The Future of Rail: A Panel Discussion with the Heads of Siemens Mobility, Alstom and Bombardier

A panel discussion with the heads of Siemens Mobility, Alstom and Bombardier

What Does Multi-Modality Mean for the Rail Industry?

Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility:

“Multi-modality is both a blessing and a challenge. It’s a blessing because in our industry we’re at the eye of the storm of global trends – globalisation: there will be 2.5 billion more people living in cities by 2050. We’re ageing. There will be people who will only want to take public transport in twenty years’ time. Our own children won’t have their own cars anymore. It’s paradoxical: people are moving into cities but their journey times to work aren’t becoming shorter. You will travel twice as many kilometres in your lifetime compared to your parents. This can only be solved if you travel intermodally. The blessing is that this cannot be done without rail as the backbone. This is true for urban and long-distance transport.

“The challenge is of course that every single segment along this intermodal chain will become replaceable. All rail services are facing competition. There are buses that want to replace local rail travel, there are big fleets such as Uber in cities, who are competitors. That’s our challenge and we can master it with digitalisation. We can fundamentally revolutionise rail travel and that’s what we’re showing at InnoTrans.”

The Future of Rail

Infrastructure and Digitalisation: What Are the Trends? What’s Important?

Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility:

“Digitalisation will change everything. That starts with our trains. Imagine, these days we design trains in a digital way and we now use 30% less energy in a system that was optimised over the past 150 years. So you can see the quantum leaps digitalisation is making possible today.

“If we look at the core issue of increasing capacity and improving punctuality, improving all predictability, which is absolutely vital for intermodal transport chains, then infrastructure is a key aspect. A typical European country today has 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 signal boxes – that’s 3,000 buildings full of electronic equipment. Depending on the country these signal boxes are twenty to seventy generations old. Siemens has special facilities for updating relays from the 1920s. This cannot be the most effective way of operation a railway. Investment is necessary here.

“Five years ago the imagination how to do this wasn’t there yet. We can demonstrate huge progress at this year’s InnoTrans. We have intelligent components now: points controlled via the internet – a proprietary, safe internet – which operates in Germany at the highest security level SIL 4. We manufacture it in Norway. That gives us the option of managing the entire country with just one signal tower.

“We’ll demonstrate this at InnoTrans: this signal box can be moved to the cloud. We’ll never need spare parts again. […] My department is now the biggest buyer of Pentium processors that are ten years old because we have to supply spare parts for thirty years. That’s a huge effort. All that now becomes completely superfluous. The system will deliver a huge amount of data. The system will be able to predict points failures in Norway. That’s no problem when I know how 4,000 points are behaving. We can repair it in advance. We’ll have 100% availability and achieve a level of punctuality that’s never been seen before. We have to invest now because over the life-cycle the railways will save money.”

How Can We Accelerate Multi-Modality from the Perspective of the Rail Industry?

Henri Poupart-Lafarge, CEO of Alstom:

“This is probably the most exciting time for the rail industry. We have moved progressively from a defensive move to be at the centre of any priority in the world. Mobility is at the centre of any priority. It gives us a tremendous responsibility. What will be the future of mobility? We talk about shared mobility. We talk about electrical mobility, environmentally friendly mobility, which means by the way and nobody says it […]: the days of polluting and individual cars are gone, it’s gone! It will take time but the days are gone.

“This puts upon us a huge responsibility as mobility providers to try to find the right system as people delegate to us their mobility. So we will want to be transported from one point to another one smoothly and environmentally and that’s when multi-modality takes all the advantage.

“And the digital technologies are there for two basic reasons: the first one is to ensure 24 hours per day availability and reliability of the systems. You cannot have 24 hours per day reliability of the systems without predictive maintenance, without basic digital technology. The second is precisely to ensure the nice co-ordination, the fluid co-ordination, between all the modes of transportation. Not only from a demand side, which is what exists in a number of applications today, but also from the offering side.

“At Alstom we are trying and promoting a multi-modal control centre, which will allow complete authority to arbitrate between rail, between bus, between other types of transportation. Digital technology will precisely be at the core of multi-modality. But we need to see this multi-modality, frankly, without any individual polluting cars.”

The Rail Industry is Perfect for Automation. What is Happening in This Area?

Laurent Troger, President of Bombardier Transportation:

“Automation has been in the industry for a while and I think we’ve been the first to move people in a fully-automated train in the metro that started forty years ago. So forty years, imagine that! So we are speaking about it and we are now bringing automation into new applications – to high-speed trains but also commuter [trains].

“We start to realise that we can bring automation more into the overall network. So we are getting capacity and safety through automation and what I can say to you is that this is a fantastic job. Now we are arriving at the next level of performance which will be what I call the ‘zero-failure system’ because the more you want to automate, the more you need to make sure that there is at the end no disruption in your system.

“Recently I’ve seen some cities that have faced significant disruption because in fact they have automated at a high level, but then, if your system is not resilient, you are facing a critical issue. So the industry has a challenge not to go to automation but to go to zero-failure for the total system. […] Looking at the aerospace industry I can see that they have managed that and how we can bring zero-failure to the rail industry will be the challenge for tomorrow.”

What Role Will Hydrogen Play in Powering Trains in the Future?

Henri Poupart-Lafarge, CEO of Alstom:

“I think it’s important to notice the evolution of our industry. Ten years ago Alstom was breaking the record of speed in rail – 574.8km/h. Today it looks extremely remote. Frankly, nobody cares. The trains are running at 300, 320 so why should we break another record at 600? We don’t care. What was important was to show how environmentally friendly would be the trains.

“And yesterday, as you know, we put in service with passengers and this morning with passengers on the train for hydrogen train. So the future is not like the absolute performance in speed, the future is to make sure that our trains are CO2 free. And of course hydrogen has fantastic advantages. It has 1,000 kilometres of autonomy, so it can replace very easily any diesel train so we need to progress with it. It will take time but for any type of operation – in terms of operation it can match exactly what does the diesel train.

“And of course it has been also pointed out that the cost of infrastructure is high. So of course the cost of installing catenaries is high, the cost of installing substations are very high and so forth so it’s also a very light way, in terms of infrastructure investments. So again, I think sometimes we don’t see the move of our industry but clearly the move is to be environmentally friendly, autonomous […]. The trains will be more and more autonomous, which will help in low- density areas.”


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