“The future of transport is electric”

Jochen Eickholt Siemens Mobility CEOJochen Eickholt, the CEO of Siemens Mobility, talks about electric highways and bus networks and creating cities full of sensors that link up cars with their surroundings.


One of your projects at Siemens is electrifying motorways, so electric trucks can be used for long-distance freight, without even requiring batteries. Why are you convinced that the “eHighway”, as you call it, is the future of road freight?

Transport remains the last sector where fossil fuel dependency has not been substantially mitigated, making it a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electric mobility offers a variety of benefits here, including improved local air quality, fuel diversification into renewable sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and increased energy efficiency to lower operating costs. The eHighway combines resource-efficient railway technology with the flexibility of road transport.

How does this work in practice?

The adapted hybrid trucks are supplied with electricity from overhead contact lines. An active pantograph can automatically connect and disconnect with the contact line at speeds up to 90 km/h. The direct transmission of electric energy ensures an outstanding efficiency of 80 to 85 per cent from substation in-feed to the wheel. This is twice as high as that of conventional diesel engines. The eHighway also makes it possible to recover braking energy and store it on-board. It can also feed other trucks operating on the system or even feed the electricity back into the public grid. These energy savings translate into even higher system efficiency, lower emissions, and lower energy consumption. High efficiency is the backbone of future road freight transport as well as decarbonisation.

Talking about electric mobility, would you agree that it will play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions of  passenger transport?

The future of transport is electric, whether by rail or by road.  For metros, light rail and high-speed trains  electrification has been established for many years as a way to ensure highest energy efficiency while  minimizing local emissions. With the ongoing electrification of railroads all over the world, rail traffic has become increasingly emission free. According to a recent study by the International Railway Union (UIC), rail is the most emissions-efficient major transport mode. Electric trains powered by renewable energy can offer practically carbon-free journeys and transport.

In cities, eBuses will play a role similar to the one I just described for the eHighway and hybrid-driven trucks. They offer the same advantages -energy efficiency, local zero emissions and, thanks to modern control systems, an improved travel experience for passengers. This is why they are in a good position to help satisfy the increasing demand for sustainable transport solutions in cities at a time when growing transport volumes and limited expansion possibilities for transport routes pose ever more serious problems.

What kind of innovations do engineers have in store to make electrified public transport a regular sight?

It is possible for instance to equip buses with a flexible Offboard High Power Charger, which adds considerable flexibility to eBus services. The buses need to stop at the charging station only for a few minutes. The system is ideal for high-frequency operations, since the charging infrastructure can be used by several buses per hour. It would even work if the vehicles were produced by different manufacturers. This is no scenario for the distant future; in fact the system’s practical feasibility in daily operation is already being demonstrated – for instance in Vienna, Gothenburg or Hamburg.

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Offboard High Power Charger in Hamburg (Foto: Siemens)

Everyone is talking about self-driving vehicles. What is your take on autonomous driving?

The next step in the evolution of green, safe and efficient public transport on roads will be self-driving shuttle buses. At present there are several pilot projects under way, in areas such as university campuses and still operating with a driver as a back-up. Over the long run, electric-powered self-driving cars will be the new norm for individual and shared traffic in our cities. They are safe, emission-free and silent. But there is still a long way to go – infrastructures are not ready for that phase yet.

 

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What needs to happen in terms of infrastructure?

 

Today, self-driving cars run well only under certain conditions,-  in a controlled environment and when the weather is right. The sensors fail when it rains or snows; and they also fail when the sun is too bright. Ans even though they already are quite powerful, sensors can’t see around the corner or through an object that is blocking the sensors sight. Today, the human driver serves as a “redundancy system” that makes up for these defects. But without someone at the wheel, the self-driving car would have only one option: to switch to safe mode in uncertain situations. This is not acceptable, because it means having to reduce speed radically or even stopping. Neither alternative is compatible with traffic regulations and the requirement not to hinder the flow of traffic. And, even worse, passengers wouldn’t accept driving in a slow and stuttering vehicle.

Overcoming these restrictions first of all needs a different perspective. We need to move from a car-centered approach to a systemic approach. There have to be sensors not only in the cars, but on the road as well to monitor and process what’s going on there – and communicate what they see to the cars. Similarly, cars need to communicate with one another and with the infrastructure around them. The combination of  complementary roadside sensor networks, a reliable real-time communication network such as 5G, and autonomous electric-powered cars will form a systemic transport net for future cities. But without the appropriate infrastructure, such a vision will remain  science fiction.


Jochen Eickholt leads the Mobility Division of global engineering giant Siemens AG. He studied electrical engineering at Aachen Technical University in Germany and Imperial College London, UK. He was appointed CEO of the Rail Automation Business Unit in 2009 and became CEO of the Mobility Division in 2012. On 31 May 2017 he will join ministers and other leaders for a discussion of  “The governance of transport in the digital economy” in the opening plenary of  ITF’s 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”

 

“There is a lot of untapped potential in rail”

Troger3 lowres CroppedLaurent Troger, president of Bombardier Transportation, talks about how digitialisation impacts rail, the rise of the mobile economy and why he sees a bright future for rail travel.


Digitalisation is revolutionising everything. How is it changing rail transport?

I see digitalisation as a major accelerator, reinforcing the role of rail as a backbone of mobility in the 21st century and beyond. Societies around the globe are facing pressing challenges today: urbanisation, climate change and inclusiveness only to name a few. I believe rail is the answer to these challenges and digitalisation will significantly accelerate the pace of change. Only by embracing the accelerating process of digitalisation can we deal with the challenges of mass mobility, prevent traffic collapses, reduce pollution, improve safety and meet the demand of modern passengers by enhancing their travel experience.

And how does that play out in your company?

The way we approach digitalisation at Bombardier is to cover the complete value chain, making our production processes more efficient, improving asset management and increasing the safety and capacity of our transport systems through automation and predictive maintenance. At the same time, we will use new digital technologies to ease the passengers’ A to Z journey and focus on passenger comfort, reliability, availability and connectivity. There is a lot of untapped potential in the rail industry, just waiting to be unleashed.

Other modes are also reinventing themselves. Once self-driving cars and trucks become widespread, will that not undermine the business case for rail?

Lifestyles have changed, people are moving with different and changing patterns every day, optimized through modern technology. Mobile economy is the buzzword: it means working at home, working at different offices, in different places. In response to this trend, transport plans need to manage the fluctuating demand for services and increase flexibility. Passengers will have more options to choose from and will choose the best

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Automated People Mover in Beijing (Foto: Bombardier)

alternative depending on their specific needs. They need to be able to count on reliable services. And at the end of the day, the travel experience will be a decisive factor. Passengers value reliability, punctuality and connectivity. Ultimately, I believe that rail transport is, and will remain, an essential driver of the mobility ecosystem. Rail is green, safe, reliable and cost-efficient. And we will continue to innovate in order to improve the travel experience of our passengers by offering additional services, while other modes – such as Uber, or car- or bicycle sharing –make it easier for passengers get to and from the station.

Innovation cycles are getting shorter and shorter, but rail infrastructure is expensive and not built in a day. Will that not give other modes a competitive edge over rail?

You’re touching on a very valid point indeed. In our industry, innovation cycles have been painfully slow if you compare them to the start-up scene. However, the fact is that there are thousands of innovators around the globe who share our passion for developing smart and sustainable mobility solutions. They have lean, agile approaches and a fantastic entrepreneurial mind-set. I see this as an opportunity, rather than a threat. Why compete, when we can join forces? We see many new digital business models emerging in rail – and mobility in general. At Bombardier, we are closely following these trends and accelerating our digitalisation initiatives.

Why should investors bet money on the future of rail?

The world population is set to grow, and will increasingly be living in cities. Today, around 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, 66 per cent of the world population will live in urbanised areas and by the end of the 21st century, more

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ICE 3 high-speed train in Germany (Foto: Bombardier)

than 80 per cent of the world’s population will be urban. I am sure you’ve heard these figures before. They are both cause and effect of economic growth. They indicate that there will be hundreds of millions of increasingly well-off, educated people going to work, taking their children to school, visiting each other and going on holidays. One common theme for all of these cities worldwide is the challenge to organise and manage the constant flow of people and goods. So the market potential is huge. If you add the fact that economic activity worldwide is projected to pick up pace in 2017 and 2018, especially in emerging markets and developing economies, the global outlook for rail is very positive. 

Until the next economic downturn?

On top of that, this market is very resilient. As you probably remember, in 2008, at the peak of the crisis, our industry faced no significant downturn. Why? Because most of the politicians on the planet realized that investing into infrastructure projects, and in particular into public transport, is good for their economy. Unlike the airline industry, we in rail have always had steady growth in front of us and that also holds true going forward.


Laurent Troger is the President of Bombardier Transportation, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of planes and trains. Based in Montréal, Canada, Bombardier employs 66 000 people worldwide. Its rail division builds everything from sleek high-speed bullet trains to public transit rolling stock. On 31 May, Laurent Troger will join a debate on “The governance of transport in a digital economy” with, inter alia, China’s minister of Transport Xiapeng Li, OECD-Secretary General Angel Gurría and Siemens Mobility CEO Jochen Eickholt at the ITF 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”.