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Rail industry’s export strength begins at home…

“Railways are the greatest productive act there has ever been, not just in the 19th century but throughout history”. This insight from German sociologist and national economist Werner Sombart (1863-1941) has rarely been more relevant than it is today. The current digitalisation of rail transport represents not only a fundamental innovative leap, but also promises the most climate-friendly, customer-friendly and economical means of mobility there has ever been.

Digital technologies ensure efficient railways

This promise is already at hand and can be seen in such technologies as digital control and security technology, digital electronic interlockings, automated driving and manoeuvring, intermodal data platforms, intelligent logistics, precise status diagnostics and predictive maintenance. The German rail industry has many innovations in its portfolio – and, furthermore, is continuing to develop them ambitiously. ‘Digital Rail’ is in the strategic interest of the European Union, since rail transport is both environmentally and economically essential. Let’s consider the example of freight transportation. Each exporting country is dependent on an excellent logistics system – without it, production and trade could collapse. The EU has therefore formulated a clear objective: that 30% of road freight travelling a distance greater than 300km should be shifted to rail by 2030. The German government is also looking to strengthen its rail logistics – which is a good thing, since European motorways aren’t capable of absorbing the growing levels of freight traffic. A single freight train already produces four-and-a-half times fewer CO2 emissions than lorry transport. How can this succeed? Rail freight transport needs innovations: whether that be intelligent infrastructure to maximise capacities, automatic coupling, precise positioning and load monitoring to realise logistics in real-time, more productive rail freight traffic can only be achieved digitally. This will therefore be an integral part of the intermodal networked logistics system of the future.

Only digital rail freight transport can succeed

The next few years will be decisive in securing a successful digital transformation in Germany and Europe. The German rail industry is certainly ready. We supply innovative solutions and the following three aspects will be crucial: Firstly, wwe want to jointly implement the ‘Digital Rail’ strategy, which has been signed by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), Deutsche Bahn AG and the German Rail Industry Association (VDB). As part of this five-point strategy, investments in modernisation and digitalisation shall be brought to a record level, research and development expanded, and automation and networking further progressed.

The strengthening of rail freight transport is the second important aspect and the BMVI has set up a roundtable that aims to develop a master plan to enable the forecast growth in traffic to travel on climate-friendly rail tracks. The measures for the infrastructure, production and general conditions formulated in the master plan must be put into operation quickly. An important consideration is noise protection, which can be achieved through super-quiet technologies on trains and railways. Innovation premiums should help support investment in quiet technologies. Thirdly, a digital shop window must be established in order to launch pilot projects under real conditions. Digital rail passenger transport will benefit from a pilot project in a major city such as Hamburg. This will enable innovative concepts – technologies, customer information, design ‘made in Germany’ – to be bundled, tested and launched internationally. The German government, federal states and the rail sector should promote digitalisation as part of a concerted approach. It goes without saying that action must be taken at both the national and European levels. A uniform European railway area needs to be implemented quickly. Digital ETCS control and protection technology must replace the antiquated patchwork of national systems. The Fourth Railway Package provides an important basis for streamlining approval processes.

One thing is clear: digital rail in Europe will also lay the foundation for future export successes. German rail has long been a global player – with more than 50,000 workers, it generates about 50% of its sales abroad. However, the constellation of the global market is changing. This is especially evident in the case of China: the formation of the state CRRC group – which is one-and-a-half times larger than the major European manufacturers combined – clearly demonstrates China’s focus on its rail industry as a key sector, with the highest level of state support for innovations. The strategy: more export. The resources: almost inexhaustible government funding for attractive financing packages worldwide. Strong partners can also be major competitors. The German rail industry stands for technological leadership, quality awareness and collaborative strength. The actual rail transport here must lead the way in digitalisation, but this cannot be achieved without government help. In a much-acclaimed resolution, the European Parliament last year called for measures to strengthen the competitiveness of the European rail industry – for innovations, for their implementation in Europe and for export. This is precisely what’s needed; because the rail industry’s export strength begins at home.

 

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