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Thales is using digital technology to boost the environmental performance of rail.

From fires and floods to extreme weather events, the evidence of climate change is all around us. Urgent action is needed to protect the planet for future generations – and that means reducing our dependency on oil, gas and coal.

Railways to the rescue

Combating emissions is a top priority for nations and businesses. Several countries have introduced targets to achieve net-zero gas emissions by 2050. This is in line with their commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement, which sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

Yet decarbonising economies is easier said than done. Transport is a particular problem. While most sectors of the economy have improved their environmental performance, transport emissions are still rising.

Railways are the exception. In Europe, rail emissions have dropped dramatically, falling by more than 40% over the past 25 years. This is despite an 8.5% increase in freight traffic and a 37% increase in passenger journeys.

So what’s behind rail’s spectacular performance?

First, most rail traffic – 80% of it in Europe – is powered by electricity. Although there is still a long way to go before the production of electricity is 100% green, rail’s per-kilometre emissions continue to fall, thanks to an ongoing generation mix shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

Second, railways themselves are becoming more efficient. Better trains are one reason. But equally important are innovative command and control systems. These not only reduce carbon emissions, but also increase the capacity and attractiveness of rail.

Protecting the planet with trains

Railways already play a vital role in providing low-carbon transport. But much more traffic will need to shift to rail if net zero emissions are to be achieved by 2050. 

How can extra passenger and freight traffic be accommodated? And how can rail improve its already impressive energy efficiency? 

Digital technologies hold the key. Thales’s solutions take advantage of frugal AI, advanced automation and predictive analytics to deliver measurable performance enhancements:
Smart trackside: conventional signalling is energy intensive. Replacing it with intelligent LED signals and digital position monitoring can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 10,000 tonnes over the life of the system*. 

Traffic Management Systems: a digital Traffic Management System (TMS) keeps trains moving by predicting, preventing and resolving conflicts – boosting capacity and saving energy. The TMS is typically linked to digital signalling which routes trains automatically. The next step: linking TMS with trains to optimise every journey. This technology adds to the carrying power of railways and delivers tangible results: a capacity increase of 20% can reduce indirect CO2 emissions by 200,000 tonnes per year*.

Driver Advisory Systems: these help train drivers to cut power consumption by calculating and displaying the optimal train speed throughout the journey. Driver Advisory Systems also boost punctuality and reduce wear and tear. The beauty of this technology is that it offers a quick win – no integration with signalling is needed. The potential for energy savings is significant: a 15% reduction in train energy consumption can cut CO2 emissions by 20,000 tonnes per year*.

Interlocking and train control: these are the bedrock of railway safety. They also unlock new capacity and save energy. Advanced signalling, such as the European Train Control System (ETCS), is already widely deployed. The latest version – ETCS Level 3 –shrinks the gap between trains, so existing lines can handle more traffic. Rolling out ETCS Level 3 can cut CO2 emissions by 25,000 tonnes over the lifetime of the system*, thanks to the elimination of trackside equipment.

Intelligent infrastructure monitoring: imagine if you could predict when something was about to go wrong – and then fix it before it happened? That’s exactly what intelligent infrastructure monitoring does. This uses an Internet of Things (IoT) platform to monitor trackside assets and detect early signs of trouble. Maintenance teams are alerted automatically and assets repaired before they fail – boosting reliability.

Multimodal journey tools: cutting emissions is all about making low-carbon journeys easy and pleasurable. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) holds the key. MaaS provides a single digital platform for transport services, including rail, metro, buses, ride sharing and more. Route planning, ticketing and payment are all provided via a convenient smartphone app.

These are solutions that can help rail transport fight climate change and protect the planet for future generations.

* On a 500 km stretch of track