The following is excerpted from an article posted by Horizon Magazine, the EU research & innovation publication, about how braking and navigation systems need to be upgraded to accommodate increased rail traffic in Europe.
EUROPE — Increasing the number of trains on Europe’s tracks to replace other modes of transport could help reduce CO2 emissions and air pollution. But fitting more trains requires a serious rethink of how trains brake and could move across the track using cyber-secure radio and satellite navigation.
More and more people are looking to rail as a safe and environmentally friendly way to travel. Rail journeys can reduce travelers’ emissions. For instance, taking the train from Zurich to Milan, a 217km trip, instead of flying saves around 103kg of CO2 emissions per passenger, according to a Deutsche Welle analysis.
Passenger rail numbers in Europe were steadily growing for years before national lockdown measures in early 2020. In Sweden a new word – Tågskryt (train brag) – has entered the lexicon to describe when people encourage others to take the train.
Train companies in Spain, France and Germany are already ordering high-speed and cross-border trains to meet anticipated demand. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as making more trains and putting them on the tracks. Europe already has one of the longest and most dense railway networks in the world, meaning that trains will need to find a way to navigate the more crowded track safely.
“Braking systems are a key aspect of this. More trains on a track means it’s crucial to ensure that the brake performance on each carriage is on the same level and that the brakes don’t wear out quickly,” says Martin Ertl, vice president of innovation at braking systems manufacturer Knorr-Bremse in Germany.
“We have to reduce the headways (distance) between the trains without compromising safety,” he said. “That can only be done with a new set of technologies.’ He is leading the company’s involvement in Shift2Rail’s PIVOT2 project, which is looking at ways to improve the shell and undercarriage of trains.”
“Brakes are a logical candidate for an upgrade. Many modern train brakes,” Ertl explains, “are controlled by an air pipe running from the front of the train to the air brakes of each carriage. The train driver can increase the air pressure along the pipe to release the air brakes, and decrease the pressure to activate the brakes.”
Research shows this braking method has worked well since its introduction in the 1860s, but still has some problems. For example, in older systems it does not let the driver know if there is something wrong with one of the brakes. And since the air moves through each carriage in sequence the brakes are activated simultaneously but may react with some latency. In combination with difficult friction conditions this means while the carriages at the front may have a high deceleration rate, the last carriage is hardly braking at all. This makes emergency braking difficult.
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