Q&A with Michael Thulin and Björn Asplund: The vision for rail in Sweden
At InnoTrans 2022, Michael Thulin, Member of the Board, SWERIG and Björn Asplund, Chairman, Swedtrain, sat with Craig Waters, Editor, Global Railway Review, to discuss what the future holds for rail in Sweden and the potential that digital transformation offers.
At InnoTrans 2022: Michael Thulin, Craig Waters, Bjorn Asplund.
What is Sweden’s vision for rail, and how can it be achieved?
Asplund: We are a country that is continuously recognised for delivering the latest technologies and solutions. Among our members we find several start-ups with new innovations as well as established international companies with a long track record.
The vision should be to focus on developing technologies such as ERTMS and digital automatic coupling (DAC); this will not only help Sweden make the most of what we already have, but it will boost the reputation of the Swedish supply chain as a provider of solutions that can be exported to the wider rail industry. – Asplund
As the Swedish trade association for industry and universities that deliver solutions for the railways of the future, Swedtrain is uniquely positioned to witness the progression and opportunities for the rail industry. For instance, in the last year we doubled the number of start-up organisations joining us as members. This demonstrates the enormous potential for Swedish companies.
Sweden has over 15,000km of rail tracks. Ideally, we want to build new rail infrastructure, but that naturally takes an enormous amount of investment. So, the focus must shift to understand what we can do with what we have; how can we increase rail capacity? The vision should be to focus on developing technologies such as ERTMS and digital automatic coupling (DAC); this will not only help Sweden make the most of what we already have, but it will boost the reputation of the Swedish supply chain as a provider of solutions that can be exported to the wider rail industry.
I think the vision is also to increase the number of people travelling by rail and understand how we can improve accessibility – not just connect our major cities, but also improve connectivity in our more remote locations. – Thulin.
Thulin: I think the vision is also to increase the number of people travelling by rail and understand how we can improve accessibility – not just connect our major cities, but also improve connectivity in our more remote locations. Providing rail access for all is so important; we don’t want to repeat the closure of many rail lines, which we saw in Sweden during the 1970s. We must do everything we can to ensure rail is the preferred travel mode, and it is down to all stakeholders in the industry to perform and deliver reliable and quality products and projects.
Efficiency is what will drive the railway network forward. The future should be a network that runs on a highly automated system. There are eight rail control centres in Sweden, perhaps this is too many – especially during low traffic hours when only two or three of them need to be operational. More emphasis placed on utilising cloud solutions could even help to improve operational safety.
What positives and what challenges are there in rail’s digital transformation?
Asplund: There are still huge opportunities for digitalising asset maintenance and business processes. We should not just work the same way that we always have, but adopt technology to help us work smarter and more efficiently.
There are still huge opportunities for digitalising asset maintenance and business processes. We should not just work the same way that we always have, but adopt technology to help us work smarter and more efficiently. – Asplund.
Our industry needs to push more for modernisation. The need is there and the solutions are there. SWEDTRAIN is championing the legacy of the Swedish railway by encouraging evolution of rail control systems to increase capacity and efficiency, while at the same time optimising resources to achieve improved punctuality and a reduced environmental footprint. There are also more possibilities with artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT to harness for operating rail networks for many generations to come.
Thulin: The Swedish rail industry is well-known to have adopted electronic interlockings to replace traditional signalling safety technology. We have achieved a lot in this area, but our outlook for the future is focused on how even more innovative telecoms can help our network operate even more digitally. We want to drastically reduce the number of interlockings, taking our network to the next level in terms of capacity and efficiency. Yet, with the increase in digital solutions comes increased risks in cyber-security. We must quickly learn how we can protect our digital systems further.
The theme of InnoTrans 2022 is the ‘future of mobility’, so what does that look like for you?
Asplund: Looking after the environment is incredibly important. I think the future for mobility – and especially for railway transportation, must be to become even more green. We need rolling stock to use even less energy and we must also make more use of other power solutions such as battery or hybrid. People are asking for more greener forms of transportation – the uptake of electric and hybrid cars demonstrates this. We must promote the fact that rail is resilient to climate change and that it can provide excellent services for years to come.
I think the future for mobility – and especially for railway transportation, must be to become even more green. – Asplund.
Thulin: I think the success of future mobility will rely on connectivity. Longer distance rail networks need to provide seamless mobility and more efficient connections to exchange journeys to other mobility modes. But, this can only be a true success with improved ticketing. The success of the Oyster Card in the UK shows just how great a seamless ticketing structure can be. And this also links with how rail contributes to improving climate change.
What do you hope to learn and take away most from being at InnoTrans 2022?
Asplund: With the absence over the last few years of trade fairs in the industry, I think it’s more important than ever to come back together to meet in-person and share different experiences and solutions. The railway industry is like a family, so these events mean we can catch up with old friends, but also make new ones, which is so important. InnoTrans shows just how broad the railway sector is, so I’m always interested in taking away some new lessons learned and understanding of how the industry is progressing.
Members of SWERIG, the Swedish industry association for exporting companies within the railway sector, have a great history of supporting other railways around the globe in their development. – Thulin.
Thulin: We have a fantastic IT sector in Sweden, developing everything from apps to complete systems. However, we are a relatively small country and we are dependent on export. Although we develop systems for our home market, we also need to adapt to be able to support Europe and the international railway industry.
Members of SWERIG, the Swedish industry association for exporting companies within the railway sector, have a great history of supporting other railways around the globe in their development. Being at an event like InnoTrans helps us to understand that all countries are different and that they all have their special requirements, so InnoTrans is a great way to learn more about what is needed. And from this knowledge, we can help our members and facilitate that growth and expansion.
Michael Thulin is currently Vice Chairman at Swerig. He has worked in a number of roles, notably gaining considerable experience at Bombardier Transportation, across numerous countries, most recently as Sales & Business Development Manager in Sweden until 2021. Michael is also presently Director External Partners at Alstom.
Björn Asplund is currently Chairman at Swedtrain. He is also presently Customer Director, Alstom, a role he has held since June 2021. Between 2016 and 2021, he held the role of Alstom’s Managing Director for Sweden. Asplund has exensive experience in the rail sector, having begun work in the industry in 1986.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC), Digitalisation, European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), InnoTrans, InnoTrans 2022, Internet of Things (IoT), Sustainability/Decarbonisation, The Supply Chain, The Workforce