Aussie technology helps Europe keep rail power consumption on track

High-speed train in rural France (rail)
Image: Shutterstock

If you’ve ever taken a high-speed train ride in the UK, France or Spain, it’s a safe bet the rail operator was relying on UniSA technology to keep your train on time and make the journey more energy efficient.

France’s state-owned rail operator SNCF deploys the Energymiser smart driving advice software, developed by UniSA Associate Professor Peter Pudney and colleagues, to reduce the energy consumption of its inter-city TGV fleet. But despite these energy reductions, there are still times when the French electricity grid struggles to supply power to hundreds of high-speed trains.

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This problem could be solved for electric railways in Australia and around the world with the Federal Government awarding UniSA and its partner TTG Transportation Technology $285,638 in the latest round of Linkage project funding.

Assoc Prof Pudney and his UniSA colleagues Assoc Prof Amie Albrecht, Prof Phil Howlett and Dr Peng Zhou will work with TTG over the next three years to develop software that will coordinate the control of hundreds of electric trains to manage their total power demand.

The project, costed at $900,000 with partner contributions, should result in “significant savings” for the rail sector and a new focus on helping the electricity sector manage renewable energy sources to power trains, says Assoc Prof Pudney.

“Trains consume a lot of power during peak periods. Feasibility studies on the French TGV trains show that if drivers speed up before and after peak demand times, but slow down during critical peak demand intervals, we can achieve reductions of up to 20 per cent on the electricity demand on the grid,” he says.

“The Linkage project will develop fast and accurate algorithms to calculate how much each train’s schedule should be adjusted to achieve desired reductions in demand with minimal disruption to the timetable.”

Almost 6000 train drivers in France are using the Energymiser app and it is now compulsory for all new trains in the United Kingdom to have driving advice systems installed.

“It not only makes trains safer for drivers, resulting in fewer accidents; it ensures trains are more likely to run on time and more efficiently, saving a lot of money. Further, if we can reduce the demand for electricity during peak periods, countries will not have to build new coal-fired stations to power their trains. We can increasingly turn to renewables,” Assoc Prof Pudney says.

“Traditionally, fossil-fuelled power stations generate power to match the instantaneous demand for electricity. As society shifts to renewable energy generation, it is useful to be able to match demand for electricity to the available supply. Electric railways are large consumers of electricity and can support the use of renewable electricity by slowing trains to reduce their demand for electricity during critical time intervals lasting from five minutes up to an hour.”

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Railway energy costs are substantial worldwide. In France for example, they amount to approximately €600 million annually (A$950 million), with trains consuming almost 85 per cent of their rail network’s electricity and the remainder used in stations, offices and workshops.

“The ability to control power demand can significantly reduce operating costs and result in more effective use a country’s electricity infrastructure. We have seen the benefits in France and the same savings can be achieved in Australia using this technology.”