Innovation Showcase | How Siemens is overcoming rail electrification constraints

Climate change is one of the most pressing problems society faces, with the UK government in real danger of missing its 2050 net zero carbon target. It is vital that the rail sector continues to drive the shift of passenger and freight journeys from road to rail. But more than that – we must continue to drive the decarbonisation of Britain’s railways, introducing hydrogen railway infrastructure and trains, and accelerating the pace of electrification.

The UK’s investment in clean, sustainable power generation makes rail the most effective and efficient mode of transport for high capacity commuter, high speed
inter-city and heavy freight services. Despite only 42% of the UK rail network having been electrified, over 80% of rail kilometres are travelled by electrified trains. 

Opportunity

New technologies give us the opportunity to address the remaining 20%, further increasing capacity and encouraging people to take more journeys by train.  Siemens Mobility is playing its part, working with key industry stakeholders and using innovation to help address one of the perennial issues that faces electrification programmes: how do you electrify a network that predominantly comprises Victorian infrastructure?

Bridges and tunnels have posed a particular problem, as equipment has had to be installed under existing infrastructure. Until now, the only solutions have been to remove and replace it or lower the track, both of which are extremely costly and time consuming.  

Engineered solution

To meet this challenge, Siemens Mobility has developed an engineered solution which, when installed in circuit with the overhead line system, enables reduced electrical clearances to be applied, delivering major cost and programme benefits. Depending on the required protection level, the new surge arrester equipment can be applied to the overhead line on both sides of a structure to enable the cables to run closer to it, reducing the potential for removal or replacement. 

This solution was successfully deployed in Cardiff, where the proximity of a canal to a rail-over-rail bridge meant the track could not be raised or lowered to accommodate the necessary electrification equipment. Normally the bridge would have had to be rebuilt, but this technology allowed the project to be delivered without having to
do this, saving money and time, and minimising disruption.

More solutions

This is just one of the new technologies that allow innovative ways of working to provide the efficiencies and value gains called for by the Williams Shapps Review on rail efficiency.  Technological and process innovation combine to make the business case for electrification much more attractive, from environmental and operational standpoints.

Digital technologies are also key to more effectively and efficiently operating the railway, with solutions ranging from digital signalling and traffic management systems to integrated passenger information systems. These technologies are central to achieving decarbonisation goals, whether through increasing capacity, making electrification more viable, improving reliability or providing real-time information to passengers.  Through their introduction, the industry is demonstrating a proven ability and successful track record, a commitment to achieving the government’s decarbonisation goals and showing a clear path to support its goals being met. 

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