PUBLIC TRANSPORT, THE SOLUTION OF THE FUTURE
Governments, transport companies and users increasingly have to face the need to rethink the way people and goods move around. There are environmental reasons for this, but we also have to remember that the world population is increasing, especially in urban areas. In this respect, trains have never been so central to questions about mobility in our society, even though they are oldest method of motorised travel.
Let’s look first at the increase in population density. Major cities are becoming both larger and more numerous. Creating new and more extensive urban areas means, thinking in terms of comprehensive mobility solutions that enable us to view cities and urban transport over areas of up to 100 kms. This spells the end of the car as we have known it in the 20th century; we are now entering an age of sharing land routes, and finding a better balance between private cars and public transport and any other cleaner, more efficient solution.
Second, people’s mind-sets are evolving. Not long ago, car drivers accepted the idea of spending time in their cars to get to work. But today, this driving time has increased due to greater urban density. At the same time, our relationship with time has changed: we now focus more on being in control of how we spend our time, yet this is incompatible with driving personal vehicles, especially in urban areas.
We are also more aware of the environmental impact of how we get around. Although initially mooted by government campaigns, each individual is now experiencing this trend, and people’s reflexes and opinions in favour of more responsible behaviour are now becoming more tangible.
The market potential in this sector is huge: the global growth of investment in rail is estimated at 2.7% and could reach 3.5% in the field of signalling and user services. Every continent is affected by this expansion and they are all reflecting on alternatives.
As a result of these developments, we are now looking closely again at the rail transport solution. And the railway industry is also transforming itself so that it can carry more and more people in urban areas and on major rail lines. It faces three major challenges:
The first is safety. The increase in rail traffic is necessarily accompanied by concern for the conditions under which trains should operate. And signalling systems are central to this. As they grow more efficient and intelligent, these systems also become more complex. Shifting from conventional signalling to a satellite-driven model remains one of the solutions for managing the rise in traffic. However, this has an impact on both infrastructure (which needs special equipment), trains (which become more automated) and humans, as it profoundly transforms the jobs of both drivers and line managers.
Second, the user experience. Users expect persistent connectivity and want to optimise their time when traveling. As a result, stations need to become fully-fledged multimodal hubs and provide access to a broad range of services so that travellers can make the most of their transit time. For example, I want to take a train and then a bus, and also use the changeover time to do my shopping and buy a theatre ticket. Similarly, users expect full information in real time on all means of transport available.
For engineers, the challenge is also to deliver successful interoperability – optimising the infrastructure so that trains go further and further under optimal safety conditions. Signalling in different countries should also be upgraded to be harmonised. A locomotive must be able to ensure a trip from start to finish; 20 years ago we used to change locomotives at each border crossing international transport and signalling systems in neighbouring countries were not compatible.
This new situation therefore involves equipping infrastructure with sensors on the ground and on antennas. Freight locomotives and passenger trains must also be equipped to communicate with the ground and with satellites. Also, checkpoints has to be improvised.
All these major changes require skills in designing intelligent infrastructure and ensuring operational safety. Whether we are talking about flying an aircraft or managing a rail system, these systems must be protected in the same way against any form of intrusion so that users can travel in perfect safety.