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The future of rail

Online since 2.11.2015 • Filed under Advertorial • From Issue 16 page(s) 53-54
The future of rail

Ticketless travel, automated freight transport, maintenance drones and faster driverless trains envisioned by leading engineering and design consultancy.

A new report by Arup, a global engineering and design consultancy, reveals a vision of the future of rail travel in light of trends such as urban population growth, climate change and emerging technologies. FUTURE OF RAIL 2050 foresees predictive maintenance of rail lines by robot drones, driverless trains travelling safely at high speed, freight delivered automatically to its destination, and smart technology able to interface with mobile and wearable devices to improve passenger experience and enable ticketless travel. Arup has been involved in many of the world’s high-speed rail, metro and driverless train projects including HS1 and Heathrow PRT in the UK, Cityringen Metro in Copenhagen, the creation of  Beijing South Railway Station, and the redevelopment of St Pancras International Station. The report is based on developments from current Arup rail projects, as well as insight from Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation Team and global contributors.

Convenience – a reliable network

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the report looks at future construction and The report foresees dedicated elevated platforms and underground pipelines to transport goods, freeing up rail and highway infrastructure for passenger travel. Freight pipelines would use intelligent, aerodynamic pods and embedded sensors to provide an energy efficient and low-maintenance method of delivering goods in heavily populated urban areas. Supporting these points are ongoing developments in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive sciences, which will see new materials that are lighter, stronger, smarter and greener. Graphene, for example, is revolutionary in its flexibility, strength and conductivity, bringing the potential for completely new, reliable rail structures and design.

Conurbations – integrated transport systems

To truly deliver a smooth, convenient passenger experience, rail needs to be fully integrated with other modes of transport – a possibility enabled, in part, by big data and the ‘Internet of Things’. This will provide passengers with accurate, realtime updates on train times, connections to other transport modes and optimum pricing. Ticketless technology will remove gate lines in stations. Authorisation to travel will be universal and payment processed automatically when the journey is taken, allowing a seamless connection between various modes of transport. This could be through interoperable electronic passes (valid for trains, businesses, car sharing schemes and bicycles) or through personal accounts that would authorise travel and automatically process payment – removing congestion at ticket barriers and eliminating unauthorised travel. Personal rapid transport systems, powered by clean energy, could also provide the crucial last mile link in urban areas. These systems could, for example, use magnetic levitation to connect vehicles to a high-speed guideway, eliminating vibration, pollution, noise and the usual wear caused by moving parts. These automated systems would allow passengers to check emails or read the news while travelling to their final destination.

Connectivity – plugging in to journeys

The convergence of mobile devices, wearable and location-aware technology and big data are at the heart of improving passenger experience. As well as providing accurate, real-time travel information, high performance networks will grant uninterrupted access to work and entertainment systems on the move. The report imagines a future where train passengers can contact friends, family and colleagues via ‘HoloCalls’ (holographic image displays) and train windows will adjust automatically to prevent external glare. Virtual shopping walls will be located in train stations and even carriages themselves, enabling products from the wall displays to be purchased via mobile devices. ‘The global urban population is growing rapidly and by 2050 around 75% of the world’s population will live in cities,’ comments Colin Stewart, global rail leader, Arup. ‘This places huge pressure on transport infrastructure and resources, but also creates a significant opportunity for rail, which relies on passenger density to function most effectively. The challenge will lie in juggling the responsibility of providing reliable travel for millions while simultaneously tailoring each journey for the individual. ‘However, by rapidly developing technology and taking bold steps to overcome capacity and cost challenges through maximising efficiencies, the rail renaissance can deliver a future where rail is the backbone of our travel system, linking major urban hubs and feeding into multi-modal transport networks for the benefit of passengers.’

To access the full report, visit: Homepage_Future_of_Rail.aspx   Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation helps clients think more creatively about the long-term future, and manage risk and uncertainty more effectively. The team identifies and monitors the trends and issues likely to have a significant impact upon the built environment and society at large. It researches and raises awareness about the major challenges affecting the built environment and their implications.


Colin Stewart

T +44 121 213 3000



Issue 16

Issue 16

November 2015

This article was featured on page 53-54 of
To Build Magazine Issue 16.

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