Congestion on the road and in the air is a critical challenge for Europe, given the expected growth in traffic. In particular, freight transport is closely linked to economic activity, however, congestion risks are stifling growth in this area. Congestion also brings risks for safety and the environment. A range of technologies are emerging that can help to tackle these problems, and a view is needed on the most promising options and their policy implications.
RECONNECT aimed to identify and assess new types of transport that have potential to ease congestion, including their feasibility, suitable areas of application, impacts and needs for policy intervention.
The project has provided a structured overview of the potential of new transport concepts, with a particular focus on innovative ideas that are already significantly advanced (such as elevated public transport, underground freight systems and airships). Some 100 concepts were surveyed, 21 being selected for comparative assessment.
High capacity elevated passenger transport systems (such as the H-Bahn Dortmund and the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn) offer good potential for reducing congestion in urban environments, as the backbone of the public transport system. Nevertheless, the infrastructure needs and total costs are high. Guided and road-based people movers are seen as complementary solutions for feeder and shuttle services.
Underground concepts (such as the Underground Logistics System proposed in Amsterdam) provide an efficient means of freight distribution. They rely on automated and driver-less electric vehicles that run in tunnels. Again, infrastructure costs are fairly high, but can be reduced using new small-bore tunnelling technologies.
Finally, airships are promising for point-to-point operations in both passenger and freight transport, and their costs are not particularly high. For example, the CargoLifter allows bulky and heavy items to be taken to the final destination, replacing a whole shipment chain. Other versatile airships may contribute to traveller intermodality in remote regions.
Financial and commercial hurdles pose the biggest obstacle, particularly for public transport. However, tailor-made transport services such as airships are proving more attractive to private investors. Regulatory barriers are also significant, particularly for automated and driver-less concepts.
To overcome the barriers to market penetration, the priority is to make 'seed' funding available. Public-private partnerships are seen as one way forward on this. Regulatory barriers need stakeholder consultation at an early stage, and would benefit from Government agencies (such as strategic rail authorities) being assigned responsibility to tackle the legal issues.
Further RTD is needed to reduce uncertainties and technology costs. Important areas for research are:
- vehicle automation and guidance systems, communications and control systems;
- development of standards (e.g. for the safety requirements for new vehicle concepts);
- in-depth assessment of the environmental, noise and safety impacts of new concepts;
- the development of technologies for underground infrastructure (ground exploration, tunnel driving, tunnel lining and standardisation of dimensions).
RECONNECT proposed that demonstration projects be funded for the most promising ground level concepts ready for market introduction in the near future: road-based people movers, on-demand rental cars (like Praxitele), automated vehicle guidance for cars on public roads, and man-wide cars.