ATO on regional passenger trains trial to go ahead in 2021

A world-first test of automatic train operation (ATO) on a regional train line has received a prestigious award from the German government.

The German Federal Ministry of Economics awarded Alstom with the Innovation Prize for Regulatory Sandboxes for its planned trial of ATO in daily operation of regional passenger trains in Braunschweig.

The test is planned for 2021 and will be conducted by Alstom in partnership with the Regional Association of the greater area of Braunschweig, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin).

Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria, said the prize recognised Alstom’s focus on innovation.

“In the future, automated trains will optimize regional rail operations, reduce energy consumption, and increase ride comfort. In this way, highly automated driving will make a decisive contribution to climate protection and contribute to the development of a modern, attractive railway system. Following the development and successful testing of the world’s first hydrogen train Coradia iLint, Alstom is once again the innovative driver in rail transport with the pilot for regional trains in automated operation,” he said.

The trial will be conducted with two Coradia Continental regional trains, owned by the regional rail operator for greater Braunschweig. The trains will be equipped with an European Train Control System (ETCS) and ATO equipment to enable the trains to travel automatically.

The trial will involve two different grades of automation (GoA). In regular passenger operation the trains will operate at GoA3, meaning the trains will be fully autonomous but with an attendant who can step in if there is an emergency. In shunting the trains will be operated fully remotely, at GoA4.

Birgit Milius, head of the Department of Railway Operations and Infrastructure at TU Berlin said that the trail would be an indication of how rail will operate in the future.

“ATO, or Automatic Train Operation, is one of the most exciting challenges in the railway industry. It gives us the opportunity to shape and significantly change the operational management of the future. But a lot of research is still needed before this is the case, and I am very pleased to be working with Alstom on this project,” she said.

Findings from the tests will inform the legal and regulatory framework for ATO. Alstom will use its expertise in ATO for metro trains and research into autonomous freight trains to guide the project.

 

Deutsche Bahn sees investment pay dividends

Deutsche Bahn (DB) has released its results for 2019, passing a major passenger milestone.

In 2019 the Germany rail operator and infrastructure owner carried 151 million long distance passengers, more than any other year and for the first time surpassing 150m passengers.

The achievement follows a sustained investment in rail in Germany and by DB, as governments, passengers, and industry seek to move more people onto rail due to its environmental and social benefits.

DB CEO Richard Lutz said that investment in the rail network will continue, following the largest investment program in its history in 2019.

“Investment in the future of rail will take priority in the coming years, which will be visible in our bottom line in the medium term.”

DB is a private joint-stock company with the government of Germany being the sole shareholder. Revenue for the company rose in 2019 to €44.4 billion ($80bn).

In 2019, DB invested in rail network, stations, and trains. Capital expenditure rose in 2019, with a focus on infrastructure. DB has been undertaking a major expansion and modernisation of the Germany rail system. The company aims to boost quality and reliability and add new trains and hire additional staff.

“DB’s aim is to substantially increase the performance of rail in Germany,” said Lutz.

Patronage figures also grew at a regional level, increasing by 1.6 per cent to almost 2 billion passengers. DB’s regional subsidiary, DB Regio had its first year on year increase in its order book in 2019.

“We are seeing clear signs of a modal shift towards rail, an environmentally friendly mode of transport,” said Lutz.

Freight volumes suffered, falling 3.7 per cent, however DB Schenker, the freight arm of DB, had a record result of EBIT of €538m ($9.75m).

Alstom receives first order for battery-electric trains

To meet the demand for electrically powered trains on a non-electrified line, rail manufacturer Alstom will build, deliver, and maintain 11 battery-electric trains.

The Coradia Continental trains will operate on the Leipzig-Chemnitz route for German rail authorities VMS (Verkehrsverbund Mittelsachsen) and ZVNL (Zweckverband für den Nahverkehrsraum Leipzig).

The announcement follows the 2014 decision by VMS to purchase 29 Coradia Continental electric regional trains (EMUs), however 80km of the line between Chemnitz and Leipzig is not electrified, leading VMS to request a battery-electric version.

Alstom expects the trains to enter service in 2023, being built at Alstom’s rail yards in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony. The battery traction sub-system will be designed and supplied by Alstom’s traction centre in Tarbes, France.

The order is the first battery train order for Alstom, and represents a step forward for the company in providing emissions-free rollingstock, said Gian Luca Erbacci, senior vice president of Alstom Europe.

“Today, Alstom stands apart in being able to offer any form of emission-free traction currently on the market built into a proven solution. As a responsible company, Alstom has an intense focus on sustainable mobility, offering the best-fitting solutions that make it not only possible, but also cost-effective and attractive,” said Erbacci.

The 56m long and 150-seat Coradia Continental BEMU have a range of up to 120km. The trains can travel at a top speed of 160km/h in battery mode.

The order for the BEMU comes after Alstom has introduced the Coradia iLint which is powered by hydrogen fuel cells. According to a statement from Alstom the iLint trains have a performance comparable to diesel-powered trains, and have been in passenger service in Germany for more than one year.

Billions committed to rail around the world

Global rail investment is set to soar, with two major spending plans announced in January.

In Germany, the federal government and rail operator Deutsche Bahn signed a €86 billion ($138b) to modernise the country’s network.

Spending will be split between the federal government, contributing €62b, and Deutsche Bahn contributing €24b.

The agreement covers the replacement of tracks and 2,000 railway bridges and is a 54 per cent increase in spending when compared to the previous planning period, reported Associated Press.

Germany is seeking to increase the use of rail for inter-city and urban travel, to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

The plan aims to double the number of train drivers and train passengers by 2030.

In addition, Deutsche Bahn hopes to improve the performance of its fleet and services, with one fifth of trains arriving outside the six minute time buffer from the scheduled time, according to Deutsche Welle.

Germany has 33,000 kilometre of railway around the country, much of which has struggled from historical underinvestment. Bloomberg Green noted that Deutsche Bahn hopes to renew 2,000 kilometres of rail a year and 2,000 switches.

In Chile, the government announced a US$5b ($7.24b) investment in rail, hoping to triple the number of passengers and increase rail’s share of freight in the South American nation.

The project is expected to be completed in 2027 and will begin this year. 44 per cent of the spending is earmarked for projects in the capital, Santiago, with the remained split across regional networks, covering 1,000km of rail. Links between cities and also to airports will be critical components of the plans.

According to Dariana Tani, an economist at GlobalData, investment in rail in Chile is hoped to revitalise the wider economy.

“As the economy is weakening and the country is losing ground in terms of competitiveness and overall quality of infrastructure against its major trading peers, it is reasonable to say that the government is trying to reverse this trend by investing more in critical infrastructure such as railways, roads, airports, energy, water and telecommunications.”