The Rail Industry’s Technological Developments

The rail industry has experienced large developments, with Asia at the frontline, since Russia started operating regular train services on the Trans-Siberian railway in 1905.  

However, driverless trains, ticketless travel and the introduction of WiFi are some of the most impressive technological advancement there have been. Here, we review the host of developments within rail travel, and how they have been beneficial to passengers. 

Traveling Without Tickets

Imagine the awful yet common situation where you didn’t arrive at the train station on time; you don’t have enough change to purchase your train ticket; and to make things worse there’s an endless queue at the ticket machine, and you can hear your train quickly approaching. 

Undoubtedly, ticketless travel is one of the most successful innovations of the rail industry. Thanks to contactless payments, introduced in London in 2014, customers can pay for their journeys by simply tapping in and out at stations. A year later, it earned position as Europe’s fastest-growing contactless merchant. Fifty-five per cent of transit fare payments – over 21.6 million journeys every week – are via contactless, becoming more popular than the original Oyster card. 

Travelling has certainly become easier with ticketless travel. Tickets have been simplified into a straightforward process, reducing the chances of losing tickets and helping avoid long queues.  After all, who doesn’t always keep their phone handy?

Onboard WiFi

The introduction of WiFi on trains was nothing short of spectacular. In the 21st century, it is easy to get bored and impatient during travels. We expect the internet to be available everywhere, including at unnecessary locations such as the San José Cemetery in Spain – where WiFi was made available due to demand from visitors.

When WiFi landed in UK trains, it offered unlimited possibilities, especially for business commuters. Thanks to rail connectivity, a lengthy journey can now become productive, offering professionals the opportunity to take their work beyond the four walls of the office environment.

Driverless Trains

In March 2018, the UK’s first driverless train made its first journey on the Thameslink service from Peterborough to Horsham. This was met with controversy following the death of a woman who was hit by a self-driving Uber in 2018. Driverless trains are active on a number of London Underground lines. However, this isn’t yet the case for mainline railway networks.

Driverless trains have more braking capabilities and efficient acceleration in comparison to normal trains. This is to allow trains to run every two to three minutes, with 24 trains running an hour at peak times.

Gerry McFadden, engineering director at Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London, a historical bottleneck that has held back rail expansion across the south of the country.

“Self-drive technology also has great potential for the rest of the country’s rail network, particularly on congested routes, and could in future reduce the need for costly infrastructure projects”.

Hydrogen Powered Trains

In the recent years, creating environmentally friendly products and services has certainly been dominating headlines. Following the UK’s recent announcement of banning diesel-fuelled-vehicles by 2040, we must examine how to eliminate a third of the UK’s trains which are solely powered by diesel.

Alternatively, hydrogen can be used to fuel trains. This is obtained by burning hydrogen with oxygen to produce large amounts of energy, creating water, the by-product. This type of emission free method is currently being assessed in Germany. A preliminary hydrogen programme is expected to launch in the UK by 2020, and if successful, fully implemented by 2040.

We’ve come a long way since the UK’s first railway back in 1905. With more innovations expected in the UK’s railway industry, it’s exciting to see where these developments will take us in the near future.