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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

The Future of Mobility

How Goods Can Travel Smarter

Directly from the ship to the train: Sea freight arriving at Hamburg’s maritime port is taken to the marshaling yard in Maschen before being transported further inland. Maschen, which is located south of Hamburg, is the world’s second-largest marshaling yard.

The global economy is still expanding, and with it the international trade in goods. In order to reduce the associated impact on climate, railway infrastructures will need to be capable of carrying more goods, while solutions such as pantographs and platooning will help to cut carbon dioxide emissions from road-based freight transport.

Every year, 4.6 million shipping containers, also known as “twenty-foot equivalent units” or TEUs full of everything from Asian consumer electronics goods to tropical fruits from Africa are unloaded at Hamburg harbor. This represents a huge success story for Germany’s largest port, where only 2.1 such containers arrived in 2000. And all of this business naturally benefits rail traffic. Every day more than 200 freight trains leave Hamburg harbor, which is Europe’s second busiest port.  

Nevertheless, when the amount of cargo transported is multiplied by the distance traveled, trucks – not ships – are clearly the Number one means of freight transport in Germany. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, 71 percent of the country’s ton-kilometers were clocked on roads in 2014 and only 17 percent on railways. Moreover, the German Ministry of Transport estimates that truck traffic could rise by another 39 percent between now and 2030. Although rail traffic is expected to grow even faster (43 percent), this will not change the devastating effects on the climate that this increase in freight transport will have. “Between 2020 and 2030, CO2 emissions from freight traffic might even exceed those from cars,” predict the authors of a study conducted by the Agora Verkehrswende initiative, a platform that focuses on the land-based transport of passengers and goods in Germany in a European context.

Countless trucks drive to the harbor terminals in order to deliver goods or pick up a new load. Especially for partial routes like these, which involve lots of shuttling back and forth, solutions are necessary to significantly reduce emissions.

Nor is the situation any better outside of Germany.  With the exception of Latvia, more freight is transported on roads than railways in all of the member states of the European Union.For most experts, the method of choice for counteracting this development is to shift at least some freight transport from roads to railways. That’s because freight trains emit only one fourth as much CO2 as trucks when calculated in ton-kilometers. Such a shift is difficult, however, because the main railway routes are already being used to their full capacity.

One Third More Trains without Any Expansion of the Rail Network

Difficult but not impossible. In fact, it is precisely this problem that Siemens intends to address with its technologies. The company is calling for the implementation of the third stage of the European Train Control System (ECTS) throughout Europe. This system should enable 20 to 30 percent more trains to travel on the existing railway network without any reduction in safety.

Another system from Siemens, the Railigent platform, uses big data analyses to ensure that operators can increase the availability of locomotives and freight cars. The platform is connected to MindSphere, the open, cloud-based IoT operating system from Siemens that combines data analysis, multiple connectivity, development tools, and applications.

ETCS should enable 20 to 30 percent more trains to travel on the existing railway network without any reduction in safety.

In addition to modernizing rail infrastructures, Siemens also wants to modernize trains. That’s why the company’s Vectron locomotive, which was unveiled in 2010, was developed from the very start on the basis of surveys of potential operators. One of the technological highlights of the new model series is a diesel-electric variant, which converts braking energy into electricity that is used for the operation of onboard systems. This can reduce energy consumption by up to 10 percent, depending on a variety of conditions.

Despite these developments, the task of finding a suitable drive concept that enables the use of renewable sources of energy remains essential in the light of Agora’s prediction that trucks will remain the leading freight transport system in the future. One important option here would be to use pantograph trucks like the one that Siemens is currently testing for an eHighway project in Sweden. The basic idea behind this system is to install overhead conductors to provide trucks with energy along frequently traveled routes such as major highways and ports. Low-emission state-of-the-art diesel engines would be used on other routes. Even if only 30 percent of the truck traffic on Germany’s highways was electrified in this way, CO2 emissions would be reduced by six million tons per year. The energy savings would be even greater if platooning was introduced at the same time. Trucks that drive in platoons follow each other fully automatically at five to 15 meter intervals in order to reduce wind resistance. These measures would gradually reduce the difference between road and rail transport in the future.

Johannes Winterhagen
Picture credits: Fotolia