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Future of rail for passengers and freight - transport keynote by Patrick Dixon, Futurist for HUPAC, a Swiss rail company.

Expect huge growth of High Speed Rail - dominated by China

Twenty-four nations have already built high-speed rail links, and the length of high-speed track is doubling every decade. At present 98% of all trains running faster than 195km/hour are found in Western Europe or East Asia (90% in China, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, UK and Spain combined), but high-speed rail will become more widespread.

In less than 15 years, China built over 25,000km of high-speed track to become the world leader, and is laying 7000kms a year of new rail, of which half will be high speed. Much of this was imported technology, with trains from companies like Siemens. However, the next wave of expansion will be almost entirely Chinese, and Chinese rail expertise will be exported globally. This is part of long term Chinese government strategy to dominate high tech industries globally.

Future investment in high-speed rail will be held back in Africa by unrest, in Russia by economics, in the UK by planning restrictions, in China as the backbone of a national service is completed, in Latin America by economic uncertainty, and in the US by a culture that prefers planes and cars.

Expect huge growth also of Light Railways / Trams / Urban Rapid Transport

Expect a boom in low-tech, rapid transport in cities, with automated ‘light railways’, or trams, or buses on special concrete tracks. These will be built rapidly, at relatively low cost, on pillars above streets, as tracks weave their way around cities.

Numbers of rail travellers will grow much faster in most countries than growth in capacity, so trains will become longer, double-decker, more crowded and more frequent.

Future of HyperLoop - major investment but business case remains unproven

Expect more experiments with hyperloop travel – carriages suspended by magnetic forces, travelling along tunnels or tubes from which air has bee extracted to reduce friction.  However, most of these projects will fail to make money, and will only progress if backed by huge amounts of investment by ultra-wealthy people as vanity projects.  

The fact is that air travel is convenient, easy to organize, low cost. And high speed rail is also a mature technology.  Hyperloop’s advantage is being able to deliver passengers right into the heart of a city at the speed of a plane, but tunneling is extremely costly, and placing airtight tubes above ground, so that they cannot be attacked or damaged, is also very costly. And that’s before you levitate carriages, and so on.

Content of Future of Rail Keynote Video

Why rail transport has such an important future - saving time, costs and energy. Future patterns of passenger rail traffic, freight traffic, intercontinental transport, container freight, intermodal transport (switching from truck to rail to shipping and so on).  Rail trends have to be seen in wider context of demographic shifts, emerging markets, digital revolution, e-commerce, changes in patterns of globalisation and global trade.  New patterns of migration, manufacturing, management.  Why more will be spent on road / rail infrastructure in the next 30 years than in all of human history.

Impact of rail innovation on logistics and supply chains - including next-generation tracking, signalling, systems and controls.


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