The Flying Scotsman, the Orient Express and Stephenson’s Rocket – probably the first locomotives that spring to mind if we were to ask you about the golden era of rail travel. And while transport options are certainly more varied (if somewhat less glamorous) today, rail travel is actually on the rise. Rod Holroyd of Trelleborg Antivibration Solutions looks at the reasons behind this growth and what it means for operators and constructors in the ascending rail sector.
If any proof were needed that rail travel is entering a second golden age, here are some statistics that might surprise you:
- The number of rail journeys in the UK has doubled in the last 20 years1 – the highest level since the 1920s
- British people make an average of 4.7 billion train journeys a day1
- In 2016 Italy announced a ten-year rail investment programme of more than €170 billion2
- Europe-wide, passenger volumes are growing at a steady rate of 1.4% per year3
- Almost a third of European long-distance trips are high-speed3
- 78 cities worldwide have opened up new tramway or light rail systems since 20004
- Rail freight across Eurasia is growing too, with the Leipzig-Shenyang route more than twice as fast as sea cargo, and half the cost of air transport5
- In Thailand, the shared rail as a freight mode is expected to triple to 5% by 20205
- With a newly dedicated freight corridor in India, rail share is expected to increase from 0.69m TEUs to 6.2m TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units), with speed increases of 45km per hour5
Just from these selected stats, it’s clear that rail transport of all kinds – urban, long-distance and freight – is in the ascendance. Congestion on roads and in the skies; slower speeds on the seas; and concerns over carbon emissions could all be contributing factors. But whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that rail operators and rolling stock manufacturers alike will be facing both increased demand and heightened competition.
As we look to the future of rail, certain key trends demand our attention.
Firstly, demand will mean trains will need to run for longer and over greater distances, meaning maintenance intervals will be decreased and unplanned downtime will be more chaotic than ever before. Indeed, with some urban transit services already moving to 24/7 running, operators already have concerns about the impact longer-running services may have on maintenance patterns. Will repair and overhaul tasks be possible in smaller time frames? Can maintenance intervals still be increased with longer running times? So while installing parts with a longer service life and which require less maintenance will be a priority, so too will be the implementation of condition-based monitoring.
Another consideration for the future is legislation. In recent years we’ve already seen fire regulation more strictly regulated through EN 45545, which was developed to provide a standard approach to rail component testing across Europe. It focuses on improving the safety of materials and components that are installed within rolling stock, ensuring they meet stringent fire protection requirements and is particularly important when we consider the rise of cross-border transit.
So, when specifying components, it’s important that rolling stock manufacturers look for supply partners who can not only keep pace with innovation in the rail industry but lead it too. Rail operators will be looking for enhanced performance to cope with demand, but this will need to be balanced always with attention to safety, legislation and ease of maintenance.