CZ/SK verze

Interview: Roman Kokšal, CEO of Siemens Mobility - Emission-free multimodal mobility is a real vision and the agenda for the upcoming years

Interview: Roman Kokšal, CEO of Siemens Mobility - Emission-free multimodal mobility is a real vision and the agenda for the upcoming years
photo: Siemens Mobility /press materials/Roman Kokšal
22 / 03 / 2022

In an exclusive interview, RAILTARGET asked the CEO of Siemens Mobility in the Czech Republic, Roman Kokšal, about the future and present of rail transport. What is his opinion on digitalization, automatic coupling, and what plans does Siemens Mobility have for the Czech Republic?

What is your opinion on the development and research in the Czech Republic regarding railway technologies?

The fundamental feature of today's European railways is interoperability, i.e., international connectivity. This applies not only to rail traffic (i.e., 2/3 of rail freight transport carried out in the Czech Republic starts or ends abroad) but also to industry and research. National solutions on the railroad ended with the last century; the logical goal of any subject engaged in theoretical or experimental research is transnational integration, at least in the European dimension. It applies both to institutions oriented exclusively in the field of research and testing (typically VUZ, VUKV, look at the wide range of vehicles from all over Europe at the test base near Velim), as well as research carried out as part of development work in the industry. It can be seen clearly at the Siemens Mobility Engineering sites in Prague, Ostrava, Pilsen, and Brno. The way they are closely linked in research and development tasks with elite teams from other countries, the way they collaborate creatively, the way their competencies grow.

How do you think the Czech Republic will cope with the digitalization of railways? This sector is the future of the railways, and a lot of EU funding is directed towards it.

 Interoperability is also a defining trend in rail transport digitalization. It happens due to the interstate operation of passenger and freight transport, as well as the concentration of industrial production, research, development, and testing forces on the uniform solutions mass deployment. The single European Train Control System (ETCS) would be a typical example of an Industry 4.0 application on railways. It works on the Internet of Things and Services basis. The solution to this task is not easy, given its safety conditions, and would be unthinkable without European integration of railway companies and industry. It is outstanding that the Czech Republic has a specific implementation plan in this area, drawn up by the Ministry of Transport in cooperation with the Railway Administration, carriers, and transport customers. The goal of equipping the entire Czech railway with digital control and security of railway transport by 2040 is realistic and necessary. It brings a substantial increase in transport safety by removing its current dependence on human error and, at the same time, creates a basis for building higher levels of automatic control of railway transport, including unattended train operation.

How does Siemens view high-speed rail in the Czech Republic?

The construction of high-speed railways is a global necessity. There isn't any reason why the Czech Republic should be left out of this trend. In the Czech Republic, 93% of energy for transport comes from fossil fuels, which makes the current form of transport very vulnerable and unsustainable shortly. Sectors that are much less dependent on fossil fuels (electricity 51%, industry 44%) are undergoing structural transformations to move towards zero-emission processes, and transport cannot be left out. We have a shared responsibility to ensure the mobility of people and goods without fossil fuels. It means replacing internal combustion engines with electric traction drives. This change leads to significant energy savings and, together with the orientation of electricity production towards renewable sources, removes both carbon dioxide emissions, which irreversibly damage the Earth's climate, and toxic emissions that affect human health.

The decarbonization trend occurs in all modes of transport but has two solid aspects in rail transport. Owing to the low rolling resistance of the steel wheels and the low aerodynamic drag of the long, slender trains, the railway consumes about three times less electricity than road transport. It is essential for providing transport systems with energy. In addition, owing to the solved and widely established linear power supply, rail transport doesn't require the necessary equipment of vehicles with energy storage (batteries or hydrogen technology). With linear electric power, the rolling stock has unlimited range and does not waste time by charging.

These energy advantages give rail transport the role of a backbone system in multimodal mobility in directions of solid and regular transport demand. However, to fulfill this function, rail needs quality to encourage passengers and shippers to use it, and capacity to cope with increased transport demand. The high-speed rail system addresses both, and it gives the railway a new quality (speed and comfort) and a new capacity, creating two parallel rail networks. Both are very powerful due to speed segregation.

Which sections do high-speed railways make sense on, and do you agree with the current vision of their construction?

The concept of the future high-speed railway network in the Czech Republic has been handled very skilfully by the Ministry of Transport and Railway Infrastructure. Internally in the Czech Republic, it connects regional towns, creates important links with neighboring countries (AT, SK, PL, DE), and at the same time lies on the line of crucial pan-European links. As a result, the Via Vindobona Berlin - Dresden - Ústí nad Labem - Prague - Jihlava - Brno - Breclav - Vienna, including the branch from Brno via Ostrava towards Poland, became part of the principal European TEN-T high-speed rail network in December 2021. It shows the priority of financing and building critical sections already in the 2030 horizon. It is crucial for the further development not only of transport in the Czech Republic but also of settlements in the Czech Republic.

There is a clear analogy with the change of the transport system in Prague. Since the role of the backbone transport system in Prague was taken over from trams (travel speed 18 km/h) by the metro (double travel speed 36 km/h), Prague began to live on a double diameter, i.e. on a quadruple area. Similarly, the addition of high-speed rail (top operating speed 160 km/h) and motorways (top operating speed 130 km/h) to high-speed rail (top operating speed 320 km/h) will change the entire Czech Republic. A healthy polycentric settlement pattern will develop. The aim is to eliminate the deepening territorial discrimination against impoverished remote areas and involve the whole area of the national territory in a general system of value creation and consumption.

In your opinion, does rail freight transport in the Czech Republic have sufficient support?

Freight transport is a fully liberalized market environment, so let's talk about conditions rather than support. Similarly to passenger transport, the trend in goods transport is directed towards multimodality, i.e. not a competition but cooperation and complementarity between transport modes. The railways do not have such a dense transport network to be able to receive all shipments at the point of dispatch and hand them over at the point of delivery, which is the role of road transport. However, it makes no sense to use trucks to transport goods over longer distances. It is inefficient both regarding energy and emissions and sensible labor management. Rail can do this without emissions, with less energy consumption and less manpower.

To be able to fulfill this role, the railway needs three things: to strengthen the performance of permanently overloaded main lines (switching to 25 kV power supply, the introduction of ETCS, orientation towards high-performance locomotives, diversionary routes, etc.), involve other lines in the role of freight transport, especially by their line electrification, and build multimodal terminals, because not only passengers but also things need somewhere to get on and off the train or to change to a follow-up service. We are in constant creative contact with the carriers and the association ŽESNAD.CZ to understand their requirements and needs well and to be able to create appropriate products for them.

What are Siemens Mobility's goals for 2022?

In industry, transport, and the energy sector, it is necessary to consider a much longer time horizon. Railway vehicles have a technical vehicle life of about 30 years, railway infrastructure even longer. The overarching goal for transport globally is to achieve decarbonization by 2050, as agreed by every country worldwide at the 2015 Paris climate conference. The concomitant phenomena of climate change will increasingly motivate humanity to make creative efforts to achieve this goal. It is clear that our sub-targets for 2022, as well as for the following years, must be on a trajectory to achieve zero-emission transport in 2050. It is the primary theme in all three areas Siemens Mobility is involved in. We aim to achieve these goals in our development and production activities in the railway vehicles, railway power supply, and railway transport control and security field. And, of course, in cooperation with education, as new technologies are significantly related to the development of knowledge and education.

Emission-free multimodal mobility is a realistic vision and program for the future years and is very well received by the Czech Republic population. The P+R car parks at the station are full every day. However, passengers demand an attractive offer of fast and comfortable travel from the railways. We highly appreciate ČD's decision to deploy its newest Siemens Viaggio Comfort vehicles under the name InterJet on domestic lines connecting Prague with the border region (Prague - Pilsen - Cheb and Prague - Ústí nad Labem - Cheb), because not only passengers on interstate lines, but also passengers on domestic lines deserve speed and comfort.

Is Siemens Mobility preparing any interesting technological innovations for 2022?

The development of new products is a continuous innovative activity carried out by the Siemens Mobility Engineering department. These activities have a multinational dimension and involve a significant number of engineers in the Czech Republic, where we have a team of more than 500 developers and engineers working on global projects and developing new technologies. There are many interesting projects, i.e., the development of high-speed electric traction units for Egypt, a country with complicated climatic and operating conditions. Digital solutions for transport (predictive vehicle maintenance, autonomous vehicles, cloud-based construction, applications for multimodal mobility, digital crossing devices, etc.) are a crucial part of this, but so are alternative energy sources such as batteries and hydrogen. The biggest technological innovations will be presented in September at the Innotrans trade fair in Berlin.

How do you personally feel about the subject of automatic coupling?

Owing to the unfortunate political developments during the 20th century that divided it, Europe is the last continent that does not yet use automatic coupling on railways. The historic vehicle coupling using a bolt-on towing hook and bumpers limits the locomotives' pulling and pushing forces and complicates the vehicle handling, making this work strenuous and dangerous. For these reasons too, the completion of the European railways' transition to a central automatic coupling is a necessity. This process has been going on spontaneously in passenger transport for several decades, and now it is logically the turn of freight transport.

The new European automatic coupling is called digital. It is crucial, the aim is to connect the cars not only mechanically, but also electrically, i.e. to transmit data and commands. It is a solid contribution to the subject of brake control. The historically established and still used pneumatic brake control is very slow. Long freight trains take almost half a minute to develop full braking power. It makes their braking distances very long. The current system of pneumatic brake control limits freight productivity, allowing freight trains to either run long but then have to slow down, or run fast but then be unable to run long.

The logical requirement for productivity growth in rail transport, to make freight trains long and fast, cannot be met by traditional air brakes. This is why their replacement by modern electro-pneumatic brakes, used for example on line C of the Prague metro (compressed air provides the energy to create the braking force, but it does not serve to transmit the braking commands, which are transmitted by electrical lines) is an important step towards increasing the railway transport safety and efficiency. The transition of European railways to digital automatic coupling, including the non-delayed electric brake control introduction, is very beneficial.

ETCS is being continuously implemented to improve rail safety. But won't the introduction of ETCS also have some negative effects?

The basic principle of ETCS is train supervision. Drivers or automatic train control systems only drive when they are authorized to do so, on the right track, in the right direction, and only as fast as permitted. It is a solid contribution to improving the safety of rail transport. The aim is to minimize the number of accidents caused by the driver overlooking or disregarding a signal. Driving the train not according to signals but according to the speed profile allows using train running at higher speeds,  lead trains in an energy-efficient way. ETCS is a safety system and, therefore, designed with a proportionate degree of caution. It particularly concerns the braking process control.

The traditional approach to rail safety has been to assume that the driver gives the braking signal and then keeps braking to the stopping point. In contrast, ETCS respects the reality that the driver can brake the train at any time before stopping. Therefore, the ETCS considers a margin for activation of regenerative braking. It, however, leads to a very slow running-in of the train towards the end of the driving authorization when using slow-acting air brakes. The solution is to speed up the response of the brakes, to replace their pneumatic control with electric control, as mentioned in the answer to the previous question.

What railway events, fairs, and conferences are you planning to attend this year?

Not only rolling stock is undergoing innovations, but also means of communication. Printed media are being supplemented by electronic ones, traditional conferences are being supplemented by virtual ones. One-way communication turns into the two-way one, and the roles of lecturers and speakers change into a dialogue. We view this very positively. In particular, this year we will continue our series of webinars on various railway topics. This format has worked very well for us and is positively evaluated by the participants. This year we've focused on the Role of Rail in Public Transport, based on participants' requests from the evaluation questionnaires. I would like to thank all the speakers who accepted our invitation to participate in the webinars. These include representatives of the Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic, ŽESNAD, SVOD Bohemia, and regional representatives. Our aim is not only to present our company Siemens Mobility but to offer a space for professional debate.

Needless to say, you will also meet us at various local conferences, events, and especially at the international trade fair Innotrans in Berlin, which I believe will take place this year. We will present there the innovations in rail transport, including digital solutions.