In the last 20 or so years, the development in railway traction has undergone gigantic acceleration. Although this technology was born and bled in Japan, now the leading developers of state-of-the-art electric railway infrastructure and trains are the Europeans (The Economist 1992). Fundamentally, design, operation and manufacture in terms of electric railways changed completely. These developmental changes are highly complex and technical but they result to admirable improvement in the transport and distribution sector, as far as the railway transport is concerned. There are some technical advantages attached to modern electrification of railway systems and trains, which include better acceleration, cheaper and easier maintenance, greater safety, less noise and engine vibration, and greater availability of electric trains ( The Engineer 2004).
It is true that the electric railway requires a power supply accessible by the trains at all times. The emphasis falls on safety, economy, and user-friendliness of the entire development (Railway Technical 2013). Transmission of power to the trains happens through overhead wires or some at ground level. Specifically, if the power source is AC, it comes from the overhead wires, if from a DC source; either of the methods is applicable. The type of power source is not very important since either works very well. The only consideration is to use AC sources for long distances and DC sources for short distances.
The application of electric railway systems mostly applies to commuter trains. In this case, commuter rail refers to a passenger train service that operates mostly between suburbs and the city center, as a fast and convenient means of travel. The introduction of modern traction of power for the electrification of commuter trains has resulted to the efficiency, quieter and environmental friendly railway system. The modern traction process of electrifying railway systems poses quite a number of advantages.
To start with, this transport system is environmentally friendly. Electricity-powered motors propel electric trains. In the light of the above, they emit no fumes to the surrounding environment. Well, it is true that they use electricity produced in power stations that use fossil fuels to generate this power. At the power stations, there is constant monitoring and improvements made to treat and filter most of the noxious fumes. The use of electric commuter trains and railway systems helps in reducing the smog in inner cities by replacing other forms of fume emitting transport. Still on the environmental-based advantage of using the electric rail systems, is the reduced noise pollution they emit. The electric commuter trains are much quieter and do not produce much vibrations. This advantage will lead to the hiking of engines for diesel trains, especially in Europe, following the enactment of strict emission standards by the European Union. From statistics collected by the European Union secretariat, the use of an electric train results emissions 35% less carbon per passenger mile than their diesel counterparts (Anonymous 2009). It is with respect to this that the Department for Transport (DfT) in the Great Britain decided to invest heavily in the use of electric railway system networks. In a press release in the year 2011, the Department for Transport in the Great Britain emphasized on the fact that railway system electrification was an important move in line with its carbon strategy. It said that the electric trains have no emissions at use points, a fact that promotes the quality of air n pollution hotspots such as city centers or any mainline stations in or near the cities (Kemp 2007).
Other than the above, they are good in speed. They are fast and thus reduce the passengers travelling time. For example, in China, the Shanghai-Beijing high-speed commuter and cargo rail line is able to run trains up to speeds of 300 to 350 kilometers per hour (Dingding 2007). This ability of speed also contributes to the very high efficiency of this transport system. In terms of maintenance, less is required for the electric commuter railway system. Since they function electrically, they do not include a lot of moving parts. Furthermore, electric motors are a clean propulsion means and are thus easy to maintain. It is no wonder that they have become very popular means of transport, especially for commuters prying between rural areas and nearby cities, all over the world (Scott 2011).
The safety of the electric rail systems and trains also helps in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of rail transport. Nowadays, all the important railway and train service companies in Europe operating under the electric system incorporate the control system based on Train Communications Network, TCN, in all their trains. This makes the information interchange and the train operations to have a higher flexibility index (Viles, et al. 2007). They also open to new technologies like the Global Positioning System (GPS) as well as the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM). This enhances the safety of this transport and thus increases the efficiency of its use.
According to Great Britain’s Department for Transport, the cost of maintaining electric trains is more than 35% cheaper than maintaining the diesel ones (Anonymous 2009). This means that the downtime resulting from broken down or trains under service check-ups reduces with the use of electric trains. In addition, it is approximately around 20% lower to lease an electric train than a diesel one. According to statistics, by the year 2006, more than 240,000 kilometers of the world’s railway system network was fully electrified with 50% of railway transport happening under modern electric traction mechanism.
It is thus hard to ignore the fact that this development in railway transport infrastructure has brought very notable and remarkable advantages resulting to the improvement and enhancement of transport and distribution, both of cargo and passengers. The newly electrified railway systems have experienced a hike, in the respect that electrification of commuter railway systems leads to relatively significant increase in revenues collected from the railway services. The main reason is that the improved efficiency attracts more users and consumers since the technology is attractive to experience, smoother and faster to ride, and is generally accompanied by good infrastructure which leads to better and quality services. Passengers travel fast and confidently. Their safety is enhanced and prioritized. The cargo also gets to its destination in proper time. This promotes the transport and distribution of even perishable goods with a guarantee that they will arrive in good state. The business community thus is pleased with this infrastructural development. In short, the efficiency of a transport system depends on its ability to help in the formation and maintenance of vital economical and social connections. The speed, convenience, and safety provided by the use of electric railway system networks means that, this development works towards improving the efficiency of the transport system, as far as railway mode of transport is concerned.
- Anonymous. “Electric Trains Cheaper to Buy and to Run.” Professional Engineering, 2009: 5.
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- Dingding, Xin. “Bullet trains set to join fastest in the world.” China Daily, North American ed., 2007: 4.
- Kemp, Prof. Roger. Traction Energy Metrics. Research Report, London: Rail Safety and Standards Board, 2007.
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- Scott, Willie. “Electric Commuter Trains: The Present and the Future.” Bright Hub. January 19, 2011. http://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/103646.aspx (accessed May 20, 2013).
- The Economist. “Trains: Faster Than a Speeding Bullet.” The Economist, 1992: 87.
- Viles, E., D. Puente, M. J. Alvarez, and F. Alonso. “Improving the corrective maintenance of an electronic system for trains.” Journal of Quality in Maintenance Engineering, 2007: 75-87.
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