Being mobile has been a basic need since the earliest days of humanity. The increasing focus on how we will get around tomorrow is therefore more than just a trend – for several reasons. On the one hand, demand for mobility is set to rise more quickly in the future. On the other hand, the resources for further growth are finite – even the space right outside our doorsteps for roads and railways is becoming scarce. But how can we resolve this contradiction?
The future of mobility is digital
Transporting people and goods all over the world poses major challenges for cities and regions. Dr. Jochen Eickholt, CEO of Siemens Mobility Division, is firmly convinced that the key requirement for adequate mobility in the future is digitalization.
Digitalization – an evolutionary step for technology
"Only through digitalization and automation of transport systems can we get a grip on the problems of increasing road traffic," says Dr. Jochen Eickholt, CEO of Siemens Mobility Division. "We expect digitalization to bring about a rapid technical evolution, perhaps even a revolution, in the individual areas."
Some examples have been around for some time already. In road transport, for instance, roughly one in two traffic light signals in Germany have been connected to a traffic controller and networked in recent years. Cloud-based solutions support municipal employees in mobile control of these traffic guidance systems via smartphone. So what measures are urgently required for rail systems?
Punctual, predictable, convenient journeys
Train passengers want to be informed and entertained, to use multiple modes of transport while avoiding delays and congestion, and increasingly to travel CO₂-neutrally wherever possible. Operators are responding to this bundle of requirements by increasing transport capacities, by trying to make better use of the available infrastructure, and by improving the attractiveness and thus the acceptance of public transport through a variety of individual measures. “As a manufacturer and solution provider, we can support the operators in all these areas,” affirms Eickholt. “By increasing technical availability, we help to stabilize operations. By providing support with infrastructure and fleet management, we enable operators to optimize their capacity profiles. And in terms of travel convenience, we are designing our rail vehicles and equipment with the utmost flexibility.”
Increasing availability and transport capacity
In every case, the starting point is digitalizing a maximum number of processes and functions. Technical availability, for example, is only possible with guaranteed, time-optimized service provision and efficient maintenance. Also essential are vehicles that intelligently send relevant service data, and analysis systems that can reach the right decisions on the basis of this data. For instance, the high-speed service between St. Petersburg and Moscow using Velaro RUS trains, which has maintained an average technical availability of 99.6 percent for years, or in Spain, where the Velaro E has over 99.8 percent availability.
Optimizing capacity profiles is another goal that is only made possible by digitalization and powerful software solutions. The European Train Control System (ETCS) demonstrates this clearly. Standardized throughout Europe and monitored by electronic control centers, ETCS is designed to prevent trains from traveling too quickly or moving into an occupied block. At the same time, it allows for shorter headways and lower costs for maintenance and operation of stationary systems, because the conventional optical rail signals alongside the track are no longer required.
Extra convenience is simple with the cloud
For travelers, smartphones and data clouds, online ticket purchasing and journey information updates have become part of everyday travel. This means it is now even easier to upgrade vehicles and infrastructure with convenient passenger information, entertainment and tailored services. Payment systems also continue to evolve, says Jochen Eickholt: “Even electronic tickets will soon disappear from view altogether as they are replaced by Be-in/Be-out systems.” Ideally travelers will be able to select any form of transport, be automatically checked in and out when they get on or switch modes, and receive a single, itemized mobility bill at the end of the month.
Automatic train operation
Will the current megatrend of fully automatic train operation continue to play a decisive role in the future? This is not just fantasy: as soon as 2020, around 40 percent of train journeys could be running automatically, while 20 to 30 percent of long-distance travel could be partially automated.
Partially automated means the vehicle drivers take control during critical portions of the route, for instance where there are engineering works, but assistance and train control systems operate the train independently for most of the journey. This allows for shorter headways, increasing the transport capacity on the same route; it makes the journey more comfortable and reduces energy consumption by up to 25 percent compared to manual operation. With Trainguard MT, for example, various degrees of automation can be achieved for public transport systems, including driverless train operation (DTO), as implemented in Algiers and New York. Retrofitting older systems has also proved to be a viable solution – even while service remains uninterrupted, as is currently the case with the Metro Line 4 in Paris.
Electrification: more than just a trend
Digitalization and automation remain half measures without comprehensive electrification. Because electric engines work far more efficiently than combustion engines and regenerative braking systems can transform a significant portion of the kinetic energy into storable electrical energy. While electric power is standard in rail transport, its main application on roads is currently public buses, which cover highly predictable distances. Their batteries can easily be recharged during short intermediate stops or at terminal stations, as Siemens demonstrated years ago with city buses in Vienna. Today examples of buses that draw their energy from Siemens charging technology include Line 109 in Hamburg and Line 55 in Sweden’s Gothenburg.
Digitalization and automation will surely soon enable new forms of transport such as compact, autonomous e-vehicles linking low-density transport areas with high-density urban transport areas. The process has already begun.