Technology Review - Published by MIT

« Back to Technology Review

España, Technology for Life.

España, Technology for Life is a campaign to showcase Spanish tech businesses and sectors.

New Technologies from Spain

Transportation

High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail

High-Speed Transportation

The Madrid to Barcelona high-speed rail line opened in early 2008, and traverses 390 miles in only two hours and 38 minutes. In its first year, the line captured more than 50 percent of the travel between the country's two major economic centers, and significantly reduced the number of daily flights between the cities. Since then, Spain's rail authority has continued expanding the network, in 2010 completing the connection between Madrid and the coastal city of Valencia.

Joaquin Jiménez, the director of international relations for Spain's rail administration (the Spanish acronym is ADIF), highlights the fact that Spain has more than 900 miles of high-speed rail under construction or in the planning process. "Developing high-speed rail remains a main objective in Spain," says Jiménez.

According to Michael Clausecker, director of UNIFE, Spain has the most modern fleet of high-speed trains in Europe. The country has also been the first to have its high-speed network fully equipped with the latest signaling system, ERTMS, which will eventually become the unique signaling system for the entire European high-speed system and its international rail corridors, facilitating greater interoperability among different countries.

Spain and France are linking their two countries with a new high-speed line between Perpignan and Barcelona, which will dramatically reduce cross-border travel time. The engineering company Sener was involved in designing this line; despite the relatively short distance, the firm encountered a number of complications, among which were reconciling the two different control systems and two different electrification standards.

"We are living in a very important moment in the development of railways," says Ignacio Barron, director of the high-speed department of the International Union of Railways. He compares today's high-speed expansion to the original expansion of rail in the second half of the1800s: "These developments are being prepared not only for us today; in fact we are preparing transportation for our children."

As high-speed trains become more common around the world, the companies that sell those trains continue to do research to improve them, says Barron: They're focusing on minimizing noise, lowering the cost of maintenance, and reducing the maximum load to make trains lighter, more aerodynamic, and more energy efficient. These goals also motivate Spain's train manufacturing company CAF, where engineers at its three-story R& D center devote themselves to rail innovations. CAF has developed trains that include a number of technological advances. They can switch between Spain's wider track width and the usual European width; they're increasingly light, contributing to energy savings; and they operate with reduced vibrations and noise, reducing the impact on the people and ecosystems that the trains pass.

CAF's experience with trains of all kinds has translated into international success. CAF is supplying metro, tram, light rail, commuter, and regional trains to cities and countries that include Edinburgh, Stockholm, Belgrade, Turkey, Houston, and Sao Paolo. CAF has focused particularly on developing electric trains for tramways that can run without overhead power lines, or catenaries. Instead, they created an onboard energy-storage system, with high-speed recharging and a method for capturing the energy generated during the braking process.

CAF's new high-speed train, called Oaris, was designed collaboratively by CAF's research center and Spanish universities and technology centers, who labored to create an advanced train body that is fast, light, energy efficient, comfortable, and customizable for client needs. It is fully interoperable across borders, bridging differences of voltage, signaling systems, and track gauges.

President Obama's 2011 State of the Union speech depicted a vision where 80 percent of Americans would have access to high-speed rail within 25 years; and his 2012 budget includes $8 billion for high-speed rail. Soon after President Obama's address, Vice President Biden announced a $53 billion six-year project to continue construction of high speed and intercity passenger rail.

The railway vehicle manufacturer Talgo, capitalizing on more than 70 years of experience in the rail sector, has supplied highspeed trains to Oregon and Wisconsin. These can operate on existing rail lines at a significant improvement in speed. As Talgo's market development director Mario Oriol explains, the company sees this as a way to reinforce Talgo's presence in the United States market and prepare for improvements in rail that could lead to high-speed lines.

"These trains use advanced technology with lightweight construction, independent wheels, and an independent tilting system— which means that the trains adapt well to existing infrastructure," says Oriol. "If you can use such a train to improve travel time by 20 percent, this can give planners the justification to invest in future infrastructure." In addition to supplying trains throughout the Spanish high-speed system, Talgo is also currently providing tilting passenger coaches to the governments of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kazakhstan and high-speed trains to the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Talgo's trains leverage advances in materials and engineering, which make the trains lighter and more energy efficient, more stable, and more comfortable. These advances will continue in the new Avril train, currently under development. Avril will be comfortable and energy efficient and will run at some of the highest speeds possible, and its wider body will accommodate an additional seat in each row. "It's a natural evolution based on Talgo's high-speed technology," points out Oriol, adding that the company will build mock-ups and should have a prototype by about 2013.

"High-speed has become fashionable in [the] U. S. Many projects and studies have been carried out in order to develop rail in several corridors," says Barron. High-speed rail has grown in Japan and in Korea and has exploded in China, he continues.

Poland is developing a new high-speed railway connecting four major cities. The Spanish engineering company Idom is part of a joint venture to analyze a potential layout for the railway, develop a proposal for the system, and plan its construction.

Next Page »