Wednesday 1 September 2021

RZD and UIC advocate for a modal shift to railways to overcome climate change challenges at PRO//Motion.Expo

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Organised by the Russian Railways RZD on 26 and 27 August, the “PRO//Motion.Expo” international railway fair is a unique forum that brings together Russian and international railway industry leaders, experts and specialists aiming to facilitate global cooperation.

In the context of the European Year of Rail, the Russian Railways made 2021 the “year of ecology”, bringing environmental issues to the forefront of the fair. In his address to participants, Mr Oleg Belozerov, Director General and Chairman of the Executive Board of Russian Railways, expressed his keen awareness “of the global significance of the problem of climate change” and his desire to move towards decarbonisation. This perspective was also shared by UIC Director General, Mr François Davenne, at the opening of the fair. Mr Davenne highlighted the need to act fast, as the next 10 years would be pivotal to stop the climate crisis, and reminded participants that railways were already the most environmentally-friendly part of the solution.

The development of railways can lead to new environmental thinking

Mr Davenne joined PRO//Motion.Expo virtually to lead a discussion on “Technology Transformation and New Environmental Thinking”, a theme dear to UIC as the organisation enters its centenary celebrations and is considering the future of railways with sustainability in mind. Following the various climate change reports issued this summer, UIC is already looking forward to COP26 to propose practical solutions such as telematics, using the SDG Index as a comprehensive tool to attract financial funding, etc.

Mr Davenne further elaborated on a few solutions such as the development and integration of international transport corridors into the network. He highlighted the core objectives of these international corridors:

  • to remove bottlenecks,
  • to establish missing cross-border connections in Europe,
  • to promote modal integration and interoperability.

What is changing today and giving momentum to the rail industry is a growing sense of urgency in promoting a massive modal shift to rail, particularly for freight. Thus, a clear modal shift to railways, who account for 7.6% of passenger (and 17.6% of freight) transport, but a mere 0.4% of GHG emissions in Europe, is key to achieving environmental benchmarks. Let’s not forget that society also benefits from the improved efficiency and inclusivity generated by every increase in the railways’ modal share, including decreased road fatalities and injuries, and local air and noise pollution.

To turn this modal shift into reality, we must promote clean fuel, innovate transport solutions, advance telematics applications, and improve safety through greater coordination. International corridors must overcome another challenge in the form of technical, operational, and administrative bottlenecks. In this regard, UIC is keen to provide a platform where different networks can work together towards practical unification, without waiting for the lengthy revision of international conventions.

If these corridors are to be successful, “intelligent” infrastructure must be developed for advanced traffic management. The customer experience must be revolutionised through the creation of a seamless intermodal logistic chain that sets rail as its backbone and utilises flow management to anticipate consumer patterns.

UIC is currently working on such digital solutions: firstly, with the development of FRMCS (Future Rail Mobile Communication System) which will provide a 5G backbone for railway, allowing the implementation of innovative network management solutions. Concurrently, UIC is working on digital railway modelling to achieve a shared vision of the architecture of the railway system, favouring an appropriate modularity of railway components. Finally, UIC is launching a pioneering project on artificial intelligence.

Kazakhstan Railways is already on the path to decarbonisation. Mr Batyr Kotyrev, Chief Engineer of KTZ, showcased the railway’s efforts to achieve increased energy efficiency. Concretely, their direct and indirect CO2 emissions have steadily decreased over the 2013-2020 period. These results allowed KTZ to explore the prospects of decarbonisation, based on a range of conservative to hopeful estimates. In the normal and best-case scenario, the railways could be powered by electricity up to 45% while completely eliminating carbon by 2060. Indeed, KTZ provided a great example of the environmentally friendly potential of railways as a long-term solution to the climate crisis.

Digital twin technology

Mr Jean-Michel Evanghelou, UIC Deputy Director of the Railway Systems Department, virtually joined the roundtable “Twins rule. Railway’s Digital Twin: From Theory to Practice” and gave an overview of digital twin technologies developed by UIC, such as RSM and OntoRail.

The roundtable was moderated by Mr Alexander Miskaryan, General Director of RZD-Technology, who started the meeting by highlighting the advantages of digital twin technology: fast, cheap and cost efficient. Railway networks are complex systems made up of physical infrastructures, power grids and rolling stock, therefore the importance of increased automation cannot be overstated. In the same vein, Mr Evgeny Charkin, Deputy Managing Director of JSC Russian Railways, praised the increased safety generated by digital twinning, which provides real-time information on the state of each given object with full transparency.

Mr Evanghelou then opened his presentation with the importance of digital modelling and digital twining technologies for the digitalisation of railways worldwide. Since 2014, UIC has been developing specific initiatives to foster digital continuity across project phases and domains, in digital models of the railways systems across the world.

First is RSM, a generalist Railway System Model which acts as the backbone for more specialised railway models (Eulynx, IFC Rail, etc.), like an aggregator. The tool is continually upgraded to ensure more and more convergence.

The second is OntoRail, an ontology-backed knowledge engine to consolidate railway system modelling knowledge and federate models. In simpler terms, it allows the different ontologies quoted above to work together. The OntoRail application, currently at the prototype stage, enables the convergence of these different modelling systems in a single interface.

RSM and OntoRail are promising tools for building consensus and promoting and facilitating convergence between models.

Mr Evanghelou then gave the floor to Mr Denis Simakin, CEO of Modern Radio Technologies, who confirmed that the market is ready for the deployment of the digital twin solution. In practice, Mr Dmitry Krasilov, Head of Supply Chain Design for KORUS Consulting Group of Companies, explained how digital twins are used in supply chains to manage decisions regarding logistics and infrastructure. The technology can even go a step further to help plan the investment phase: the flow of goods, the size of the warehouse, its cost and location, etc. – all can be calculated with the help of the digital twin. The technology also has applications in strategic decision-making.

However, the technology is more than a practical improvement: it also serves the customers’ best interests. Mr Alexey Shmelev, CEO of INSPARK, believes that once digitalisation incorporates human factors (e.g. heating, lighting), it will improve quality of service and, in turn, customer loyalty.

To conclude in Mr Davenne’s words, the main drivers for the development of rail are its frugality. Rail and public transport boast low energy consumption, occupy the smallest amount of public space, limit noise pollution, benefit from long life cycles and their systems are constantly scalable. There is no time to waste to make the most of the advantages of rail in the next 10 years.

For further information, please contact Jean Michel Evanghelou, Deputy Director, UIC Railway Systems Department:

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Alexander Miskaryan, General Director, RZD-Technology
Evgeny Charkin, Deputy Managing Director of JSC Russian Railways
Denis Simakin, CEO of Modern Radio Technologies
Alexey Schmelev, CEO of INSPARK