The White paper 2011 from the European Commission on "Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area - Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system" aims at increasing the capacity for the rail freight sector by 50% by 2050 as one of the most environmentally-friendly and sustainable transport modes.
According to Eurostat figures from 2014, the rail mode accounts for about 18% of the EU’s inland transport mode. The main reason is that road transport is cheaper and the railway is facing a tough challenge to remain competitive. The global challenge for railway freight transport business lies in the fact that the overall costs of running railway services are increasing. The average prices of railway service inputs such as energy, staff and track access have increased by 4% per year over the last five years. This is a higher rate of increase compared to the past when the rate of increase stood at 1.5% per year (between 1994 and 2007).
Therefore, it is extremely difficult for railway transport solutions to remain competitive vis à vis pure road transport solutions. The deployment of new technologies and innovation that can support sustainable and efficient rail freight transport in the long run is an important requirement and will make the rail freight sector more competitive.
The deployment of new technologies can also help railway stakeholders to prepare for an expected increase in transport flows in the future; it can help to ensure that infrastructure capacity is used more efficiently and that there is a focus on de-carbonisation.
The Action's overall objective is to foster the deployment of new technology through a “Rail Infrastructure Optimisation”, RIO. The Action includes a study with integrated pilot activities to test an innovative rail infrastructure-vehicle interface system for locomotive drivers to support energy-efficient operations on selected routes on the TEN-T core network corridors.
The RIO system is an interface with a data infrastructure system and panel PC to advise the vehicle driver about how to carry out energy-efficient rail freight operations. The data system gathers rail infrastructure details such as topography and freight train path utilisation planning in a continuously updating process. This infrastructure data is transmitted via the RIO interface to the locomotive vehicle in real time to optimise rail freight operations. The RIO system could lead to a reduction of CO2 and energy use by between 5% and 20%.
The RIO innovation is an advanced technology and it is already playing a part in reducing CO2 emissions in the passenger transport. In the European rail freight sector RIO is not yet optimised and deployed on the market. One main reason is the differences between rail passenger and rail freight transport. Investment is needed to adapt the current RIO passenger system to the rail freight sector. In particular the process of infrastructure data collection must be automated to be cost-effective for rail freight operations. Similarly, the train path schedule will be automatically updated and recorded in a database and transferred to the IT devices on trains. For this purpose, an interface between RIO and the infrastructure is necessary and is a key part of the RIO system to be in a position to be deployed on the European rail freight market.
In a first advanced testing phase, about ten RIO interface systems will be tested in real life conditions. In a second phase, the first optimised version of RIO system will be further tested on a sufficiently large scale in two waves with up to 600 RIO system interfaces along the Rhine-Alpine core network corridor.