Electrifying rail for sustainable transport

Electrifying rail for sustainable transport

ABB has a track record of providing innovative and energy-efficient technologies to the rail sector, manufacturing and servicing all components and subsystems in all networks for rail infrastructure and rolling stock.

On October 29, 2022, the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) in Switzerland set a new record for running the world’s longest passenger train, supported by its long-standing technology partner ABB. The achievement is certainly a testament to the progress of electric rail transport. The record passenger train with 100 cars, 4,550 seats and a total weight of 2,990 tons traveled a distance of 24 km through the Swiss Alps, with an altitude change of 790 m, in 45 minutes. ABB’s newest traction converter provided 1.6 MW of power to each of the 25 train units powering the train. During the world record attempt an 80-m-long model railway was presented at the end station. 

The RhB has relied on ABB technology for electrifying its tracks and rolling stock for more than 100 years. Some 12 million passengers and 620,000 tons of goods are transported each year on its 385 km of all-electric tracks. As ABB continually innovates its technology and improves the performance of solutions, the performance of customers like the RhB also improves. The “Capricorn” Stadler-trains, equipped with ABB’s latest Bordline traction converters are so energy-efficient RhB saves some 900 MWh per year, enough to power 200 Swiss households. Additionally, RhB includes dry transformer and battery charging solutions from ABB as integral parts of their rolling stock.

The Swiss railway network is some 5,500 km long and 100% is electrified1. As the only European country with all railway lines electrified, Switzerland is the frontrunner for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly rail services on the continent, with ABB being a leader in providing the technology and solutions. The average share of electrified railway systems across all European countries stood at 56% of a combined length of 200,161 kilometers in 2019. The length of the Deutsche Bahn AG railroad network in Germany was 33,401 kilometers in 2021 and less than 60% is electrified.

Now ABB is poised to help Lithuania, with less than 10% of its railroad tracks electrified, to become more energy efficient and sustainable. ABB recently announced a project to electrify the 730 km railway section between the capital Vilnius and the seaport of Klaipėda by 2023. This will ensure greater interoperability with the wider EU rail network and increase electrified rails in the country to 39%. This particular railway section will be used by over three quarters of all cargo and two thirds of all rail passengers in Lithuania.

For the Lithuanian order ABB builds on its track-record in sustainable rail innovation and will install a 25 kV power solution to electrify a 100% carbon neutral rail line for Lithuanian Railways. The electricity for the track is generated by renewable energy sources. The landmark project represents the first deployment of ABB’s traction switchgear technology in Lithuania and is ABB’s largest ever 25 kV rail electrification order in the European Union to date.

“Removing diesel-only traction from our railways and speeding up the rate of rail electrification is crucial to creating a sustainable transport network fit for a carbon-neutral future,” says Antonio Colla, global railway sales and marketing manager at ABB. “Typically, an electric train emits between 20% to 35% less carbon per passenger mile than a diesel train – a figure that will increase as the power generation industry continues to decarbonize.”

Colla explains that rail electrification offers a unique opportunity to lead the way in renewable integration, self-generation, and energy optimization to set the standard for sustainable transport. It is also worth noting that urban transportation electrification is mainly direct current (DC), with a growing number of railway and urban transportation operators across Europe and the world already using DC traction systems.

The record passenger train of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) in Switzerland supported by technology partner ABB
The record passenger train of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) in Switzerland supported by technology partner ABB

As every train journey involves a huge amount of braking and acceleration, the braking energy can be captured and re-used. When a conventional electric train decelerates, the motors act as generators and produce electricity. Most of the time, only a portion of this energy is used for onboard systems and passed on to trains traveling on the same track. Wayside energy storage systems from ABB enable operators to capture this braking energy and return it to the line to sustain the acceleration of other trains that transit on the same line section. The ability to harness the regenerative energy used in this cycle thousands of times a day offers the single largest opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of traction systems and reduce grid-based demand. It can, according to Colla, reduce overall energy consumption by up to 30%. Another opportunity to use the recuperated braking energy lies in the ability to return it back to the grid.

ABB is bringing sustainable rail innovations to major rail infrastructure projects across the globe. ABB traction technologies will power new trains within Europe’s railway network, including countries such as UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. ABB energy storage solutions for 750 Volt rail lines are being used in the US and Europe. ABB even developed a solution suited for 1,500 Volts for rail lines operating in the southern states of Australia.

ABB is providing sustainable, safer, and smarter solutions for modern transport and environmental challenges: keeping the world in motion while saving energy every day.

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