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Future Freight Loco for Europe

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Innovating railways for tomorrow’s freight transport

Transporting more freight by rail will help the EU meet environmental targets and free up congested roads. EU project FFL4E developed technologies to make rail travel more efficient.

Transport and Mobility

A powerful European consortium has come together to develop cutting-edge rail improvements to attract more freight onto trains. EU project FFL4E saw companies from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden team up to develop technologies to make freight rail transport more efficient and environmentally friendly while increasing capacity. “Roads don’t offer enough space for all freight transport,” says Andrea Mazzone, innovation manager at Bombardier Transportation and project coordinator. “Rail freight is, and must remain, the backbone for European freight transport.” The research and development carried out on FFL4E – Future Freight Locomotive For Europe – is part of Shift2Rail, a push by stakeholders in the European rail sector to invest together in new and advanced solutions to help the industry grow and compete. In 2008, the rail freight market was hit by the global recession, from which it has still not yet recovered. While inland vessels have increased their transport capacity by 158 % in the last 15 years and truck transportation is up by 50 %, rail freight transportation has only risen by 3 %. Shift2Rail aims at shifting road freight volumes for distances above 300 km to rail of around 30 % and 50 % by 2030 and 2050 respectively. During the FFL4E project, the partners developed technologies to help meet those targets. The technologies included radial steering for freight locomotive bogies, which reduces the wear on the wheels and tracks, and is less noisy. Bombardier is already commercialising this among its locomotive customers. Engineers also developed a hybrid propulsion system sourcing the energy from a powerful on-board energy storage system and a last-mile battery building block based on Li-ion batteries, allowing the locomotive to run on non-electrified lines and shunting yards. Furthermore, the partners developed a radio remote control for distributed power, which allows heavier and longer trains to be moved, since several locomotives can be distributed along the train. At the moment, logistics companies often favour road and sea transport because they deem it more flexible. But FFL4E came up with systems that will help meet the demands of private and public operators to offer broader rail freight services without the need to change locomotives. “These technologies will lead to lower life-cycle costs, more flexibility and increased capacity. This will encourage logistics companies to rely more on rail transport,” says Mazzone. Operational costs will fall thanks to more efficient hybrid and electric propulsion systems with braking energy recuperation and emission-free operations. Flexibility and capacity will increase, thanks to catenary-free operations and remote control for distributed power. Mazzone says the combination of locomotive manufacturers, sub-suppliers, freight operators, infrastructure managers and safety assessors from so many different European countries was unique to the project and gave it its edge in a sector where there is increasing competition from other continents like Asia. Mazzone is optimistic Europe’s ambitious rail targets can be met through this new technology revolution “strongly supporting increasing capacity, and making business seamless, flexible and fast.”


FFL4E, freight, locomotive, Shift2Rail, infrastructure managers

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