SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR EUROPEAN TRANSPORT WITH MAGRAIL17.09.2023
As societies face the pressing challenges of the climate crisis the introduction of MagRail – an innovative upgrade of existing railways with magnetic levitation component and top speed as high as 550 kph - could not be timelier. The demand for sustainable transportation that does not compromise on mobility is growing, and it is expected that it might double over the next 30 years. While rail is recognized as one of the most sustainable mass transportation modes, its current speed limitations of approximately 300 km/h make it less competitive for distances beyond 1,000 kilometres, creating a significant market gap.
Though, the gap, which today can be served only by regional aviation, is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 footprint in transport sector. Very High Speed (VHS) and Ultra-High Speed (UHS) mobility such as MagRail can give competitive answer. But not only EU is interested in UHS: China is advancing fast with their next-gen maglev designed for speeds up to 600 kph. However, unlike the technology from China, which offers an alternative to rail transport and requires the construction of a separate rail infrastructure, European startup Nevomo, has just recorded a breakthrough achievement, proving the stable levitation of its technology on classic rail infrastructure.
The introduction of Nevomo's MagRail technology fills this gap, offering a next-generation, zero-emission transportation solution to double rail capacity, halve travel times, and significantly reduce greenhouse emissions from regional aviation. Finally, it makes mass transportation not only highly sustainable but also competitive at distances of 1,000 to 3,000 kilometres, allowing one-day trips within entire EU without air transport. MagRail has the potential to redefine the European rail landscape, addressing the urgent need for network expansion and increased efficiency. And although Europe already has a fairly dense rail network, it lacks capacity and traffic flexibility.
A week ago, in the presence of representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, EU railway institutions, industry experts, and media from around the world, Nevomo, a leading European deep-tech company with Polish roots and the developer of the innovative, hyperloop-inspired MagRail technology, has presented a groundbreaking achievement that marks a turning point for the railway industry. Successfully performed tests have proven that railway vehicles could levitate on conventional railway lines. This world-first accomplishment has the potential to revolutionize rail transport, seamlessly merging the traditional rail systems with the future vision of ultra-high-speed solutions like the hyperloop.
Unlike other magnetic rail systems, MagRail is interoperable with conventional rail, solving the challenges of no access to key locations like city centres, and the inability to create a coherent network of connections. This feature makes MagRail the one-of-a-kind, scalable and future-proof transport solution. “We see MagRail as the catalyst to transform Europe’s mobility landscape, offering unparalleled connectivity and a sustainable way forward for the continent. As we navigate the challenges of our time, from congestion to emissions, MagRail stands out as the beacon, showing us the path to a revolutionary yet evolutionary upgrade for our railway networks, making them the quintessential mode of 21st-century transportation” – said Przemek Ben Pączek, CEO of Nevomo.
MagRail changes how we think about the rail travel experience. Instead of running on fixed timetables, MagRail trains will be available to passengers in variable capacity, constantly adapting to the current demand in stations, similarly to metro systems – but for inter-city trips. Using Nevomo’s technology, wagons would be able to move on their own and simply adjust the number of carriages per train “on the fly”. For that, upgrading selected sections or entire railway lines would be sufficient, eliminating the need to build entirely new transport infrastructure.
Bringing the Europeans together with HSR and UHS for further economic growth
The rise of Nevomo's MagRail technology hasn't only generated excitement among transport experts and industry insiders but has also piqued the interest of the European Parliament, signalling a potentially transformative moment in European transportation. As countries grapple with the dual imperatives of ensuring sustainability and improving connectivity, MagRail's innovation presents a timely answer. Its benefits in cost, environmental impact, and adaptability make it a compelling choice.
Dutch MEP Dorien Rookmaker, during a recent presentation by Nevomo, highlighted the importance of such innovations in Europe. She emphasized the urgency of investing in transportation infrastructure as a pathway to greater economic growth, social inclusivity, and environmental responsibility. In her opinion, MagRail is more than just a tech innovation; it's a catalyst for a paradigm shift in how politicians view their role in society and the rail sector.
Rookmaker's support is rooted in her belief that politicians should be "enablers for society instead of regulators." This idea underscores the importance of prioritizing the end customer, be it passengers or freight. She also stressed the need for unity and forward-thinking among various stakeholders in the rail industry, urging them to look beyond their individual interests and consider the larger European context.
"I think if politicians put their attention to the more positive side of making policies by investing, this will enhance the prosperity of the whole continent. For instance, if you bring the Europeans together with High-Speed Rail connections, you will create a lot more economic growth. I think rail is a really good equalizer because everybody can use it. And when I see this new innovation here, I'm getting more and more excited." - she said.
Innovation through Integration: Europe's Railway Vision
European railways are currently at a juncture of transformation, and Ny Tiana Tournier, the Innovation and Technology Coordinator at the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), emphasizes the importance of innovations that harmoniously integrate with the existing railway system. The new technology by Nevomo stands out as it represents a "brownfield innovation". This essentially means that it doesn't aim to overhaul the system but rather works within the constraints of the existing infrastructure. As Ms. Tournier aptly put it, "It means it takes into account the existing railway system. We know that for real, its strength, but also its constraint, is the existing legacy system."
Railways in Europe are characterized by an intricate web of stakeholders, each with unique roles, responsibilities, and interests. The challenge lies not just in the technicalities but also in synchronizing these varied interests and navigating the operational complexities that come with retrofitting innovations. As Tournier elaborated, "In railways, it's an open shared system with many actors having different roles, responsibilities, and interests. There is a need to engage all those stakeholders together." The roadmap for integrating Nevomo's technology involves a multi-faceted approach, from the retrofit of the existing line to testing in real conditions and scaling up the solution.
Embracing MagRail and the Challenges Ahead
With the unveiling of Nevomo's MagRail technology and its potential to redefine transportation, stakeholders within the industry are keenly weighing in on its feasibility and impact. As Europe strives for sustainable solutions to its transportation challenges, there is a rising emphasis on adapting new technologies in the rail sector. The experience of traditional high-speed rails, such as the one between Berlin and Munich, has demonstrated that rail can indeed shift transportation paradigms. However, Ultra-High Speed (UHS) mobility which MagRail promises to champion, bring their own set of unique challenges.
Prof. Dr. Dirk Rompf, with his extensive industry background and experience in overseeing high-speed projects, provides valuable insights into these challenges. As ex-McKinsey leader of transport practice and a former board member of DB Netz, he speaks from a vantage point of having witnessed firsthand the transformational potential of rail projects. However, he's also acutely aware of the hurdles the sector has to grapple with, especially when it comes to novel technologies.
Dr. Rompf explains: "High-speed rail can really have an impact, and this is an experience that we had all across Europe. The railway sector is not known for being extremely innovation-friendly, so it's a challenge how much time we will take to homologate, especially since we are talking about cross-border traffic. But we need to convince vehicle OEMs to equip their vehicles with the new technology, and on the other hand, it's about an infrastructure manager to partner with."
But MagRail is not just about levitating passenger train technology. In its 'Booster' version, using an electromagnetic drive with a linear motor, MagRail offers a transformational retrofit solution for existing railcars, allowing for increased rail transport efficiency and capacity. Its design allows individual wagons to operate independently without a locomotive, heralding a transformational approach to improving rail transport. With major European railways actively evaluating its applications, the technology promises to redefine the future of freight transport.
“I would personally start with introducing the railway Booster on short stretches and make sure that people see that this technology offers higher capacity and higher flexibility than the conventional rail would do, and this can happen in the course of the century” - added Prof. Rompf.
The introduction of MagRail marks a significant turning point in Europe's journey toward sustainable mobility. In the crossroads of modernization, environmental commitment, and the quest for efficient connectivity, embracing groundbreaking technologies like Nevomo's MagRail is not just important—it's essential. Its success will be measured not only by its technological prowess but by the collective effort of European stakeholders—from policymakers to engineers—unifying behind a shared transportation vision. In the face of new challenges, Europe's commitment to innovation, while valuing its rich railway heritage, will be the driving force behind creating a greener, more interconnected future. The keen interest of the European Parliament underlines the importance of such technologies, signalling that Ultra-High Speed mobility solutions like like MagRail and similar innovations are at the heart of the evolution of transport in Europe. With the urgent need to tackle climate change and the demand for improved rail infrastructure, MagRail is a cornerstone in the renaissance of rail in Europe.