Full steam ahead for the future of rail

Full steam ahead for the future of rail

How can digitalisation drive a majority of people and cargo to rail?

24 November 2021
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In 2014, the EU established a public-private joint undertaking, Shift2Rail, to provide a platform coordinating and developing research and innovation activities to be integrated into advanced rail solutions. Shift2Rail’s objectives were simple: to improve the competitiveness of rail to encourage more users, passengers but also freight forwarders and shippers, to rail.

Seven years later and the tidal wave of change is slowly rolling in; in the last five years railway has experienced a considerable boom, growing at a 10% CAGR, propelled by European Community regulations, the European Green Deal and other national regulations. Specifically, the EU Green Deal reports that for mobility to become sustainable “decisive action to shift more activity towards more sustainable transport modes (notably increasing the number of passengers travelling by rail and commuting by public transport and active modes, as well as shifting a substantial amount of freight onto rail, inland waterways, and short sea shipping),” must be taken. In practical terms this means doubling high-speed rail traffic, a major competitor to airline travel, over the next ten years and rail freight traffic by 2050.



This shift cannot take place, however, unless rail travel and transport become truly competitive. For rail to become more appealing to EU passengers, this means providing more travel options, more comfort and improved punctuality. For freight forwarders/shippers, this means offering more cost-effective, punctual and traceable shipment options.

So how can these tall orders be met? Electrification certainly plays a key role and rail transport will need to be further electrified, but our experience at Fincons Group tells us that digital transformation is going to be the real pivotal element to bring about change in the industry. The EC Putting European transport on track for the future paper clearly states that “Digitalisation will become an indispensable driver for the modernisation of the entire [transport] system, making it seamless and more efficient”, indicating that increasing the capacity, punctuality and life-cycle cost of railways via digital features is key to bringing about the shift required by the EU, and more broadly by the environment itself.

Digitalisation is therefore one of the top priorities for the rail sector.

More complex and efficient algorithms support the optimization of resource planning, line planning, maintenance and personnel management, enabling a substantial improvement at the core of rail production, reducing costs while enhancing performance and timetable density. Increasing network density also means improving its efficiency so that tracks and vehicles are always in optimal condition, thanks to predictive maintenance algorithms. Modelling itineraries on real-time data can also help to respond to actual demand and avoid underutilization, while providing even non-technical decision makers with user-friendly dashboards helps them interpret information. Optimizing timetables and punctuality is in fact a key feature to drive more passengers, commuters and vacationers onto rail.

IT modernization and automation are also helping to improve stability and passenger experience by limiting the need for manual acceleration and braking through energy-optimised driving profiles that can be automatically implemented to make driving style more fluid. This benefits passengers, who experience a smoother journey, but also improves safety by securing sections of track for collision avoidance.

The railway sector is currently very actively exploring opportunities and adapting to the new digital ecosystem,

from smaller actions like improving the digital ticketing experience, to digitalising routine maintenance workflows, there are multiple areas that require immediate intervention, so a piece-meal approach to digitalisation that makes small tweaks here and there is simply no longer suitable. A joined-up process, involving industry players, manufacturers, suppliers, customers, end-users and other third parties is required to really bring about full transformation.

By building a solid network of win-win partnerships and developing a series of co-creation models, the sector will finally be able to bring about a mind-set shift that really focuses on the customer and he the market shift to rail. But even these efforts will struggle to be successful without support from institutions and governments that need to continue to promote the creation and development of a European Digital Single Market.

Roman Kurzo
Fincons Group
Global BU Transportation General Manager