Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium
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Smart Rail Innovation Program 2022-2025

 

Overview: Opportunities for the rail sector to lead technological innovations have been identified in the Rail Innovation in Canada: Top 10 Technology Areas for Passenger and Freight Rail June 2020 report, the Zero Emission Transit Fund announcement by the Government of Canada in 2021 and the climate change and sustainable transportation sector.

 

Summary: Based on evolving transportation trends, different patterns in ridership and the need for sector recovery since the spread of COVID-19, new opportunities for the rail sector have arisen. The 2nd Smart Rail Technology Conference held by CUTRIC in December 2021 showed an increased interest in rail innovations which empower climate change commitments and improve existing rail operations for passengers and freight. With representatives from municipal, regional and national levels of the Government of Canada in attendance at the conference, topics presented included energy consumption, decarbonization, cybersecurity, big data, electrification and hydrogen. Government representatives provided a clear message supporting
innovative rail initiatives. International conference participants highlighted best practices in the rail sector providing a solid and strong message that technology innovations have had a significant impact on rail.

 

To contribute to climate change through transportation innovations and initiatives, CUTRIC has expanded its areas of technological expertise to increase the potential value to initiate projects. The expanded areas of technological expertise are:

 

  • Hydrogen rail feasibility modelling and pilot deployment
  • Battery electric bus integration with rail station charging equipment
  • Passenger data analysis and rail-to-bus transit scheduling Integration
  • Autonomous bus crossings with autonomous rail system feasibility analysis
  • High frequency rail vs. high speed rail policy focus in Canada

 

The following section explains how CUTRIC could expand the scope of work on each initiative:

 

Hydrogen rail feasibility modelling and pilot deployment

Modeling has been recognized as a powerful tool for decision makers in the transportation sector. CUTRIC has led multiple projects in the area helping transit agencies to transform existing transit operations through the integration of new technology. The CUTRIC Rout∑.i™ simulation tool can continue the provision of significant technical analyses within hydrogen rail projects. Comparative analyses between diesel vehicles and hydrogen technology vehicles can be made, including energy savings and emission reductions. In terms of deployments, the rail sector is at the forefront of the commercialization of hydrogen technology in Europe and at the initial stage in Canada. As an example, Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) has recently
converted diesel locomotives to hydrogen power.

 

The Future

The CPR Hydrogen Locomotive Program illustrates the importance that hydrogen technology is having and will continue to have in the future in Canada [1]. In January 2022, the FCH2RAIL project announced it would be the pioneer in the field of emission-free-bi-mode trains with combined regular track use with no overhead lines [2]. These concrete examples demonstrate how hydrogen technology is advancing. Modelling is a powerful tool to anticipate directions that projects will need to take to succeed. Modelling in Hydrogen rail might accelerate the development of the technology at a high degree in Canada and will be a key contributor to developing new and future successful projects in the hydrogen sector.

 

Battery electric bus integration with rail station charging equipment

Rail stations need to accommodate new energy infrastructure elements to provide adequate integration with electric transit buses. Several transit fleet electrification projects in Canada in which CUTRIC and its members have had significant and recognized contributions are moving forward. A good example is the Pan-Canadian Battery Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial – Phase I, launched in 2016, in partnership with Canadian electric bus manufacturers along with international partners. Successes and lessons learned have been shared and the project will be expanded until 2024. CUTRIC played a key role in the implementation of effective collaborative strategies, the development of planning and delivery stages of the project.

Specifically, the integration of transit hubs into rail infrastructure is essential and a combination of efforts is needed not only at the planning stage but also for mid to long-term actions. The absence of integrated hubs causes delays and disruptions to the service. The theme “Interactive sustainable mobility in Canada – Innovation transport hubs as linkages of multiple stakeholders’ innovators” was recently highlighted in January 18, 2022 in the Mobility and Public Transit Knowledge Forum hosted by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council and Infrastructure Canada, where HEC Montreal facilitated the theme. European cases were presented as cases of best practice. Electric bus programs in Canada were mentioned as pilot programs that might be linked to sharing knowledge with common technological-scientific interest.

 

The Future

Infrastructure agencies, transit operators, utilities and manufacturers need to provide the best knowledge and strategies to work together for electric bus projects to be successful. To leverage the benefits of large-scale projects, Canada’s transit agencies need to work together effectively by sharing experience and information. Rail stations will then respond to transit operation needs and the infrastructure can be enhanced accordingly.

 

With the initiatives for the development of electric bus technology identified above, the horizon of this theme looks very promising. Recently, during a live meeting on February 9th on Bruce Power – Powering Ontario Forward, the Ontario Minister of Energy, Todd Smith, provided a strong message about Canada’s commitment to zero-emission energy and the important role that partners in nuclear energy and academia play now and in the future. The focus on the provision of clean energy to new technology in the transportation sector, specifically to provide power to chargers for electric vehicles, was highlighted as one of the next steps that Bruce Power will take as a clean energy power leader in Canada. With this focus, a clear sign emerges that the strategy to follow might be to expand battery electric buses technology to be integrated into rail hubs along Canadian regions. Improvements to and benefits of electrifying rail hubs were themes of great interest at CUTRIC’s 2nd Smart Rail Technology Conference. A good example of this theme was Why the future of bus electrification depends upon Rail Stations’ Electrification, a presentation which illustrated facts that indicate some of the paths to follow.

 

Passenger data analysis and rail-to-bus transit scheduling Integration

Data in the rail sector, as in other transport modes, have historically provided the basis for the identification of rail requirements, performances and maintenance strategies. A valuable feature benefitting the rail transit system would be a synchronized rail and transit schedule to meet increased service expectations and drive an increase in ridership. Transit users in Ottawa and in other Canadian cities with Light Rail Transit systems in operation have been facing long waiting times for onboarding vehicles at bus stops. Similar situations occur for onboarding the train as well. The benefits of data to help with operations and to address needs through simulation and modeling would add great value to this issue, a theme discussed during CUTRIC’s 2nd Smart
Rail Conference as it relates to transit operations and scheduling.

 

The Future

The need to develop an accurate and integrated schedule for riders between rail stations has been identified as critical to the efficiency of the system. Rail and transit data need to be linked as the scheduling is a key component within this system. Coordinated efforts require the experience of innovators, manufacturers and professionals in the field as they can bring value to the Passenger Data Analysis and Rail Transit Integration theme. Improvements to the integration having the data as the base tool is and will be more necessary at these times of ridership changes when the transit and rail sectors need to bring back ridership confidence though operation excellence.

 

Autonomous bus crossings with autonomous rail system feasibility analysis

Canadian transportation has experienced unfortunate events at rail crossings in the past with transit driver vehicles causing human fatalities, disruptions to service and damages to vehicles or lost vehicles. In 2013, in the suburb of Barrhaven, Ottawa, a double decker bus hit a train with multiple factors relating to the train system and human error being attributed to the fatal accident.

With autonomous vehicle technology in progress and developments in sensors, 5th Generation (5G) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is an opportunity to explore how to incorporate smart transit vehicle operations to rail crossings while enhancing safety to the system and reducing risks of collision. The safety of both rail and transit users must be a priority and existing beliefs that rail crossings for autonomous vehicles are not safe should be dissipated.

 

The Future

The 2nd Smart Rail Conference showed multiple global examples in which safety at rail crossings has been implemented successfully. In Canada, there are leading firms in the field of rail automation control, grade crossing protection systems, signaling products, electronic interlockings, automatic train control systems, operations control systems and other intelligent solutions that might encompass transit communication at rail crossings and enhance interoperability between transit and rail. Projects such as Go Rail Expansion -On- Corridor Works in the province of Ontario and the commitment of Metrolinx along with surrounding communities to the expansion indicate that rail will continue to generate a high level of discussion in communities interested in safety and security.

 

High frequency rail vs. high speed rail policy focus in Canada

The time when economic recovery and climate change commitments are priorities presents the perfect scenario in which to revive and promote high-speed rail initiatives. However, multiple debates about the need for high-speed rail in Canada have generated significant delays in implementation. Despite the assessment of how regions would benefit from economic growth and development with high-speed rail in High-Speed Rail in Ontario: Final Report (2016), the project, which identified the Toronto-Windsor corridor as a preferable option, faced a setback in 2019. The province paused all funding for the high-speed rail proposal to enhance existing transportation infrastructure and services. The cost of the proposed project at that time was calculated at CAD$21B. As identified in the Report, Canada is the only G8 country that has no construction or operation regarding the high-speed train system in its territory.

 

Since 2019, some initiatives in the rail sector have been developed and are clear indicators that the advance of rail in Canada is divided between two systems: high-frequency rail and highspeed rail. The Edmonton- algary High Speed Rail Line proposal, benefitting passengers and freight and with an estimated cost of CAD$9.0B, was submitted to the Government of Alberta in June 2021 and is being evaluated [6]. Immediately following this proposal, the plan for the new high-frequency rail lines from Toronto to Quebec City in July 2021 was revealed and is currently underway. The Prairie Link team has already commenced Indigenous engagement and established an advisory committee to guide project development. On the other hand, the most recent announcement, on March 9th, was released by the Government of Canada about the high-frequency rail to advance in the procurement process. Next steps initiate with the Request for Expression of Interest in April 2022 to end with the response to the Request for Proposal in Fall 2024.

 

The Future

Outcomes emerging from the 2nd Smart Rail Conference included themes in rail technology innovations. CUTRIC is looking to generate dynamic discussions at governmental levels and bring the high-speed rail system and its technology back for the benefit of Canadians. Infrastructure requirements, construction and operational needs, special supply vehicles, signaling systems and cybersecurity are new trends that might be of interest to integrate into the initiative and might accelerate governmental decisions about the high-speed rail in Canada.

 

Furthermore, high-speed rail in Canada might create a path to develop or apply new or extant technology that will position Canada at the level of those countries already operating in this sector.

 

Next steps

CUTRIC will be facilitating consultation sessions on these technology areas to advocate, get support and further contribute to innovative projects in the Smart Rail Innovation Program 2022- 2025.

 

Our first kick-off planning session for CUTRIC’s upcoming Smart Rail innovation Program is taking place on May 30, 2022 from 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm EST

 

For more information, please contact Maria A. Pinto maria.pinto@cutric-crituc.org or call +1(519) 5894020