Plans to build the third-longest driverless light rail rapid transit system in the world in Montreal have been unveiled by Canadian pension fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (la Caisse).
To be built in partnership with Québec’s provincial government and the Canadian government, the 67-kilometre network will connect downtown Montréal, the South Shore, the West Island (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue), the North Shore (Deux-Montagnes) and Montreal’s airport.
Trains will operate 20 hours a day, seven days a week across the network of 24 stations. Construction could begin as soon as next year and the system could be open by the end of 2020.
La Caisse estimates that the project will create around 7,500 jobs during its construction and an additional 1,000 when it opens.
The network, which has been named Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM), is being proposed by CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of la Caisse.
La Caisse is willing to put in $3 billion to deliver the scheme, but will require an additional $1.5 billion from the provincial and federal governments for it to go ahead.
Announcing the plans, Michael Sabia, president and chief executive officer of la Caisse, said: “Today we are proposing an innovative public transit solution that will improve the quality of life in Montréal and deliver important economic, social and environmental benefits. It will improve the metropolitan region’s overall competitiveness.
He added: “The new transit system will also deliver long-term, stable investment returns very well aligned with the needs of our depositors, the people of Québec.”
A public consultation is now taking place.
Despite a number of presentations and plethora of opinions, one clear message emerged from the next steps for the rail network in England event, held at the Royal Society. While the challenges of capacity and passenger satisfaction are not to be underestimated, the opportunities that a growing industry provides are to be embraced, for this is an unprecedented, and yes complex, time.
As the industry grows and passenger numbers boom, on the face of it rail is in pretty robust health. And while that holds true to a certain extent, the question that has to be asked is; how do you increase capacity and ensure the industry keeps pace with a fast-moving, technology-savvy populace?
In effect, that is what the next steps for the rail network in England seminar attempted to answer, at least in part.
With Crossrail moving ahead and Royal Assent for High Speed 2 expected by the end of the year, there’s certainly no shortage of infrastructure projects to grab the headlines. To this add Crossrail 2, enthusiastically described as another antidote to London’s anticipated population growth and the added strain this will put on public transport.
Yet while these large and expensive schemes stir opinion among the general public, not just rail insiders, other more regulatory matters are just as important. Take the Shaw Report as an example. Led by Nicola Shaw, Chief Executive of HS1, this will study the long-term future shape and financing of Network Rail. Shaw is expected to report in time for Chancellor George Osborne’s budget.
While those at the Royal Society were understandably wary of pre-empting the report, it holds true that whatever is proposed is unlikely to be business as usual. Some have suggested devolving more power to regional route managers, while others, such as Labour’s shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood, have warned against “more fragmentation and more privatisation”.
The digital railway
Any potential changes to Network Rail’s structure and financing, and the development of Crossrail and HS2, as well as electrification plans, mean that rail travel and the overall network will look and feel very different in the next 20 to 30 years.
This also includes digitisation – highlighted as part of the cure for capacity problems. The Digital Railway project is trying to drag underlying systems into the modern era; Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne has insisted “the alternative of persisting with 19th century signalling technology in the 21st century cannot be right”.
“We must do something to unlock the capacity of the existing 20,000 miles of track – and that is the Digital Railway,” he added.
Not to mention unlocking passenger connectivity. Wi-Fi and mobile phone connections are all too often seen as the exception, not the norm. If the track is going digital, passengers will, it is hoped, see a change in their daily commute or cross country trip, too. Again it’s a challenge, but also an opportunity.
The challenge is in finding and harnessing the necessary skills to pull this off. Government estimates say that 10,000 new engineers are needed for improvements to the existing network, but with digitisation emerging, the skill set could change.
The National Training Academy for Rail, opened in October and part funded by the government, houses digital signalling equipment, a de-constructed train and a virtual reality and 3D simulation room – tools used to train the next-generation. That’s an opportunity to showcase the industry to a whole new audience.
Complex and a little daunting at first? Yes, but only those who evolve and adapt survive. The landscape is full of challenges and opportunities.
“The rail industry moves very slowly” is a common refrain heard at conferences and trade shows around the world with respect to the introduction of new products and technology. Rail’s strong safety culture partly explains the apparent reluctance to embrace and pioneer innovative but often unproven technology. Lengthy certification processes and acceptance by railways are other reasons why tried-and-trusted remains the preferred course.
But should the industry be doing more to change this situation and speed up? Is the perception of a slow moving industry now just an excuse for sticking to what you know?
“Digitisation” is the current industry buzzword, and everywhere you go it seems everyone is talking about big data, the Internet of Things, and machine-to-machine technology. Industry figureheads are keen to point out the advantages that digitisation offers through greater automation, smart components, and services tailored to individual passengers, as well as the threats it poses to rail such as the development of automated cars.
For example, Dr Rüdiger Grube, German Rail’s (DB) CEO, told the Fourth Railway Forum in Berlin on March 1 that every sector of DB is now “digitised” in some form. He referred to digitisation as the “innovation driver of the 21st century” and said that getting it right was crucial for rail to remain a viable mode of transport.
Similarly it was a major topic of discussion at the International Railway Summit, hosted by IRJ and Irits, in Vienna in February. Director general of the International Union of Railways (UIC) Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux told delegates that rail must embrace the digital revolution to meet current and future passenger requirements. Similarly European Rail Research Advisory Council (Errac) chairman Mr Andy Doherty described digitisation as the “Trojan horse” for the industry’s development.
Public pronouncements may be one thing, but there need to be definitive cultural changes within railways for the sector to realise the benefits on offer. After all, digital technology waits for no-one. A balance must therefore be struck between investing in the technology that will offer rail a competitive edge but which can easily be updated and does not become obsolete after only two or three years.
DB’s chief procurement officer, Mr Uwe Günther’s, pronouncement that DB will in the future favour suppliers that offer new innovations in their bids for tenders as well as the opportunity to upgrade as new solutions become available, is encouraging. He also hinted at a situation currently where suppliers are not offering the innovations he feels the railway needs despite these solutions being readily available.
However, speak to any supplier and they will chart the frustrations they have with getting their products, which may offer many of the desired innovations, approved and in the hands of the big railway companies. Stories of 10-year certification and approval process for some components are not uncommon (IRJ September 2014 p118).
This is true regarding a technology which Grube was keen to tout during his speech: 3D printing. He reported that DB has been working on developing this concept with industry partners to produce components such as coat hooks and window handles for vehicles with 20 solutions now ready for adoption.
However, 3D printing for the rail industry is nothing new. My visit to Parker’s factory in Milton Keynes, Britain, (IRJ April 2015 p45) revealed the extensive work that has taken place in this area for many years. Yet while aviation, medical and Formula 1 motor racing are benefitting from the lightweight and strong but malleable components that this process can offer, rail is struggling to follow suit.
Parker has manufactured thousands of 3D printed components for rail, but this is usually for reverse engineering purposes to develop moulds for obsolete components used on aging rolling stock. Use of these lightweight components in new systems is currently rare because of the challenge of securing certification and acceptance.
Adopting legislation to alter this process then is just as important as changing a specific railway’s procurement culture, and there are signs of progress in at least two key areas.
Adoption into national law and practice of the EU’s public procurement framework is scheduled to take place this year. This includes awarding public contracts based on the most-economically advantageous tender (Meat) principle, which emphasises using lifecycle and not-upfront costs as a deciding factor during procurement, and may be a way of affording railways, which are under pressure to justify outlay, the flexibility to try something new.
Acceptance of the Fourth Railway Package’s technical pillar, which Mr Josef Doppelbauer, executive director of the European Rail Agency (ERA), told delegates in Vienna will happen by June, also promises to help overcome these hurdles by establishing ERA as the “one-stop-shop” for certification in Europe. The hope is that this will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes for suppliers to certify their products for use in multiple countries. In turn, this will result in greater innovation in tenders.
However, if it is to succeed in its expanded role, ERA must have sufficient resources. Doppelbauer says that any talk of funding was left out of the terms of the technical pillar due to the mine field that is European politics. But with the acceptance date looming, he says he is now actively discussing how much funding ERA will require in the coming years to operate effectively.
Given the chosen path for rail in Europe, the outcome of these negotiations is crucial. A situation where ERA cannot keep up with demand will be no better than today’s drawn-out country-by-country certification processes. Indeed it will threaten the future ability of railways to compete and severely limit their capacity to embrace digitisation. The technology might be within their grasp but at present too much is continuing to slip through their fingers. Something has to give.
Written by Kevin Smith.