Improving rail operations in Europe requires teamwork and access to space data

Published: 
12 October 2023
EU top rail stakeholders gather in Madrid to discuss how space can level up train operations and safety.
EU top rail stakeholders gather in Madrid to discuss how space can level up train operations and safety.

Trains, contribute only 1% of transport-related pollution, compared to 71% for cars and 12% for planes. They can make a valuable contribution to the fight against climate change and in achieving the Commission’s pledge of climate-neutrality in Europe by 2050. 

This, of course, requires informing and incentivising European citizens not only on the benefits but also on the safety and efficiency of the greenest means of transportation. To improve safety and efficiency of railways various operators across Europe are currently performing upgrades on their operating systems and rail infrastructure.  The Belgian government, for instance, recently announced the mobilisation of 240 million euros to construct and upgrade the rail link between Terneuzen and Ghent with the support of the EU. 

Many of these solutions rely on data and services coming from the EU’s positioning systems Galileo/EGNOS and Copernicus. In the future, rail operators could also be able to utilise satcom or high-speed internet provided by the new multiorbital constellation, IRIS2

#EUSpace solution for failsafe rail operations 

A recent example of GNSS adoption in rail operations is the innovative odometry solution deployed by the French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom to measure the location and speed of its trains. The company introduced a new sensor type, which fuses satellite information and inertial sensors. The solution is primarily using GNSS Doppler information, derived from Galileo, GPS and GLONASS constellations (configurable). Such use increases the confidence in the resulting measured speed, along with specific algorithms to improve the accuracy of the measured location.

When it comes to managing rail infrastructure, optical data from the Copernicus constellation can provide valuable information on the status of rail tracks and their surrounding environments. For instance, railway operators can evaluate the danger of landslides or soil subsidence near tunnels and railway tracks.

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A collective effort 

To highlight the added value of EU Space technologies the European Commission, Europe's Rail Joint Undertaking (EU-Rail), the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), and the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) jointly hosted an event in Madrid, under the auspices of the Spanish Presidency.

The event, attended by more than 300 participants, showcased the collective and synergetic strengths of the EU bodies that boost efficiency, safety, and sustainability in European rail transportation. By merging the EU's vision for a connected transport network, EU-RAIL’s extensive R&I results, EU Space technologies, and ERA's regulatory expertise, we are reshaping the future of rail travel. 

"During this event we committed to improving the European Union’s rail infrastructure by relying on space technologies to ensure the safety of passengers and freight across the Union" said EUSPA Executive Director Rodrigo da Costa. 

Conclusion of the event can be found here.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the EUSPA website (http://www.euspa.europa.eu).

Updated: Oct 12, 2023