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Towards a common European train

Rail interoperability is needed to ensure that the European trains of tomorrow will enjoy the same freedom of travel as the EU’s citizens do today. This is why the European Commission funded the MODTRAIN research project, which worked on standardising the numerous components that make up a train, as well as the interfaces between them.

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 and – with trains now driving at high speeds – even compete with air transport. But 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. 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. The European Commission funded the MODTRAIN project 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. The 37 partners from 10 European countries (including three big railway operators, partners from industry, railway research centres and universities) have agreed on a standardised set of components and component interfaces, so that they are interchangeable.

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 for any European train driver.

The project team also made the train accessible to any European passenger by 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.