Freightliner goes hi-tech for environment and efficiency in rail freight

Freightliner, the UK subsidiary of Genesee and Wyoming Inc., has secured government funding for its Freight Energy and Emissions Calculation tool. If all goes well, the hi-tech system will be deployed alongside existing management systems, to improve rail-freight planning. The award comes as part of the latest round of the First of a Kind (FOAK) competition announced recently by the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps.

With some success already in the First of a Kind programme, the UK operator has teamed up with a consortium of specialist suppliers, to develop the Rail Freight Energy and Emissions Calculator (REEC). It will be deployed on the existing NR+ platform used for rail-freight planning. The project is one of 30 winners in the latest round of the First of a Kind (FOAK) competition, organised and funded by the UK government. The competition has been aimed at making railways cleaner and greener, and globally more competitive.

Intelligent emissions calculation

The existing “NR+” platform, developed by University of Hull in England, is the first digital platform that fully captures the UK rail network capability from a freight operator’s perspective. Hull is rapidly emerging as a centre of excellence in the field of application programming interface (API). This project sees the specialists devote their expertise to the rail freight industry. The platform includes data on loading gauge, permitted weight and electrification constraints.

Making better use of available capacity helps both business and the environment

The Rail Freight Energy and Emissions Calculator will be augmented with route gradient and line speed data, together with high-accuracy train performance modelling, to deliver a low-cost intelligent emissions calculation and mapping solution. According to the partners, rail-freight operators and customers will be able to calculate precise energy and emissions estimates for their routes, easily model the performance limitations of different traction options and varying train loads, or compare rail freight with other transport modes to determine the effects of modal shift on overall emissions.

A pioneering rail-freight project

Freightliner already gained applause for its dual-fuel project earlier this year, which also attracted FOAK funding. Swapping hi-visibility for hi-tech, Freightliner UK Rail Managing Director Tim Shakerley said his company was excited to be a partner in what he claimed was a pioneering rail-freight project. “There are significant economic and environmental benefits generated by rail freight, and the development of the Rail Freight Energy and Emissions Calculator can support an increased modal shift from road to rail, ensuring that rail freight is well positioned to deliver even greater economic benefits and the decarbonisation of the UK economy.”

A new dawn in technology from a collaboration between Freightliner UK and University of Hull (Freightliner)

With just 44 per cent of the UK network currently electrified and no more than 80 per cent likely to be electrified in the next few decades, say Freightliner, their REEC tool can also be used to analyse the freight impact of different electrification plans, options, and alternatives. “Freight operators are actively pursuing ways to decarbonise diesel trains, which is not just a matter of switching to lower carbon energy sources but also operating more efficiently”, said a company statement. “However, a detailed energy and emissions calculator, that can simply and easily evaluate all the permutation of performance requirements, efficiency improvements and mitigation measures is not currently available.”

Providing a greener railway

The lead organisation, University of Hull, has successfully developed the NR+ platform and demonstrated its ability to combine big data and analytics to deliver scalable rail applications. The energy and emissions calculations will be led by consultants from Aether and Carrickarory, who have worked with Department for Transport (DfT) and Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) on rail emissions understanding and reduction. The University of Derby, long associated with railway technological development, is also on board.

Amar Ramudhin, Director of the Logistics Institute at Hull, said: “Building on our innovative NR+ platform, our energy and emissions calculator will provide much more precise emissions data. This will allow DfT and Network Rail to align their investment on rail electrification to areas with higher emissions and lead to opportunities to plan routes that are lower in carbon emissions, contribution to the UK’s commitment to providing a more reliable, efficient, and greener railway, as well as the University of Hull’s commitment to accelerating a net zero future.”

The FOAK scheme has already seen innovations, such as the collaboration between Tarmac and Furrer+Frey, to develop greener and more advanced rail systems across the UK.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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