Explore the challenges and opportunities in rail transportation and how Thermax® Temperature Indicators give you an edge.
- The transportation industry is responsible for the highest proportion of global CO2 emissions.
- Rail produces fewer emissions than air and road, but more sustainability initiatives are needed to take it to the next frontier.
- The transport industry is shifting its focus to providing better travel experiences as passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
- Sustained investment is needed to improve the reliability and safety of rail networks.
- Thermax® Temperature Indicators provide insights into bearing conditions, helping you take proactive, preventative actions quickly.
The rail transportation industry is facing two challenges – recovering from the pandemic’s impact and meeting market demands. Moreover, as the world shifts towards sustainable transportation and urbanization, the importance of an efficient, safe, and reliable railway infrastructure has increased significantly.
This article will provide insights into the current challenges and opportunities in rail transportation. You’ll also learn how innovations like Thermax® Temperature Indicators can enhance efficiency, sustainability, and safety.
Sustainability Initiatives in Rail Transport
The transportation sector generates 29% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, of which only 2% are from rail. Freight rail produces about 36 grams of CO2 emissions per ton-kilometer, compared to 946 by international aviation and 96 by long-haul trucks. Similarly, passenger rails produce 24 grams of CO2 emissions per passenger-kilometer, compared to 108 by air and 108 per car travelers.
Rail has several advantages as a lower-carbon transportation option. As the greenest, cleanest, and high-volume transport, rail is essential in promoting sustainable travel and product transport.
Advancements in hydrogen and electrification technologies for rail transportation are accelerating transport decarbonization. For example, Germany’s rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) partnered with Australian energy company Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) to replace conventional diesel engines with ammonia-hydrogen engines operating existing trains without emissions.
In the UK, Network Rail and Varamis Rail have launched a fully electric freight service as an environmentally friendly alternative to road haulage. The freight service helps logistics companies move items between Scotland and the Midlands at a zero-carbon footprint. More initiatives like these drive transportation to the next level of sustainability.
Enhancing Passenger Experience
As traveling returns to pre-pandemic levels, the transportation industry must focus on enhancing the travel experience. The sector’s persistent challenges include inflation, rising ticket costs, ongoing strikes, service disruptions, and delays.
Operators are leveraging innovations in digital systems, mobile connectivity, and station developments to boost passenger comfort and convenience and encourage them to return to rail.
For example, Deutsche Bahn uses real-time occupancy displays to help passengers find seats faster, and view which trains (or areas within a train) are less crowded. Passengers access information on capacity on the display system, on the train, and from their mobile devices via an app.
While creating convenience, the new system also brings operational efficiency. Transparency over the utilization of trains and passenger flows enables dispatchers to coordinate train traffic better, leading to fewer overruns and delays.
Automatic notification systems for passengers are also gaining popularity. These systems send real-time text and/or email notifications to passengers about cancellations or timetable amendments before travel. That way, passengers can plan their journey more intelligently.
Investment and Funding Challenges
Rail is a long-term game. Continuous investment and funding are needed to deliver economic benefits, support changing customer needs, meet digitalization and decarbonization targets, and grow the sector. Investing in infrastructure and maintenance projects increases capacity, supports growth, and reduces costly service outages, leading to more reliable networks.
Governments and railway companies are investing huge sums of money to improve rail transportation and achieve associated benefits. For example, BNSF Railway Company recently invested $3.96 billion to keep its rail network reliable to customers. At the same time, the Governments of Canada and Ontario invested $31.5 million to rehabilitate key rail infrastructure and improve its usable life and reliability.
However, a significant funding gap still exists despite these (and similar) investments. Stakeholders must look for different financing options to meet investment needs. Two viable ways to raise investment funds are:
- Expanding revenue streams by using railway assets for activities beyond railway operations. This can include advertising in passenger coaches, repurposing stations for retail use, or leasing the right-of-way for communications cables.
- Leveraging technology to reduce operational costs, then channeling the savings to investment opportunities.
Below, we explore some technologies that can give you an edge.
The Role of Technology in Future Rail Advancements
Sustained railroad infrastructure investment, better track components development, and more reliable inspection technologies and practices are indispensable to rail safety. The East Palestine derailment reminded us all too well why detecting bearing failure before it happens is essential.
Hot-box temperature sensors are currently among the leading solutions for detecting bearing failure. They use infrared technology to measure the heat emitted from bearings and flag temperature excursions when they occur. With heat-sensing detectors installed, axel and bearing-related accidents are reduced by 59%.
Effective as they are, though, hot-box detectors aren’t a complete solution. For example, accuracy may be affected by the train’s speed, proximity to track joints and switches, and misalignment between scanners. In addition, calibration is needed every three years.
Thermax® Temperature Indicators add extra protection. They’re more accurate and provide irreversible evidence of temperature excursions, while the hot-box detectors may detect the temperature of a recently cooled element.
Another example is if a piece of equipment went over the temperature threshold but had a chance to cool down before being read, the reading will also be inaccurate using hot-box detectors. One of the benefits of Thermax® Indicators is that they are irreversible- resulting in accurate readings even if the part has had time to cool off.
In addition, they’re extremely easy to install and read. Simply stick the self-adhesive measuring strips to the bearing box and regularly monitor for color changes immediately. When temperatures exceed predetermined thresholds, the label turns black, notifying you of excessive bearing wear. That means you can detect failure early and take proactive steps to prevent accidents and any disruptions resulting from unplanned maintenance.
Enhancing efficiency, sustainability, and passenger experience with SpotSee
Every railway sub-system is paramount in ensuring punctuality and safety, from the stations that serve as gateways to new destinations to the bridges that span obstacles and the tracks that guide our travels.
The railway industry stands at a crossroads with evolving challenges such as rapid technological advancements, climate change, and funding gaps. Adapting to the changing demands and leveraging technologies is essential for growth.