Rail transport is the transport of passenger and cargo railcars that run on parallel rail tracks supported by concrete or
timber beams to maintain a consistent gauge. Railways are also equipped with a large network of signaling and telecommunications
equipment to ensure that rail journeys are safe.
The railway revolution started in the late 18th century. Finally, in 1803, an inventor named Richard Trevithick made
the first steam – powered locomotive with a 12 mph top speed. Ever since, it has changed transportation dramatically,
being able to replace horses effectively since a train set can carry many more people and goods per journey. Steam locomotives
became dominant throughout the 19th century, until electric and diesel engines replaced the steam ones gradually starting
from the 20th century.
A railway consists of two segments. The first one is called the rolling stock, which are assets that can move such
as locomotives and passenger and goods carrying railcars. The other one is referred to infrastructure, which consist of “fixed”
assets such as tracks, train stations, signaling equipment, etc. Although building
a rail network is capital – intensive, it is energy - efficient. A train set can trim the number of buses on the roads
because 50 railcars in one train set can accommodate about 750 tons of freight and pulled by only 3 to 4 locomotives, equivalent
to 75 road trucks. Thus, a train can save energy compared with other forms of land transportation since it requires 50 % less
energy to transport a given tonnage of passengers and cargo than does road transport.
|Diesel locomotive, Indonesia
|Photo by: Aldi Yuristian
Electric trains can save much less energy than their diesel counterparts since fossil fuel is only needed to power the electric
power grid lines. However, track electrification is extremely costly in the construction stages. Hence, electrification is
commonly implemented in high – density rail routes.
The demand for rail travel on electrified routes also needs to be high and consistent. Routes that do not have such
demand are usually partially electrified or not at all. To prevent the need for passengers to change trains, they are
best served by electro – diesel trains that can be run by an electric engine if power supply sources such as overhead
wires are available or a diesel engine if not. Such trains operate on routes that the operators either do not have adequate
budget to electrify the entire routes or consider total electrification uneconomical.
The number of tracks on the route that trains run along varies according to the rail traffic along that route, or in
some cases, the operator’s budget. A low traffic only requires a single rail line, or single track, because it obviously
the most economical to build. A double-track rail line, commonly for higher rail traffic, can carry more passengers or freight
in a given amount of time than a four – lane road. Thus, railways use space more efficiently. Nowadays, the traffic
can be controlled by computers and electronics systems, though many countries still use mechanical signaling systems.
Right of way
Railway tracks are built upon land owned or leased by the railway operator. Reducing the route length and grade may
require cutting as well as adding bridges and tunnels since trains require large radius turns and modest grades, increasing
the capital expenditures needed significantly. However, this can significantly reduce operating costs and allowing higher
speeds. Due to the fact that building a rail network is generally more expensive than that of a road network, many railways
are usually built for routes where there is a great demand of travel and cargo haulage.
|The French TGV
High – speed rail
Continuous technological innovations in engine, locomotive, and railcar designs have enabled trains to run much faster
today, in which many of them can run at 200kph (125 mph) or faster. Referred as high – speed trains, they are made available
to be more competitive compared to other forms of land transport, and can even compete with airlines. Some of them, particularly
the Japanese Shinkansen and the French TGV, are able to run so fast that (around 300 kph) dedicated railway lines for them
are needed. Some of the other countries that have such lines include Germany, Spain, South Korea, and recently, Taiwan.
So far, only China is operating magnetic levitation train (maglev) revenue services, due to its requirement for
the high - cost, specially - designed tracks containing magnetic fields. In Asia, Japan will follow suit by planning
to operate maglev trains between Tokyo and Nagoya starting from 2025, the time when the existing high - speed trains
running on conventional tracks have reached its technological limits.
The first high – speed rail network was built and opened in Japan
in 1964. Prior to that, most passengers were drawn from the railways to road and air travel due to technological improvements
in road vehicles and aircraft and the availability of cheap oil. Even if a highway does not impose any speed limit, most cars
still cannot compete with a high – speed train that runs only within the lower – limit for high – speed
rail (125 mph). In comparison with air travel, a journey of 650 kilometers or less by airplane might be less competitive compared
to high – speed rail journey due to the airport security measurements, whereas train stations do not impose such measurements
and trains commonly terminate at central locations. High – speed trains also provide less waiting times, fewer modal
changes, and generally more seating space.
speed trains also beat other modes of transport on energy consumption. A high - speed train consumes less energy per passenger
mile than a car or an intercity bus, making them more environmentally friendly. Such
trains can also help reduce congestion on highways and airports, thus helping other modes of transport. In fact, a good public
transportation system requires seamless connection between all modes of transport.
Despite of various advantages high – speed rail has, its operations is economical under certain conditions. High
– speed lines should be built between cities with high population density and demand for travel between them, such as
Tokyo – Osaka in Japan
and Paris – Lille in France. Passengers must be able to connect to other modes of transport seamlessly
to make high – speed train travel to be effective. It is best to focus the business traveler market segment since business
travel has a much higher frequency than the leisure market, which tends to be seasonal.
Some issues and their solutions
to their capital – intensive nature, the condition and size of railway systems and networks can vary differently from
one country to another. Besides requiring a relatively large amount of capital if compared to building road networks and the
large number of stakeholders (the government, private entities involved and/or affected, and taxpayers) usually involved,
railway constructions require prudent planning from the government and other parties involved. Political factors can also
determine whether a railway project can be carried out, delayed, or even cancelled.
In some countries or regions, improving the existing railway infrastructure is difficult. For instance, countries that
have a meter – gauge track width (1,000/1,067 mm) encounter difficulties in increasing the speed limit of their rolling
stock since they do not have sufficient funds to build rail lines that have standard – gauge track width (1,435mm),
which is adequate enough for high – speed rail travel, and trains running along meter – gauge tracks can only
run safely up to 120 kph.
|X2000 tilting train in Sweden
The problems of having the meter – gauge rail network and/or tracks with many curves have been solved by enabling the
rolling stock to tilt from 5 to 8 degrees when negotiating bends. Tilting trains, thus, are able to run 35 % faster on bends
than conventional trains, thus enabling high – speed rail travel. The first tilting trains used mostly mechanic systems,
or passive tilt, that has caused nausea among most passengers. This has been solved by implementing computer systems so that
the degree that the train needs to tilt can be calculated to give a smoother tilt. Some industrialized countries like Italy,
Great Britain, and Switzerland
operate more tilting trains than high – speed trains that require dedicated rail lines.
Variable – gauge axle
The use of different track gauges by different countries and regions have made continuing a rail journey somewhat difficult
when a train has to run along tracks with different gauges. For instance, passengers and cargo in a train running along a
1,067 mm gauge have to be allocated to a different train if there is a change of gauge, called a break – of –
gauge, along the route. Therefore, TALGO, a Spanish rail engineering firm, has invented the variable gauge concept which the
wheel axles of some of its rolling stock products are able to adjust their width, with the aid of a special guide, to a different