Further reducing railways’ energy use (SmartRailWorld)

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Rail represents one of the cleanest ways to travel, second only to walking or cycling. Across EU countries, less than one per cent of all transport gas emissions come from railways. Yet UK rail operators still face a serious challenge; last year, the Government challenged them to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, and while the sector has boarded its sustainability journey, the service is likely to be delayed.

The sector has taken major steps to decarbonise and improve efficiency on its lines, but more needs to be done. To cut emissions and deliver power efficiency and reliability, operators need intelligent solutions to monitor, control, and optimise electrical assets on the network. At the same time, efficiency does not have to be costly. Intelligent solutions that deliver consistent monitoring will also allow operators to identify efficiencies, optimise repairs and maintenance – which will save considerable costs in the long run.

The electrification of the country’s railways goes hand in hand with efforts to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions. Operators have made great strides in upgrading rolling stock and major parts of the line, yet only 40% of the network is electrified compared to Europe’s average of 60%. Operating companies may still be too reliant on diesel-guzzling rolling stock, but electrified railways are better for the environment and generate 60% fewer emissions compared to diesel trains, while producing zero pollutants at the point of use.

Yet electrification of the trains alone won’t be enough. Rail industry emissions are not generated solely by rolling stock, but also other crucial infrastructure including train stations. Indeed, any part of the rail network that takes electrical power to run – from signalling systems to depots – is contributing to the industry’s carbon footprint. Just because pollutants aren’t being emitted from a train’s exhaust does not mean damage isn’t being done.

If we are to achieve a truly sustainable rail network over the next few decades, there is an urgent need to reduce the industry’s energy consumption as a whole. This can be done by reducing energy waste and improving the efficiency of electrical assets embedded in the infrastructure. What’s more, it’s possible to do this without jeopardising the quality of rail services – between 2000 and 2016, rail energy consumption fell by 23 per cent thanks to greater energy intensity and utilisation, all without impacting service levels or passenger numbers.

In a train station for example, a facility management system collecting and analysing data from the lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation functions can provide a detailed breakdown of energy usage. The station manager can use this insight to identify areas where energy is being wasted – such as during off-peak times when the station isn’t at full capacity – and the manager then has the insight to intervene positively, putting certain functions into a low-power state to cut down on energy waste.

To create a more efficient and sustainable rail network, operators need insight. They must have unprecedented visibility across services, and the power to intervene to cut waste and optimise operations. The Internet of Things (IoT) can share a great deal of this information through connected sensors, but operators will also need analytics tools and software to turn it into actionable insight.

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Written by Long Branch Mike