Faster, cleaner and less polluted .. What awaits the world’s railways?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – Trains are the only means of transportation to meet the needs of future mobility. They are faster, less polluting, more environmentally friendly and equipped with advanced technology.

But while some projects promise high-speed travel, much of the industry is focused on keeping the world’s civilized population in increasing mobility by mitigating the effects of climate change.

However, as the world entered the Covid-19 pandemic era and like many other sectors of the travel industry, train operators around the world faced one of the most difficult phases in the last two years.

The number of passengers fell overnight in 2020, as total closures prevented business and leisure travelers from leaving their homes.

This fact posed a great threat to the world railway companies, which depended on this lucrative and secure source of revenue since the mid-19th century.

Credit: Courtesy Belmond

All of this makes it unthinkable at the moment to talk about a “golden age” for rail travel. But as we approach the bicentennial of the first passenger railways, in 2025, it is essential that trains provide sustainable mobility in a world facing the challenges of climate change, growing urbanization and population growth.

According to a 2019 report by engineering consultant Arup, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, 75% of whom will live in cities.

The company estimated that the world’s urban population is growing at a rate of two people per second, or 172,800 new city dwellers are being born every day. While the population is declining in some regions of the world, such as parts of Europe and Japan, population growth in the major cities of the developing world is expected to reach 90%.

So efficient public transportation, including train, is essential to keep these cities moving, and this connection between fast-growing regions and large cities.

Express trains: how fast can they arrive?

Today's global train tracks: faster, less polluted and more environmentally friendly
Credit: Shi Jiamin / VCG via Getty Images

High-speed trains have a big role to play in this public landscape.

Elegant “bullet trains” became headlines as the rail network across Europe and Asia continued to grow, and new designs were developed or put into practice in countries such as France, Germany, Spain, India, Japan and, on a much larger scale, in China.The high-speed network will reach 50,000 km by 2025.

When its High Speed ​​2 (HS2), controversial due to budget overcrowding and crossing the line through sensitive landscapes, ends in early 2030, England will have the fastest conventional trains in the world, which will operate in regular service at 225 mph. is capable of traveling at 250 mph (400 km / h).

The combination of Japanese “rail bullet” technology with the British design to build the $ 2.5 billion lines will revolutionize travel between London, the Midlands and northern cities. The movement of long-distance traffic in the High-Speed ​​Building 2 will also provide the necessary carrying capacity on existing railways to transport more domestic passengers and freight.

Today's global train tracks: faster, less polluted and more environmentally friendly
Credit: Carl Court / Getty Images

However, over the decades of operation, countries such as France, Japan and China have come to the conclusion that the benefits of operating high-speed trains above 200 mph bring high maintenance and energy costs.

Currently, heavy-duty high-speed trains based in Japan and China are seeking to post “steel-on-steel” technology to develop trains at speeds of up to 373 mph (600 km / h).

The concept of dedicated high-speed rail trains through the use of magnetic levitation technology (maglev) has been promoted as the “future of travel” for more than 50 years, but despite the two pilot lines and the China Road connecting downtown Shanghai with its airport, the concept has remained theoretical so far.

Driverless trains: will you fall on a track near you?

Today's global train tracks: faster, less polluted and more environmentally friendly
Credit: Courtesy SJ

To this end, many countries are investing heavily in self-propelled trains and they are likely to become a common sight during the 1920s.

Automation is not new, with its decades-long introduction, such as the London Underground line to Victoria, which has operated in part this way since its opening in 1967, but is usually limited to stand-alone lines with similar trains that operate for certain periods. koha.

China paved the way for self-propelled trains in recent years, introducing the world’s only autonomous high-speed trains, with speeds of up to 186 miles per hour (300 kilometers per hour) connecting Beijing and the Winter Olympics venues in beginning. 2022.

Japan is also testing self-propelled “lead trains” from stations to warehouses.

But it has been agreed on the operation of driverless trains on independent lines. But its safe running on traditional mixed-use railways, where passenger and freight trains with very different characteristics, speeds and weights are mixed, is more complex.

Big data and the Internet of Things will allow modes of transport to communicate with each other and with the wider environment, paving the way for more integrated and multimodal travel. Intelligent robots will play a greater role in controlling infrastructure such as tunnels and bridges, and in the effective maintenance of old structures.

Replacement of diesel engines and reduction of CO2 emissions

Today's global train tracks: faster, less polluted and more environmentally friendly
Credit: Russian Railways

Despite their proven environmental credentials when compared to aviation, trains still have a long way to go in reducing carbon emissions and pollution, due to diesel engines. In line with UN climate change goals, many countries have pledged to eliminate oil trains by 2050, or even earlier.

In Europe and many parts of Asia, most busy roads run on electricity, but the situation is uneven, ranging from almost 100% electricity in Switzerland to less than 50% in the UK and close to zero in some developing countries.

It seems that battery technology will play a major role in eliminating “polluting diesel engines”, both for the transport of heavy goods and for the transport of passengers where full electrical operation can not be justified. Some battery prototypes are being tested or are in development, and as technology evolves, trains should begin to reduce their dependence on oil before being discontinued by the end of this decade.

But for others, the use of hydrogen is the hope to reduce carbon emissions from rail vehicles. Green hydrogen, created at dedicated stations using renewable sources of electricity, can be distributed to fuel cells that power electric motors.

Today's global train tracks: faster, less polluted and more environmentally friendly
Credit: Francois Lo Presti / AFP / Getty Images

French train builder Alstom is paving the way for the hydrogen-electric train Coradia iLint, which transported its first passengers in 2018, laying the groundwork for the current production of similar trains for many European countries.

There are other natural factors faced by railways around the world, many of which are in lowland and coastal areas at risk of rising sea levels and more extreme weather events threatening to erode existing infrastructure.

Offshore, strong winds, torrential rains and extreme temperatures cause rapid flooding, landslides and equipment failures that disrupt passenger traffic and cost millions of dollars to repair each year.

Awareness of the environmental damage caused by air travel has already led to a rapid renaissance of rail travel in Europe.

This move continues to gain momentum with several new lines planned for 2022/23, as well as with new operators planning to enter the market.

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