Voestalpine’s Metal Engineering Division has been restructured. As of April 1, 2018. the Rail, Turnout Systems and Signalling Technology business segments were officially regrouped under the ‘Railway Systems’ umbrella. The new business areas include urban (tramway and metro systems), mixed, freight and high-speed traffic. This allows for cooperation between the separate units, to boost system availability and cut down on lifecycle cost. Chief Technology Officer Jochen Holzfeind of Voestalpine Railway Systems explained the railway company’s approach during the Intelligent Rail Summit 2018 in Malmö.
“We have combined our products and services into an overall approach. This makes it easier to find synergies and interactions, and allows us to continuously improve our technical and economic knowledge,” Holzfeind says. “For this reason, we can offer services throughout the entire lifecycle of the infrastructure – from delivery to maintenance. This means we offer our customers system solutions. In short: we now reason from our customers’ perspective.”
Holzfeind emphasises how important it is to look at the whole system, and not only a product or service: “We must keep what railways are used for in the back of our minds: transporting freight and passengers.” That is why it is important that trains can run, so operators can concentrate on their core business. “In current discussions about predictive maintenance, we should also discuss proactive system design to exclude reasons for maintenance, so there should not be unnecessary maintenance on the track.”
That means that infrastructure managers should search and procure the best solution, and not the cheapest product, Martin Platzer, Senior Vice President Marketing of Voestalpine Schienen asserts. “The aim has to be to deliver an optimal service to passengers. Innovation costs money now, but in the long run, it pays for itself. We must not only talk about the prices of products but in particular about boosting the track performance while at the same time significantly reducing the lifecycle costs.”
That is why Voestalpine is trying to change the tendering process within the European Union. “It is about the Union-wide implementation of the best bidder principle, which, for example, also considers innovation capabilities and the environmental impact. The focus must be on total quality.”
For instance, investments can also be made in digitisation. Digitisation helps to form a complete picture of infrastructure behaviour and performance, so it is crucial for optimising this performance, Holzfeind says. “And that is important to ensure that trains are not seen as a second-class mode of transport.”
Thanks to digitisation, elements of the infrastructure can also communicate. “Smart assets can give a signal if something is at risk of going wrong, or conversely if everything is going well. If we put the right components next to each, this delivers added value. As a result, you not only have a functioning infrastructure, but also a smart infrastructure that you can supply data to.” In this way, the railway can be optimised.
Voestalpine believes it is not only digitisation and investment that are important for the railway sector. Sharing knowledge, as Voestalpine already does internally, is crucial for ensuring that the railway sector moves forward, Platzer says. “A certain mutual access to data between rail stakeholders is the future. It already happens in countries outside Europe, for example with very large mining companies that operate their own rail networks.”
“Conversely, railway companies in Europe are very protective and do not dare to share their knowledge. I understand this instinct, but it’s unnecessary and I would say, quite often counterproductive. We must cooperate with each other around infrastructure investment, maintenance and even track management.”
Update: Wednesday 5 December 2018