Today’s energy and environmental research places high emphasis on energy efficiency, environmental impact, alternative energy sources to be prepared for the reduced availability and finally disappearing of fossil fuels. Energy resources are getting scarce and legislation on emissions is getting stricter. Even though the railway is the most energy-efficient and green transport mode, research is needed on energy efficiency and eco-design to further improve the performance of rail.
Noise and vibration have to be considered in a system and holistic approach to reduce emissions and external perceived noise levels. A lot has been done but research efforts should go on: reducing noise from individual sources (freight trains, noise, emission reductions from diesel engines on trains, etc.), and introducing technologies for active noise and vibration control. Software tools will assist the development of methods to reduce noise at source, to derive technologies and to enhance system assessment and decision-making processes.
Becoming greener means that we have to consider the overall railway life cycle and especially the elimination of materials with a negative environmental impact. Measures to consider include closed cycle waste management systems for a high level of recycling, dealing with the historical legacy of existing infrastructure (e.g. creosote sleepers), promoting greener land use by reducing pollution from rail sources (e.g. chemical treatment against vegetation) and reducing the emissions of electromagnetic waves. Sustainable procurement means careful consideration of environmental and societal aspects as well as the economic aspects when carrying out the investment process.
Finally, it is important to note that railways are also affected by the environment, in addition to having effects on the environment. Over time, the way that railways manage natural hazards and weather events will change due to the impact of climate change.
Urban public transport and especially rail systems have numerous advantages, which shall never be shared by private car transport in terms of e.g. speed, capacity, safety, environmental friendliness, energy savings and urban space consumption. At the same time, car ownership and car use is increasing every day due to a great variety of attractive technical innovations which are easy to standardise and to implement on private vehicles and on roads or streets in comparison to rail systems.
Local public transport systems and especially (sub)urban rail systems are indeed far more complex technically than road systems and they involve for their management many more (public) stakeholders than private or commercial vehicles traffic management. In addition, local public transport services are operated under public transport contracts following public service requirements, which represent a heavy financial burden on local authorities for public transport services financing and public transport systems –and especially rail- funding as long as negative external costs of motorised road vehicle are not internalised. As a consequence public transport and (sub)urban rail will not be able to compete with private cars without an important improvement of public transport attractiveness, and a reduction in investment and operating costs.
This implies an important investment in local rail and in urban mobility research, a strong support from public authorities, and an agreement between local/regional/national public authorities, public transport and especially rail operators, and railway manufacturers to coordinate across Europe for technical harmonisation of products and services where it allows to bring European added value. This is the major challenge of WP3. At the same time, focusing on rail, the European manufacturing industry is a world leader for urban rail systems (metro, tramway and light rail) and has achieved significant innovation for the benefit of the customer (e.g. low floor tram), but has to remain competitive for most promising markets in Europe and outside Europe, especially in China and other Asian markets.