The world as we know it is changing by the minute. In order to stay relevant, the rail sector must be able to keep up with an ever-changing world. Flight shame, climate concerns, digital data, continued connectivity all play a vital role in the race of keeping rail relevant.
Trains over planes?
Concerns about climate change and global warming have led to a necessary change in the way we commute and travel. Various initiatives and movements have pushed many of us to rethink our habits. One of the movements received a lot of attention last year is ‘Flygskam’. The anti-flying movement ‘Flygskam’, or ‘Flight Shame’ in English. It is a movement that encourages individuals to choose trains rather than planes.
The flight shame movement and the growing climate concerns has had a positive influence on the rail sector. In recent years, the rail sector has gained prominence as an increasing number of individuals choose rail over other modes of transport. One of the reasons why is because the railway has been ‘rebranded’ as one of the greener alternatives to air aviation.
A report from 2019, released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), shows that rail is among the most efficient and lowest emitting modes of transport. The rail sector carries around 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of the global freight transport. Yet, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand.
About 0,3% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels come from rail. In comparison, global aviation is responsible for 2%. It should however be mentioned that the emissions from trains vary widely depending on whether they are powered by diesel or electricity – and how that electricity is generated.
The world is going digital – and rail is joining
Like most industries over the last few years, the rail industry has entered a path towards increased digitalization. The digital transformation in the railway sector has been shaped by Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics (BDA) and Automation and Robotics. The implementation of these technologies and solutions has primarily led to increased digitalization in the following areas:
- Mobile applications
- Digital train control
- Signaling and traffic management
- Digital platforms for predictive maintenance
One key area in which digitalization has been (and remains) beneficial to both passengers and rail operators is within maintenance. Digital data continues to revolutionize maintenance of rail infrastructure. Analytics based on data captured from sensors, can detect defects or failures before they occur. This ensures that maintenance is only carried out when required. This enables rail operators to fix faults when units are not in service and thereby improve the reliability of the system. In the long term, this will reduce the number of failures and increase the effective capacity.
Continuous connectivity – the key to any passenger’s heart?
The industry has realized that in order to be passengers first choice in terms of means of transport, they must prioritize the overall passenger satisfaction. One way to increase this is by continuous connectivity. Continuous connectivity can deliver significant gains in liveability, productivity and reliability.
According to a survey conducted in 2019, 99% of rail passengers expect public transport to do more than just bring them from A to B.
“The modern commuter isn’t just looking to get from A to B, they are expecting more from transport networks and want technology to enrich their journeys. A smart city commuter will use digital connectivity to work smarter, live better and reduce stress to create more mindful trips,” said James Woodhams, chief strategy officer, BAI Communications.
Keeping rail relevant in the future
Whether rail will be able to sustain its relevance in the future is determined by how it responds to two factors:
- Rising transport demand
- Rising pressure from competing modes of transportations
Digital transformation involves an ongoing adaptation to changes in a turbulent environment. One of the biggest challenges rail will face is more than the ‘basic’ practicalities that a digital transformation brings with it. Allowing sharing of resources, consolidation of business solutions and the creation of new value of rail services requires a general change of mindset across the industry.
- CarbonBrief (2019). How ‘aggressive’ railway expansion could cut emissions in eight charts.
- International Energy Agency (IEA) (2019). The Future of Rail – Analysis.
- Pieriegud, J. (2018). Digital Transformation of Railways.
- SmartCitiesWorld (2019). Continuous connectivity: a foundation for smart cities.