THE RAILWAY SECTOR IS IMMERSED IN A PROCESS OF CHANGE WHERE TERMS SUCH AS DIGITALISATION, INTERMODALITY OR THE EMERGENCE OF NEW FUELS, TECHNOLOGIES AND SERVICES ARE PUT ON THE TABLE TO ADAPT TO PASSENGER DEMAND.
Technology is transforming the concept of mobility, putting the user experience at the centre of everything. Technologies such as IoT, blockchain or Big Data become of vital importance to capture and organise the data generated by the user, the trains, and the infrastructure itself. All of this aims to achieve the connectivity and real-time information that the passenger demands. The use of real-time information and data exchange translates into a more precise system that allows an overall optimisation of the transport offer.
Within this new paradigm, and as MITMA itself acknowledges, the digitalisation of the entire sector, of both vehicles and infrastructures, “is an essential pillar to achieve an increasingly optimised railway transport”. Along these lines, the Spanish government has allocated 118.5 million euros to RENFE for its investment in the digitalisation of security, information, and access control systems of railway stations.
At the end of 2020, Renfe announced the start of a bidding process for the Renfe-as-a-Service (RaaS) initiative, a digital mobility platform for intermodal door-to-door travel planning. The purpose of this initiative is to integrate in a single platform a wide variety of mobility services available in Spain with the aim of simplifying the travel planning and purchasing process. Ultimately, RaaS will allow citizens to plan trips from the moment they leave their home until they reach their destination, and book all the additional services necessary during the journey and at their destination.
Thus, the tool will allow the search for itineraries and a journey planning that in turn allows to:
• Find the best route between two points of the cities that are integrated into the system
• Select the features of the trip, selecting even the least polluting ones
• Share a journey through social media or other channels
• Save and modify travel proposals
• Report incidents
But it is not only important to bring digitalisation to passenger transport but succeeding at digitalising freight transport is also a key point. A first step to achieve this is the participation of ADIF in the SIMPLE technological platform (SIMplification of Processes for a Logistic Enhancement) that will gather all the information of the logistics chain and ensure interoperability between the different national freight transport modes and hubs and their integration at an international level. Through the use of blockchain technology, all the agents and modes of transport that make up the logistics chain will be able to interact electronically. This initiative would be a further step towards achieving the objective set by MITMA by 2030: to increase freight railway transport from the current 4% to 10%.
This increase undoubtedly involves the promotion of intermodality. Component 6 of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan of the Spanish government speaks of a ‘Sustainable, safe and connected mobility’, which will guide MITMA’s actions in terms of mobility, infrastructure, and transport in the next 10 years. Indeed, the promotion of intermodality and the shift towards low-carbon modes of transport stand out among the main objectives of this component. As reflected in the document that includes this component 6, “railway transport has a clear advantage in terms of direct GHG emissions per unit of transport-km”. In addition, the document adds that “according to the 2019 report of the Observatory of Transport and Logistics in Spain, the railway emits almost twelve times fewer direct emissions per unit of transport-km than the road in non-urban pattern and fourteen times fewer than the plane. Freight railway transport is almost 5 times more efficient than road.”
The transfer or modal shift in favour of railway transport from other modes allows a key reduction in emissions to the atmosphere. And not only does it contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases but also to another series of polluting gases (NOx and particles) and other environmental pollutants such as noise or luminescence.
This component 6 has a section called ‘Intermodality and logistics’, whose objective is to improve the efficiency of the freight transport and distribution system, by promoting intermodality and the modernisation and improvement of the distribution hubs.
This measure includes three types of actions:
1. The development of strategic intermodal and logistics terminals (TILOS).
2. The construction and improvement of land access to ports and other railway actions to promote intermodality. With an investment of 407 million euros, and as part of the strategy to promote freight railway transport, there is a commitment to port and railway intermodality through the execution of investments aimed at the construction and improvement of external railway access to different ports, in a way that enables its connection with the rest of the railway network and the main European railway corridors. Among the actions included are the railway access to the Port of A Coruña and that of Castellón, or the construction of sidings of 750 metres.
3. Improvement of accessibility, sustainability, digitalisation, and safety of ports to move towards “Green Ports”.
“The aim is to increase rail freight transport from 4% to 10% by 2030”.
Innovation in the sector
The period of transformation the sector is going through also involves innovation in almost all points of the chain: fuels, materials, services, or technologies used, among others.
One of the highlights in this regard is the emergence of new fuels that are more environmentally friendly that will help achieve the emission reduction targets set across Europe. Thus, hydrogen is a reality that has already reached the railway. In fact, one of the “country targets” for 2030 is the continuous use of hydrogen-powered trains on at least two medium and long-distance commercial lines on tracks that are not currently electrified. In addition, the goal is to create a cluster for sector integration that concentrates especially the production, transformation, and consumption on a large-scale displacing fossil materials.
What is the goal? To promote innovative transport, hydrogen storage and final supply solutions that minimise environmental impact.
One of the technologies that attracts the most attention today is that of Hyperloop, which already has the support of the European Commission. The institution has allocated, within the European Green Deal funds, 15 million euros for the company Hardt Hyperloop, becoming the first concrete support for this technology in the EU.
The Hydrogen Roadmap
The Hydrogen Roadmap is a document proposed by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) that will serve as a guide on which investment plans and measures to boost the deployment of renewable hydrogen are based. As can be read in the document, “renewable hydrogen is positioned as one of the main energy vectors in the long term because its production and consumption is climate neutral and does not generate polluting emissions”. Unlike other renewable energy vectors, hydrogen has the ability to be stored, as a gas under pressure or in a liquid state, which allows a greater degree of manageability.”
Although it is true that a large part of the investments is focused on the electric car, this roadmap also highlights the importance of this material reaching public transport: buses, trams, or railways. Not surprisingly, the Hydrogen Roadmap – which was approved at the end of 2020 – is committed to promoting feasibility studies and tests of the replacement of diesel trains by fuel cell trains for their circulation on partially or non-electrified lines. This commitment also includes the implementation of other measures for the development of a national hydrogen refuelling railway infrastructure. These studies contemplate both the transformation of existing rolling stock and the acquisition of new units.
Other measures will also be implemented for the development of a national hydrogen refuelling railway infrastructure. In this context, it is envisaged to include its financing within the future MOVES Plans and in community calls for proposals such as the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).
There is also the goal to create a cluster for sector integration that spatially concentrates production, transformation, and large-scale consumption displacing fossil materials. Among its tasks would be the promotion of innovative solutions for transport, hydrogen storage and final supply that minimise the environmental impact. Another task includes the development of unique pioneering projects that allow the introduction of renewable hydrogen in other industrial poles other than that included in the cluster and in transport.