Review: WCRR 2019 Tokyo

WCRR 2019 Tokyo

On the state of the art

The railway world keeps changing. Digitalisation and climate protection are key topics. Battery-powered trains are being tested while hybrid locomotives and fuel cell power cars are already being used successfully, all showing for, as does a fully electric track maintenance machine, rapid progress in an ever-changing world. Rail travel is inherently eco-friendly. In addition, rails are increasingly viewed as a system comprised of everything from urban traffic to high-speed trains, technical design to disposal, short-trip-tickets to the New Silk Road, overhead line system to the superstructure. Everything is connected. Globally. This also holds true for railway research carried out by universities and companies. Held in 1994 for the first time, the WCRR World Congress on Railway Research is another manifestation of such collaboration.

1994 marks the birth of the WCRR. Held in Paris, it was initiated by several major railway companies. Ever since, the world’s probably most important railway expert convention has been travelling around the globe. In 2019, it pitched its tents in Tokyo for the second time. Over 1.000 participants, 630 submitted research papers and around 300 presentations in just 4 days: the variety of topics is as remarkable as the in-depth expertise presented. The plenum's members are top-class and the presentations go into detail on a high scientific level. When “Research and Development for the Future of Railways” is discussed here, it becomes clear that this is a weighty topic. The French National Railway presented a plan to stop using all diesel locomotives by 2035. The magnetic railway was another important topic. Local Japanese experiences led to agenda items concerning natural disasters, such as earthquakes and their consequences for all aspects of railway technology. In addition, an increased focus was put on the impact of climate change and on how railways can help mitigate its consequences. WCRR 2019 was accompanied by a small-scale exhibition. 

In Tokyo, it was also discussed where we are headed in terms of infrastructure and infrastructure maintenance. Despite any differences, the railways worldwide aim to provide safe and comfortable mobility for travellers and a sustainable and efficient transport of goods. Issues regarding railway construction, power supply and predictive maintenance need to be addressed. Key topics included the risk management of tracks and turnouts, future tamping technology requirements, new maintenance concepts regarding tunnel sections and digital tracks, big data, BIM and today’s measuring technology. Another important question raised was how tracks act under axle loads of around 30 metric tons.

Researching ballast quality

The mixture of fundamental research and applied research carried out by railway companies, scientists and industry partners makes WCRR a unique event. Discussed in detail was the relation between the power applied during tamping and the quality of the track. Representatives of the University of Vienna collaborating with Plasser & Theurer presented a project aimed at providing reliable quality assessments for the tamping process using specific machine parameters. Tests and measuring cycles were performed using the 09-4X E³ Dynamic Tamping Express. The tests show that the measured values are not only useful for result optimisation and documentation. They also allow predicting the ballast condition and provide data for condition-based tamping.

The 13th World Congress on Railway Research will take place in Birmingham, UK, from 6 June to 10 June 2020.