Rolling stock solutions to break historical barriers

Interview with Philippe Mellier, President of Alstom Transport

A promoter of sustainable mobility, Alstom Transport develops and markets the most complete range of systems, equipment and services in the railway sector. Alstom Transport manages entire transport systems, taking in rolling stock, signalling and infrastructure, and offers “turnkey” solutions. The company is no. 1 in the high and very high speed train sector and keeps investing in high end segments, while developing products suited to the specific needs of the emerging markets.
In the present interview, Philippe Mellier, President of Alstom Transport since 2003, talks about the challenges that the railway industry is facing and  the demands that they have to meet to provide the solutions necessary to a sustainable transport.

Railway Pro: Many European cities are giving up tramway public transport on the basis that it is not aesthetic and because of the noise level it generates and safety measures which lacks. What are the current solutions that can be offered in order to increase the attractiveness of public rail transport?

Philippe Mellier: We disagree with this assessment because it does not reflect the current situation. It is true that the old generation of trams (in some Eastern European countries did not have a particularly “attractive design”. However, new vehicles such as Alstom’s Citadis revolutionized the way to insert tramway lines. They offer flexibility in the design (i.e. the Champagne “flute” for Reims: this design was selected by city residents or the “tulip” design in Istanbul). Furthermore low floor trams offer easy access to a wide array of passengers: the disabled, the elderly, children, passengers with bicycles…
And now technologies such as Alstoms’s Ground Power Supply (APS), batteries and supercaps allow to suppress the catenaries. Notably, APS is a system eliminating the need for an overhead wire over an unlimited distance. The APS solution preserves the aesthetics of (historic) city centres, reduces track width by eliminating poles, and optimizes safety by allowing fire engines to circulate without the risk of touching the overhead wires. Advantages include its compatibility with all types of road surfaces and the possibility for easy extension of rail system lines. Already proven highly reliable in service in Bordeaux and Orleans, it will soon be in Reims, Angers, Dubai and Tours.  Supercaps represent an exclusive solution to maximize the energy efficiency of a tramway system, allowing the vehicle to run without an overhead contact wire.  Alstom’s supercapacitors solution is service proven on the Paris T3 tram line.
City mayors worldwide are also leveraging the opportunity to refurbish the tramway corridors (front of buildings, squares…). It represents a good lever to improve the attractiveness of their city.
We should also consider that a new tramway line allows and involves review of the city transport plan. It structures public transport and then optimizes alternative transport modes such as buses.
Concerning noise pollution it is clear that tramways with electric propulsions are less noisy than thermal vehicles (e.g. buses). We should then distinguish vibration from the noise aspect. The main difficulty should be to attenuate the vibration impact which was an issue for old trams. Track technologies made a lot of progress in that direction by providing some attenuation mats or slab tracks.

Railway Pro: Considering the elimination of the catenary line, in the city, many technological solutions are offered both for the vehicle and for the infrastructure. In the case of ground power supply, what are the main steps that public transport authorities must consider in order to be able to implement this technology?

Philippe Mellier: Regarding the suppression of catenary lines – there are no special steps to implement technologies to suppress catenary. We have experience with Ground Power Supply in service in Bordeaux and Reims (France) and in construction in other cities (France and abroad) but also with energy storage devices such as battery in Nice (France).
We take this opportunity to also highlight an advance in energy management technology involves “The Maximal Energy Efficiency Tramway System” (STEEM), a joint research initiative between Alstom, the French Institute for Transport Safety and Research (Inrets) and Paris Transport Authority (RATP). The objective of the STEEM project is to allow trams to complete a trip autonomously, demonstrate energy savings (16% and up to 30% depending on traffic conditions).  The results of the dynamic testing are thus far very positive.

Railway Pro: How can the rail industry contribute to the abatement of traction energy needed in urban transport and, of course, the abatement of chemical pollutant emissions ?

Philippe Mellier: Reduction of traction energy can be achieved either by reducing the demand for traction energy,  by improving traction energy efficiency or by recovering braking energy.
Firstly, Energy Efficiency should always be measured as a value per passenger which means increasing the train capacity is a significant way to improve its global efficiency by transporting more people for equivalent consumption. Automatic systems which regulate traffic so as to ensure smooth operation of the lines and devices which support the driver to optimize consumption based on the operating mode are also means to consume exactly the amount of energy necessary to operate the system. Eco-Driving tools indeed can reduce energy consumption by about 10%.
Several other factors can influence the need for traction energy such as the weight of the train. Weight reduction has been achieved in main lines through redesign of metal parts and introduction of composite materials. We believe these will also be progressively introduced in urban transport equipment.
As far as traction energy efficiency is concerned, the traction chain efficiency can be improved mainly by using Permanent Magnet Motors. This enables to reach 97% efficiency versus 93% for asynchronous motors. The use of last generation semi-conductors is also being looked at.
There are several ways of recovering braking energy and Alstom is particularly active in developing and promoting these solutions. Using electrical braking should always be favored as it enables to recover electricity while
avoiding dust particles emission from mechanical braking. Today, electricity generated during braking can easily be used by a train in direct vicinity of the braking train but this can only be achieved through efficient
regulation systems and when operating conditions allow such recovery.
One alternative focuses on storing electricity on-board through super capacitors or fllywheels which are currently being tested with French RATP in the STEEM project (mentioned earlier).
Last option is to feed back the recovered electricity to the network through specific substations. Alstom has developped the HESOP substation for such purpose. It is now been tested for tramways and could also be applied in the future for metros. HESOP allows full recovery of braking energy which is otherwise lost (about 15 %).
Regarding chemical polluting emissions, emissions from trains mainly come from fuel combustion of diesel trains. Alstom has developed the first diesel particulate filter for trains. The CORADIA Lint regional train in use in the Frankfurt area in Germany has a fine particulate emission rate of under 0.025 g/KWh and is the first diesel train in the world to be fitted with a filter reducing soot particulate emissions by 95%. This gives Alstom a head start with respect to the application of the EU Directive on particulate emissions (1999/30/EU) in force since January 1st, 2005 and which sets future European standards for soon particulate emissions in all Member States by 2012.
Finally controls are made on the air quality inside the vehicles for Volatile Organic Coumpounds that could be emitted by of the elements placed in the trains (seats, panels, coatings,…) however measurements demonstrate that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) levels are far below the authorized limit value.

Railway Pro: Railway market liberalisation implies greater dynamics of the railway undertakings. What is the answer of the rolling stock supply industry to the business development in this field?

Philippe Mellier: For market liberalisation to be effective, rolling stock solutions need to be more polyvalent and versatile than in the past, to bring European operators the required flexibility to operate on an interconnected European network, and not only on a dedicated line or corridor.
The industry is now proposing rolling stock solutions that remove historical barriers to interoperability, these barriers coming from major infrastructure differences between national networks in particular for signalling , energy supply or network operating models.In order to do so, a common baseline of train and signalling specifications  was set at industry level. (Technical Specifications for Interoperability – TSI for Rolling Stock and European Railway Traffic Monitoring System – ERTMS for Signalling) and railway companies have developed or are developing solutions according to these specifications.
Being a railway multi-specialist Alstom Transport was right from the start at the forefront of these developments, and is now offering train, signalling and infrastructure solutions which fully meet these requirements and are designed to be operated across the European network by historical operators as well as new operators who might appear through this market liberalisation process.

Railway Pro: In the new White Paper on Transport, the European Commission  speaks about developing a Single European Area. What is the railway industry’s answer to this challenge?

Philippe Mellier: The railway industry is fully supporting this challenge. The single European Area cannot be achieved without an efficient European railway network.

Railway Pro: Russian market has proven once again its dynamics when it comes to railway transport. What is Alstom Transport approach towards the Russian rail market and other countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)?

Philippe Mellier: Russia is one of the biggest railway markets in the world with 85, 500 km of tracks (of which half is electrified), 1,3 billion passengers and 1,3 billions tons of goods transported annually. The needs for new rolling stock and cutting-edge technologies are huge, as nothing has been invested in the region for a long time. Therefore it is clearly a priority region for Alstom and we chose to enter the market with a local partner. In 2009, we established a strategic partnership with Russian leading railway manufacturer, Transmashholding (TMH) to develop jointly new generation products.
Of course, Alstom is considering the CIS  region as a whole because this region shares the same wide gauge (1520 mm), similar norms & standards and severe climatic conditions. Thereby, together with TMH we are going to serve the Russian & CIS market with winterized products meeting local specificities with a high level of quality, technical efficiency and localisation of production. In the CIS region, Alstom seeks to be a local manufacturer, provider of technologies, and strategic partner for operators.

Railway Pro
: The largest railway undertakings develop a transport rail link between the Far East (Orient) and Western Europe. What major changes can this project bring to the railway market, concerning the railway industry?

Philippe Mellier: Links between Western Europe railway networks and Orient networks  are bound to develop in the years to come, the main connections  being with the Russian and CIS countries networks as well as Turkey.
Connecting these networks supposes specific challenges, not only due to the fact that the railways are physically different (different gauge for example), but also due to the fact that operating rules and habits are different. This is the reason why the industry has to anticipate the necessary adaptations of current solutions to bring answers to these new challenges and this is the reason why Alstom Transport in particular, decided a few years ago to establish a strategic partnership with TMH, a Russian rolling stock manufacturer. This requires not only to define the trains, or the systems that will be required to make this railway operation feasible, but will also force  the European industry to
adapt to these new market conditions both commercially and industrially.

Railway Pro: In your opinion, how can these projects and the railway industry contribute to the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions, measure which is also a major objective of the European Union?

Philippe Mellier: The rail greenhouse gas emissions from rail (per passenger / km) is 70 times less compared to the plane and 50 times less compared to the car. That is the main reason of the EU Commission to promote the transport modal shift from air / road to rail.

Railway Pro
: The political sector speaks more and more about a possible high-speed railway network in Europe. In your opinion, is this achievable and how do you see the usefulness of such a railway network?

Philippe Mellier: The objective of the EU is to triple the length of existing high speed rail network by 2030 and by 2050 the majority of medium distance passenger transport (300 km) to go by rail. It is achievable seen from the industry side and more than useful it is absolutely necessary to join all major European cities through such a modern, fast, economic and ecologic mode of transportation to achieve the cohesion of all European states.

Railway Pro
: Nowadays, when in several new EU member states there are talks about constant underfinancing of rail infrastructure, do you consider that addressing issues such as high-speed railway line is a “utopia”?

Philippe Mellier: It is not a “utopia “ – it is a matter of priorities to be managed at member states level.

[recorded by Elena Ilie ]
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