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Modal shift is essential

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Decarbonising Transport Week (DTW) demonstrated how much needs to be done for transportation to achieve the legally binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Weaning road vehicles, ships, and planes off energy-dense petroleum is a huge challenge. The net zero alternatives of hydrogen and particularly batteries, store much less energy whilst ‘sustainable’ fuels are an expensive transitional solution.

Government announcements imply that innovation will solve these problems. For example, Grant Shapps considers that “guilt-free flying is within our reach” following an announcement of £110 million to support net zero aviation innovation. Yet liquid hydrogen, the only viable net zero aviation option, is decades away. Though there will be battery capacity improvements, no-one is seriously suggesting that batteries can come close to petroleum’s energy density. The inconvenient and little-publicised truth is that vehicles with less-dense net zero power will come at a cost.

For rail this is not a problem as electric trains are the only transport mode which not only offer potential net zero high-speed, heavy-haul transport but also improve performance and reduce operational costs. Moreover, the low rolling resistance of steel wheel on steel also makes rail the most energy efficient form of land transport.

This explains why the DTW presentations generally focused on new forms of net zero power whilst those from the rail sector emphasised the need for modal shift from road and air to rail. Clearly any rational transport decarbonisation strategy should maximise use of the lowest carbon, most energy efficient, mode.

Yet the case for the capacity to accommodate such modal shift does not seem to be recognised. For example, sadly, polls show most wish to see HS2 scrapped. Moreover, statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that air has six times the carbon impact of rail. However, our page 6 Notice points out that an assessment of respective actual energy consumption shows a London to Glasgow flight is about 60 times worse for the environment than rail.

Our ‘Growing Rail Freight’ reports on Rail Partners’ call for rail freight to be trebled by 2050, to remove 20 million HGV journeys each year. Accommodating this and increasing passenger traffic requires a significant increase in rail capacity. Electrification, which reduces the performance differential between freight and passenger trains, is one way of achieving this.

HS2, including a link north of Crewe, is also essential for a significant increase in capacity, especially for West Coast Mainline Line freight. Yet, when operating from Old Oak Common, HS2’s benefits will be significantly reduced. Without its Euston terminus, billions will have been spent on a new HS2 line that can only operate at a fraction of its capacity. There is a reason why busy main lines require terminal stations with many platforms.

The DfT’s 2021 Decarbonising Transport plan commits to encouraging modal shift of road freight to rail through HS2 (which has since been cut back) and the upgrades in Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline (which has not been updated for over three years). The plan also commits to an ambitious programme of electrification including infill electrification to increase electric haulage of freight which, two years later, has yet to be announced.

Thus, whilst the need for modal shift is acknowledged, there is insufficient action to achieve it. Although rail investment offers huge benefits, the industry’s high costs weaken the case for it. For example, budget increases from £2.6 billion to £4.8 billion for HS2’s London Euston station and from £1.1 billion to £2.8 billion for the Great Western electrification programme.

Introducing new technology can bring cost savings, though implementing innovations can be problematic as the ORR’s report on Network Rail’s introduction of new technology explains. We explain why this should be essential reading for those concerned with rail innovations. Digital twins are an innovation that was used to good effect on the extensive remodelling of the 50-year-old track layout at Carstairs junction, as described in our report on this project.

Replacing Treath Mawr trestle viaduct’s structural timbers required more traditional engineering skills and presented significant environmental and logistical challenges as Carl Baker describes. In contrast, Bob Wright reports on the modern day ‘cut and cover’ construction of HS2’s five green tunnels which, in total, are 7.8km long.

HS2 is to fund £4 billion of the £5.7 billion Crewe hub programme which consists of 22 individual projects including overdue major re-signalling projects, as Paul Darlington reports. How this will be affected by the two-year deferral of HS2 phase 2 remains to be seen. A current signalling project, London Underground’s Four Lines Modernisation (4LM), is using Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) to significantly increase capacity. As Clive Kessell reports, 4LM is a large and complex project of which eight of its 14 stages have been commissioned.

Another form of digital signalling which provides in-cab signalling and Automatic Train Protection (ATP) is the KAVACH system developed by Indian Railways. As we report, its functionality is very similar to ETCS although it is cheaper to install as it is provided as an overlay to the existing signalling system with no requirement to remove signals, at least initially. Indian Railways is to be congratulated for this pragmatic, cost effective approach to ATP and increasing capacity.

CBTC and other digital signalling requires an ultra-reliable telecoms network whilst the ever-increasing need for operational and customer service date will require an order of magnitude increase in data transmission. For this, we consider the likely telecoms trends towards 2030 and beyond. Another trend on which we report is the development of new signalling testing techniques including fuzz testing and the use of digital twins that are needed as signalling becomes ever more complicated and interconnected, whilst ETCS is moving signals into the cab.

Although Britain has one of the safest railways in Europe, our wide-ranging report on this year’s Rail Safety Summit highlighted various areas of concern. Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) Chief Inspector Andrew Hall noted ‘Beware – rarely is not never’. He was one of a wide range of speakers who generated a high level of discussion during the presentations and whilst networking afterwards.
Networking is one of the great things about Railtex which takes place between 9-11 May. Our preview feature also highlights its conference programme and describes some of the exhibitors who will be there, which of course includes Rail Engineer.

Do come to see us to say hello.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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