The rail industry includes all the players involved in rail mobility. This includes manufacturers of rolling stock (trains, streetcars, subways, etc.) as well as those involved in signaling and rail infrastructure. By 2030, the European Commission’s Strategy for Sustainable and Intelligent Mobility forecasts a doubling of traffic on European territory for both high-speed lines and freight.
To meet these challenges and those of the digital transition, a sector contract was signed with the State on April 9, 2019. It is based on 3 major objectives:
- Accelerate research and development as well as the dissemination of digital technologies throughout the industrial fabric: autonomous train, decarbonized train (hydrogen or battery-powered train), FerConnect digital platform, participation in the digitization of the rail network, test center;
- Consolidate SMEs and support their international development: CARE project to improve industrial performance, involvement of clusters in the international strategy of the railway sector;
- Engage in forward-looking management of jobs and skills at the industry level: increase the attractiveness of the industry, support professions impacted by the digital transformation, develop apprenticeships;
The rail industry in France is a strategic sector and is recognized as such by the public authorities. Its future is fully in line with the transport revolution that should lead to sustainable, connected, autonomous, shared and low-carbon mobility.
Particularly competitive, it also very often depends on the rules for awarding public contracts, which can be very different from one country and one continent to another.
The increased awareness of these issues among some of our European partners should enable Europe to be more proactive on these subjects.
Another challenge for the future of the French rail system lies in our country’s ability to transform an aging and sometimes obsolete national rail network into a 4.0 network in the years to come, while successfully opening up its domestic market to controlled and stimulating competition for all players. This perspective is based on the potential of new virtuous economic models.
The 3 objectives of the Strategic Contract are broken down into 4 major actions:
Digital transformation is one of the most important changes in the mobility sector in general and in the railway sector in particular. These new technologies now enable companies to develop new business models and innovative working methods. While digitalization is at the heart of the strategies of the various players, its deployment must deal with issues specific to the rail industry:
- the competitiveness of the solutions offered is essential, in a context of new mobilities, evolution of the offers proposed to passengers and development of freight;
- the lack of standardization in many key areas, such as data exchange, limits the overall efficiency of the industry;
- the structure of the sector, split between a large number of principals and suppliers, most of which are small, in a market that does not have the same orders of magnitude as other sectors in terms of volume, limits global initiatives, for which competitive issues and investment capacities must be taken into account.
FerConnect Project – Objectives
The industrialization of a connected platform will lead to significant efficiency gains in order processing, increased reliability and better visibility of orders to optimize workload plans. Ultimately, a reduction in non-conformity of deliveries and an improvement in the quality of service provided are expected.
Research, innovation and development
The French rail industry aims to become a key player in the ecological and solidarity-based transition by promoting the emergence of an intelligent rail system and encouraging the development of low-carbon rolling stock. While the rail sector is already one of the cleanest transport activities for the environment, rail applications are ideal for developing low-carbon technologies. Such solutions are fully in line with the success of the energy transition supported by the Government through the respect of the commitments made in the framework of the Paris Agreement, the Climate Plan, and more globally in the fight against global warming, which require action in favor of the reduction of CO2 emissions and polluting emissions while promoting the circular economy. 1200 TER trains in France use diesel engines. The hydrogen train is powered by electricity produced by a fuel cell. This cell uses hydrogen and oxygen as fuels. This type of propulsion is suitable for most railway needs with a speed of 160 km/h and a range of 600 km. This combustion emits no CO2 and only water vapor. Trains using this propulsion can run on non-electrified lines which represent 48% of the national network. France, thanks in particular to Alstom, is at the forefront of this field, and can become a world leader in the years to come.
Develop a first fleet of hydrogen trains by 2024.
Battery powered train
The battery powered train is a train whose propulsion system is powered solely by batteries. This technology, supported by Bombardier Transportation, aims to convert existing diesel trains into battery-powered trains and thus provide zero-emission solutions. This conversion could be carried out in the next few years during the mid-life refurbishment of AGC diesel trains if the experiment is successful. Trains using this propulsion can run on non-electrified lines, which represent 48% of the national network.
To make part of the existing fleet of diesel rolling stock environmentally friendly in the short term by experimenting with the conversion of a diesel train into a 100% battery train, offering a zero-emission solution. To create a 100% battery train, solutions must be developed in France and lead to production in the country.
Increased transport capacity: autonomous driving will be better controlled than manual driving and will increase the use of infrastructure; in the longer term, the combination of autonomous driving with the implementation of mobile blocks or virtual train coupling will allow a quantum leap in the increase of transport capacity Increased reliability: by improving the punctuality and overall safety of the system (driving, signalling/control, operation) thanks to driving assistance systems in the first instance, then remote driving systems linked to the supervision station and finally thanks to autonomous driving systems. Reduced investment, operating and maintenance costs: signalling will be lighter with less equipment on the track. Train operation will be more flexible, with trackside drivers able to operate several trains at once or with fully autonomous trains. With the increase in transport capacity, the cost of the infrastructure per passenger transported could be considerably reduced. In a transversal way, the response to these challenges will improve the attractiveness of the rail mode with, in particular, greater punctuality, flexibility during rush hours and a better passenger experience.
The “Autonomous Train” program of the IRT Railenium aims at disruptive innovation by providing the tools and technological bricks necessary for the Tech4Rail program of the SNCF and its autonomous train component.
CARE (Competitiveness Accompaniment Rail Employment): A major project to increase the skills of SMEs in the sector
The French rail industry has long been marked by a chronic weakness in the size and international development of its SMEs. The supply chain is characterized by a large number of very small companies, often small in size and facing various problems (insufficient financial capacity, difficulty in finding customers, lack of skilled labor, etc.), as well as difficulties in terms of optimizing cycles and delivery times. This often results in a difficult rise in skills, insufficient maturity in the mastery of processes and fragile governance. As a result, the sector’s VSEs and SMEs are also not very international. The actions envisaged aim to strengthen the maturity and governance of VSEs and SMEs and to mobilize the sector for export. Strengthening the coherence of the sector and mastering the supply chain are prerequisites for increasing its ability to compete on foreign markets.
The CARE project aims to improve the industrial performance and competitiveness of VSEs, SMEs and ETIs involved in the rail supply chain. Through this approach, the aim is to achieve :
- better internal functioning
- greater efficiency in governance
- the implementation of robust strategies and visions
- a reinforcement of the development capacities of SME-SMIs
Forward-looking management of jobs and skills
The aim is to initiate a forward-looking management of jobs and skills (GPEC) that will enable employees’ skills to evolve in order to support the major projects of the rail industry: the objective is to increase the attractiveness of the industry, to support the professions impacted by the digital transformation, and to develop apprenticeships.