CORDIS - EU research results

Disruptive process for the construction of railway transition zones, reducing drastically construction and maintenance costs

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DIGITALIA (Disruptive process for the construction of railway transition zones, reducing drastically construction and maintenance costs)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2016-08-31

Annual investment in construction and maintenance of rail infrastructures has always been one of the major concerns of all European countries. This situation is worsening as construction of important missing links (mainly connections between Member States) and works to triple the length of the existing high-speed rail network must be accomplished by 2030 in order to achieve a fully functional and EU-wide Railway Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), which is one of the main goals defined in the 2011 Transport White Paper.

Completing both European high speed and priority freight corridor network, and assuming maintenance costs of these new railway lines, are big challenges as the economic resources are limited. New efficient, fast and safe design and construction techniques focused on achieving the highest standard while minimizing rail infrastructure lifecycle costs are urgently needed. DIGITALIA has been developed by TORRESCAMARA with these objectives in mind, and is thus definitely called to be a game-changing technology in the railway construction industry.

The smooth and gradual vertical stiffness transition provided by DIGITALIA at transition zones, leads to a decrease in maintenance operations while enabling a preventive/predictive maintenance planning. Moreover, DIGITALIA is offered as a standardized construction process that it is easier and cheaper to construct than current solutions, excluding the risk of suffering unexpected delays or additional risks.

Our overall objective with the present project is to introduce DIGITALIA in the market. The technical validation of the product has already been done through a functional validated prototype (TRL6) in a previous R&D project, which has already been patented. However, in order to achieve our overall objective, we needed to assess in Phase 1 different business models and scenarios to deploy DIGITALIA and reach EU market, establish strategic alliances with both potential stakeholders/users and commercial partners which will facilitate our internationalisation and will enable us to capture greater market share, as well as elaborate a comprehensive business plan.
As a result of the economic feasibility analysis of our business innovation carried out in Phase 1, the economic viability of our business intentions has been confirmed. We explored and assessed different business strategies, and the following conclusions were reached:
> A deeper market study has been carried out, identifying specific projects and deadlines for their construction. This information gave us very valuable data for strategic planning.
> Different commercialisation strategies to progressively enter the main potential markets have been assessed. As a result, we have determined that, instead using other consultant engineering companies strategically established in each of european market, the best option for TORRESCAMARA is creating a new business area (specialist consulting engineering department) in our own company. DIGITALIA will enable us to take the next step in business development, being strategic for growth, development and internationalisation, offering technological services with an important added value.
> We have contacted with International manufacturers of plant-produced precast concrete products and construction companies with important presence in the railway sector. Many companies and important European associations have already shown their interest in becoming suppliers of DIGITALIA.
> We have ensured future sales by validating market acceptance: we have confirmed the interest of important railway infrastructure managers in Europe. Furthermore, we have also contacted UIC technicians (decision-making agents in this field) in order to promote the inclusion of DIGITALIA in UIC 719R specifications of railway infrastructure owners. It is expected to finally achieve this within the framework Phase 2 project.
> Finally, we have elaborated a comprehensive financial plan, estimating for the different business strategies the key aspects of sales forecast, profits and losses. The results are highly satisfactory, reason why we consider that this project definitely shall continue.
Transition zones require much more maintenance than regular track since abrupt changes in the vertical stiffness occurs. This causes an accelerated degradation of track and also vibrations that reduce passenger comfort.

In order to attenuate the abrupt vertical stiffness changes, the embankment of transition zones is now subject of a different design and construction compared to the rest of the railway embankment. Current embankment at these transition zones is constructed using cement-treated soil to constitute a wedge shaped backfill. However, studies based on the performance of these specific solutions have shown that the problem at transition zones is far from being solved.

Current solutions, besides not solving the technical problem, require a restrictive (depending on weather conditions), complex (construction in layers with restrictions on the equipment that can be employed) and time-consuming (reaching up to 90 days) construction process. Consequently, railway construction companies often suffer unexpected increase in costs due to the increase in time and resources needed, as well as facing penalties for delivering the project behind schedule. When a project reaches this situation, the expected economic benefits just vanish, even economic losses occur.

DIGITALIA will implement a disruptive technological solution that will enable to reduce the cost of transition zones construction by 54%, because of its easier and standardized construction process that will reduce investment and time needed by 90% (from up to 90 days to only 9 days when using DIGITALIA). Furthermore, the overall maintenance needs at transition zones will be reduced by 4-6 times the current situation. An improvement of quality and comfort of rail services and an increase in track availability and fewer restrictions on train operations (less maintenance operations needed) will be experienced as well.