• Tech & Trends

How Rail and Transit Investment Leads the Way to a Greener Planet

By Allan Immel

Railways are the bedrock of the modern world. For nearly 150 years, rails have provided the mobility needed to drive global economic growth and support social development. Today the mission of rail is more significant than ever as railways feature prominently in efforts to combat climate change through decarbonization and efficiently transport growing populations and their goods. The recent panel discussion Exploring the North American Rail and Transit Markets at Hitachi Social Innovation Forum 2021 highlighted how the transformation of rail and transit infrastructure is evolving.

Urgent Rail-Related Challenges on Many Fronts

Paving the road to Mobility 4.0 is ultimately at the heart of the societal transformation required to progress toward a more sustainable future.

Changes in society, such as growing populations, increased urbanization, and climate change are having a profound impact on the way we think about mobility, the domain of moving large numbers of people and things around the planet. A host of new initiatives have now become far more urgent. These include creating faster, cheaper intercity transport, reducing reliance on cars in city centers, smart solutions to manage the flow of large numbers of people in densely populated areas, and rethinking how to power rolling stock that makes up the rail system. These initiatives are critical to help us meet global decarbonization and sustainability goals.

A better, more efficient rail system is an important part of the solution for many of these challenges, and progress is already being made on this important task. According to the American Public Transportation Association 2020 Fact Book, public subways currently produce 73% less CO2 emissions than private cars for a given commute. Providing green transportation alternatives and increased access to public transportation results in increased ridership and reduces carbon emissions significantly.

Improving privately owned infrastructure such as rail freight systems will also be crucial to making progress on climate change. Freight rails are three to four times more fuel-efficient than trucks. Private business in the U.S. spends more than $25 billion per year maintaining and upgrading its freight railroad infrastructure, which in turn creates 1.5 million jobs, $200 billion in economic output, and over $26 billion in tax revenue.

Companies that make eco-friendly decisions promoting decarbonization will have an impact in the coming century and beyond, adding critical momentum toward a cleaner, more sustainable future. Forward momentum is also seen as governments, investors, and large firms apply pressure to promote greener business initiatives. A rise in demand for more sustainability from consumers is also increasing expectations for progress out of concern for the future of our world.

One example of the central role of rail is the nearly $300 billion for rail-related initiatives contained in the proposed American Jobs Plan. Rail related spending includes these items:

  • $85 billion to modernize and expand existing transit
  • $80 billion for Amtrak to repair, modernize and expand service
  • $35 billion for decarbonization initiatives
  • $25 billion for regionally beneficial projects
  • $20 billion programs to reconnect neighborhoods
  • $50 billion National Science Foundation grants for basic research.

The bi-partisan infrastructure bill is critical to the future of our country and the mobility of Americans. We are confident the stakeholders will agree on a final form that will benefit all and enable the above.

Hitachi’s Role in Improving Rail and Mobility Infrastructure

The importance of rails has the world’s attention, and Hitachi Rail is well-positioned to play a leading role in meeting many of these challenges.

First, Hitachi Rail has been around for 140 years. It has the scale to make a difference on hundreds of large projects. Hitachi Rail has more than 12,000 employees in 38 countries with 11 globally distributed manufacturing sites. More than 18 billion journeys are completed each year using Hitachi Rail technology.

Hitachi Rail’s scale is amplified by the benefits it receives from the R&D investments made by other Hitachi divisions and the leading-edge capabilities it leverages from units like Hitachi Vantara, which provides solutions for data management and advanced analytics.

Hitachi Rail is a global leader ready to tackle global problems.

Second, Hitachi Rail is not only large, but it is also fully vertically integrated, able to take a project and all its components from the cradle to the grave. Hitachi Rail manufactures a full portfolio of vehicles for any given transportation situation that includes rolling stock, commuter trains, autonomous trains, streetcars, high-speed trains, inner-city systems, and monorail.

The same is true for train control systems. Hitachi Rail makes systems for localized train control, centralized train control, state-of-the-art communication-based train control systems, European standard ERTMS systems, and more traditional track circuit-based systems. These control systems have what is needed to support GOA 3 and GOA 4 autonomous operation, which is increasingly in demand.

Hitachi Rail’s portfolio also includes the systems needed to support and enhance mobility, including solutions in smart ticketing, human flow applications, and cybersecurity. Hitachi Vantara is an important partner in providing these systems.

As a result of its large collection of solutions, Hitachi Rail can provide an integrated, complete solution with next-generation digital systems and an integrated supply chain to serve the transit market. Once installed, Hitachi Rail can then operate, service, and maintain these systems, supporting large complex projects from initial concept to end of life. Hitachi Rail is one of only a few companies in the entire world that have this level of capability.

Third, Hitachi Rail is a leader in research and innovation for the mobility and rail domains, providing insights that are charting the path forward to the future of mobility. That future is based on five pillars, including a focus on reducing hardware infrastructure, providing related services, moving systems to the cloud, expanding the role of autonomous trains, and making maintenance far easier. All of this is supported by smart factories that themselves embrace these properties. A continuing stream of acquisitions expands Hitachi Rail’s portfolio with new innovative capabilities. An example of this is Hyperdrive, a U.K. battery manufacturer that is supporting Hitachi Rail as it develops next-generation solutions that transition diesel locomotives to alternative clean power sources. Another example is the recent acquisition of Hitachi ABB Power Grids, now Hitachi Energy, which provides next-generation power grid technology.

Fourth, Hitachi Rail has made having a meaningful impact on decarbonization and climate change a tenet of its corporate mission. Hitachi Rail is a world leader in developing next-generation power solutions for transit and freight that reduce carbon emissions through the use of smart power grids and on-board energy storage. Hitachi Rail initiatives to replace diesel locomotives and make existing traction power grid systems more efficient to operate, go a long way toward improving our environment: These initiatives make systems more energy efficient, use less carbon fuel, and are an important part of the Hitachi Decarbonization Strategy.

The practical impacts of Hitachi Rail’s scale and breadth can be seen in current projects around the world such as:

  • Sustainable Mobility: Designing, building, operating, and maintaining the first fully automated, driverless urban transit systems in Honolulu, Panama, Lima and other places around the globe.
  • Revitalized Metro Systems: New metro cars and CBTC system for the Miami Metro Rail and the Baltimore Metro Subway Link based on state-of-the-art technologies. More recently, we were awarded the largest resignalling contract in North America with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to provide a next-generation CBTC system for its entire network.
  • Connecting Cities: The Intercity Express Programme in the U.K. increases capacity, improves reliability, and reduces environmental impact across the cities served by Great Western and East Coast main lines by introducing vehicles as a service to train operating companies.
  • Trains of the Future: Next-generation high-speed commuter trains using Shinkansen and European technology are 30% more efficient and are constructed using 95% recyclable material. In addition to our new vehicle contracts with Miami MetroRail and the Baltimore Metro we were recently awarded a contract with Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to deliver their next-generation 8000 Series vehicles.
  • Next-Generation Solutions: Fully autonomous trains for Rio Tinto, supported by AI, on-demand operations, and asset management tools with predictive maintenance systems. A great example of this is the monorail system we are delivering in Panama. This next-generation autonomous solution connects the city across the canal.

As an industry leader, Hitachi Rail, globally and in North America continues to grow our business by delivering next-generation, turnkey-systems solutions for the rail transportation market. We offer a full line of solutions, including systems, vehicles, operations and maintenance. These innovative products are focused on efficiently moving people and goods by rail across the city and the nation, and they are an important part of the Hitachi Rail Decarbonization Strategy.

Hitachi Rail stands ready to help the world move forward to a better future. To learn more about Hitachi Rail, listen to the session or explore the Hitachi Rail website.

Allan Immel is Turnkey System Business Development Lead for North America at Hitachi Rail.

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