All aboard the MODTRAIN!


Designing standardised, interoperable components for the European train of the future was the goal of the MODTRAIN (‘Innovative modular vehicle concepts for an integrated European railway system’) project. By standardising the numerous components that make up a train, as well as the interfaces between them, the project promises to improve performance in the industry and bring down costs.

MODTRAIN brought together 37 partners from 10 European countries, including 9 EU Member States. They included three big railway operators (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF), Deutsche Bahn and Trenitalia) as well as partners from industry, railway research centres and universities. The project also maintained close links with railway operators not involved in the project, as well as other stakeholders in the train industry such as component suppliers and passengers.


Getting Europe’s railway system back on track

The demand for transport across all modes is expected to grow by 40 % for passengers and 70 % for freight from 2000 to 2020. For cost, environmental and efficiency reasons, rail is well placed to take on the bulk of this increased demand. It is the only transport mode that can substantially increase its speed and capacity. But if passengers and businesses are to rely on the railways, Europe must first increase the efficiency of its trains. With goods and people increasingly needing to cross national borders, interoperability is also a key to creating one European railway system.

However, efforts to boost cross-border rail traffic are currently hindered by wide differences between national networks. Factors such as power supply, signalling, operational procedures and even track gauge vary from country to country.

The aim of the MODTRAIN project was to address these issues to ensure that the trains of the future will be able to handle different country’s railway systems and be driven by train drivers from across Europe. In the course of the project, the researchers redesigned everything from the traction systems to the controls, and even dabbled in interior design.

Towards a common European train

The project’s research focused on four areas which the partners felt were ripe for improvement. The MODBOGIE sub-project focused on improving the performance of the running gear, the working parts of the train, so that they require both less energy and maintenance. The MODCONTROL team worked on standardising trains’ control and monitoring systems and the interfaces with the train’s traction, heating system, doors and passenger announcement system, among other things. The MODPOWER sub-project was charged with optimising and standardising the on-board power system, which includes the interfaces between traction components, high voltage equipment and the pantograph, the device that collects electric current from overhead lines for electric trains. The interfaces between man and machine and between trains were addressed by the MODLINK team, whose results included a prototype of a driver cab and passenger coach.

An additional fifth sub-project was responsible for informing the relevant railway stakeholders, such as component suppliers and railway operators not involved in the project, of developments as they arose. This link ensured that the project team was able to react in good time to impacts on operation and production as they were defined.

Helping the drivers feel at home

An important part of the project involved redesigning the driver’s cab. As part of this task, 17 train drivers from different European countries used a simulator to test the new design in different situations, including a high-speed journey, a slower journey with regular stops, and an emergency situation.

Feedback from the drivers helped the MODTRAIN team to make the system as user friendly as possible.

The safety aspects of the front of the train have also been improved, with a new shell to absorb energy in a crash situation and to protect the driver. Meanwhile the driver’s console is designed in such a way that the driver can easily escape in an emergency.

In addition to making the train’s controls recognisable for any European train driver, the project team also wanted to make the train recognisable to any European passenger. This meant ensuring that the buttons for opening and closing doors, as well as calling for assistance or requesting an emergency stop, would be easily understood by passengers anywhere in Europe.

On track for standardisation

The MODTRAIN team is justifiably proud of two further outcomes of the project: a Functional Breakdown Structure (FBS) and component specifications. Both have already been transmitted to the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) for the next steps in the standardisation process.

The FBS is a comprehensive list of all the functions of a train, together with a short definition of each function. Why is such a list important? Standardising the functions of the trains cannot take place without it. For each of the functions listed in the FBS, the project team also conducted a safety analysis. For those functions that have a direct or indirect impact on safety, safety requirements were outlined.

The project partners have also agreed on a standardised set of components and component interfaces so that they are interchangeable. Without a unified internal, onboard power supply voltage or a common electric interface between traction and auxiliary power system, trains are limited in where they can travel.

Trains built using components designed by MODTRAIN will thus be able to cope with all of the different signalling systems used throughout Europe, and at speeds of up to 300 km per hour. Thanks to MODTRAIN, the European trains of tomorrow will enjoy the same freedom of travel as the EU’s citizens do today.