Taking Charge of Decarbonisation at Rail Live!

On 29 November, the opening day of Rail Live! showcased some of the ongoing decarbonisation initiatives underway in the rail industry.

With the transition to electric power playing a key role in delivering more sustainable rail networks, the event highlighted the positive impact of a range of electrification projects worldwide.

For example, Piotr Hołowiak presented ABB’s electrification of the railway in Lithuania, which is transforming 730 kilometres of rail track between Vilnius and Klaipeda.

Here, ABB is installing a 25-kilovolt traction power supply, which is expected to deliver up to 1 billion EUR in reduced costs and economic benefits. This solution is also easy to install and maintain and uses 70% less space than conventional models.

Electrify Lithuanian Railways
25 kV power solution will help Lithuania electrify over a third of its rail network by 2030

In addition to decarbonising traction, the speakers at Rail Live! recognised that complementary infrastructure such as rail stations also need to be sustainably powered. Indeed, Jordi Picas, Director of Metro Network Systems for Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona acknowledged that 31 percent of Metro Barcelona’s energy consumption is from non-traction sources.

Consequently, alongside making its trains more energy efficient, such as through the recovery of energy, Metro Barcelona’s Energy Efficiency Plan has involved transitioning to LED lights and smart ventilation systems across its infrastructure.

For example, SENER Engineering’s RESPIRA ventilation system uses AI to monitor, predict and optimise temperature, humidity and air quality in an energy-efficient manner while maximising the amount of fresh air taken from outside.

Smart ventilation systems are deployed at Barcelona's metro stations
Smart ventilation systems are deployed at Barcelona’s metro stations

Furthremore, it is also paramount to ensure this energy comes from renewable sources. On this note, Denzel Collins, Energy and Carbon Strategy Manager at Network Rail presented the importance of generating renewable energy as part of Network Rail’s decarbonisation strategy.

Currently, the UK infrastructure manager uses 100% renewable energy through the purchase of energy guarantee certificates from the National Grid. However, it ultimately aims to actively generate additional renewable energy by connecting solar and wind generators to its infrastructure, or by purchasing energy directly from solar or wind farms owned by others.

Denzel Collins presents Network Rail's decarbonisation strategy at Rail Live!
Denzel Collins presents Network Rail’s decarbonisation strategy at Rail Live!

Elsewhere in the world, the Kochi Metro network in India is aiming to become the first fully solar-powered metro network, as presented by Sanjay Kumar, Director of Systems at Kochi Metro Rail. Thanks to the installation of solar pannels at its depots, rail yards and on station roofs, the metro network is already 52% powered by solar energy, with this set to rise to 100% by the end of 2024.

Alongside being a sustainable solution to the energy crisis, Kumar noted that this use of solar power is highly affordable over time, in spite of the high upfront cost.

However, despite the success of these projects, José Conrado Martínez Acevedo, Deputy Director of Strategic Innovation at Adif in Spain, noted that it is not economically viable for rail decarbonisation to mean full electrification. Instead, it is necessary to diversify energy needs and implement hydrogen, battery and hybrid technologies where necessary.

Adif has also installed the first Railway Smart Grid in Spain to ensure its use of electricity is more reliable and energy-efficient
Adif has also installed the first Railway Smart Grid in Spain to ensure its use of electricity is more reliable and energy-efficient

When addressing the need for alternate technologies, Armando Anson, Innovation Program Manager at CAF, noted that there is not a single solution for non- or partially-electrified lines, as these vary greatly across different countries. For example, Norway has 1,300 kilometres of non-electrified lines, including very long sections, such as the 730-kilometre Nordlandsbanen. Meanwhile, Austria has 1,800 kilometres of non-electrified lines, but the longest section is just 80 kilometres.

In addition, Anson highlighted that each of these lines has its own conditions and challenges, including speed limits, topography, and climatic conditions.

In light of this variation, rolling stock manufacturers are developing a range of vehicles that use alternative sources of propulsion, including zero-emission and low-emission solutions. For CAF, this includes its recent order to deliver 10 tri-mode trains to LNER in the UK.

In addition, CAF and Adif are also both involved in the development of bi-mode hydrogen train for the FCH2RAIL project. This project has a 13.4 million EUR budget to help extend the use case for fuel cell trains with a fuel cell hybrid power pack that uses electric and hydrogen power.

The FCH2RAIL project was presented at Rail Live! by Holger Dittus, Project Lead at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), who highlighted that the three-car Civia commuter train equipped with the power pack is already undergoing testing on the Spanish railway network from Zaragoza-Canfranc and on the Torralba-Soria line.

The FCH2RAIL hydrogen demonstrator train begins testing between Torralba and Soria
The FCH2RAIL hydrogen demonstrator train testing between Torralba and Soria

In 2024, the vehicle is also expected to commence testing in Madrid, Valencia and Portugal, before operating in Germany to meet the requirement of testing in three countries as part of its homologation process.

The projects showcased at Rail Live! consequently highlight the rail industry’s ongoing progress in meeting its decarbonisation goals. As the most sustainable mode of transport over long distances, rail indubitably has a key role to play in achieving net-zero, and the first day of Rail Live! highlighted that the industry is fully embracing this responsibility.

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