrate the potential for generating truly innovative rolling stock.

NextGear, short for next generation methods, concepts and solutions for the design of robust and sustainable running gear, was launched in December 2019 and runs for two years.

The project aims to develop new running gear to reduce life cycle costs while improving reliability and energy efficiency, reducing noise emissions and achieving full rolling stock interoperability. In short, this project will make trains safer, better for the environment, more reliable, more comfortable and even quieter.

NextGear is currently updating the Universal Cost Model (UCM) devised in Roll2Rail, a 2015-2017 Shift2Rail project coordinated by Unife, to make it possible to judge the economic impact of the innovation.

The consortium is also generating ideas for the running gear technology demonstrator (TD1.4) using new materials and manufacturing methods. NextGear is designing the wheelset of the future by proposing a concept for a hybrid carbon fibre and metallic design aimed at achieving a substantial reduction in wheelset weight without compromising safety.

Unife is also coordinating Recet4Rail, a 30-month project to develop a reliable energy and cost-efficient traction system for trains. This project has been tasked with reducing overall lifecycle operating costs of the traction sub-system.

Essential knowledge

Recet4Rail will provide the essential knowledge needed to improve the high technology readiness level required by traction demonstrations on trains built by Shift2Rail members. This will pave the way to digitalise traction, improve environmental sustainability, for example by devising carbon-free traction systems, and achieve greater standardisation to reduce complexity and costs.

Recet4Rail is focusing on four new technologies with tremendous potential. These include end-to-end conception time evaluation and a study of 3D printing technologies for new traction components. A dynamic wireless power transfer system is being evaluated, focused on opportunistic charging. Researchers are trying to improve their understanding of the robustness and reliability of high voltage SiC modules based on the reliability of traction components and life cycle mechanisms. Lastly, smart maintenance approaches are being developed using predictive analytics, trained on big data.

The 25-month GearBodies project aims to create new inspection methods and technology to review new materials in car body applications, as well as employ innovative approaches for developing novel concepts with a longer life for key running gear components.

The project will contribute to Shift2Rail technology demonstrators through two dedicated work streams. The first will explore inspection methods for car bodies using new materials to develop effective and affordable solutions for inspecting those using new lightweight materials.

The other work stream will assist manufacturers to employ inventive approaches, tools and methods as they formulate novel concept designs of running gear components with an extended life and lower life cycle costs while maintaining current levels of reliability and reducing noise emissions and track damage. This project will also help to significantly reduce inspection times, while the use of new materials and systems will extend component life and cut maintenance costs.

GearBodies will support the use of innovative materials and practices, which will have a profound impact on cost, reliability, energy consumption and infrastructure maintenance.

These four elements are critical to improving end user confidence in rail and achieving the objectives in both the EU Green Deal and the Mobility Strategy.

For rail to serve as the backbone of a decarbonised transport network, it must have the tools to do so. Unife will continue to advocate to the EU on the need for sustained support for programmes such as Shift2Rail and its successor Europe’s Rail, while actively participating and coordinating research projects.