RTE’ 2024: sustainable tendering for rail
During the 2024 edition of the RailTech Europe Conference, Sven Schirmer and Dr. Matthias Landgraf will discuss the question of making the tendering process within the rail industry more sustainable. RailTech.com spoke with Dr. Landgraf on this topic, and on how the collaboration between research institutions and companies can be strengthened to promote sustainable practices.
Travel by train remains overall the most environmentally friendly mode of motorised passenger transport in Europe in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but efforts must still be made to reach the European Union (EU) 2050 sustainability targets, namely net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and climate neutrality in the next 26 years. As stated by CEO and founder of Evias Rail, Dr. Matthias Landgraf, “We must not stop optimising rail. This is especially important when you think about the so-called ‘scope 3’ greenhouse gas emissions,” – those that arise in the value chain but outside a company’s operations.
Optimising rail for a sustainable future
Landgraf highlights three key areas in which rail can make progress, in terms of sustainability. The first area relates to emissions associated with the manufacturing of rail vehicles and infrastructure. “I believe it’s crucial, particularly in the context of products employed in railway systems, to prioritise those with lower carbon intensity during production. Additionally, opting for reusable products can pave the way for a more circular economy, promoting the reutilization of materials,” he says.
“Another significant aspect, in my view, revolves around extending the service lives of products. This entails effective asset management and maintenance planning to enhance product efficiency. Consider this: by doubling the service life, we can halve the emissions. This underscores the substantial potential in meticulous maintenance planning and astute asset management,” he adds.
Lastly, “the third aspect that stands out for me is the need to augment the capacity of railway systems. By leveraging digitalization to enhance infrastructure use and boost capacity, we can achieve notable efficiency gains. Importantly, this shift contributes significantly to reducing emissions per passenger kilometre,” he points out. These three focal points represent key areas for enhancing the sustainability of the railway system.
Model for sustainable tendering
Taking into account environmental, social, and economic costs with the entire lifecycle of a product is at the core of making the tendering process more sustainable. “Covering all the three pillars and not only the economic ones is a change which is now starting and already moving ahead in Europe,” states Landgraf.
Sven Schirmer and Dr. Matthias Landgraf developed a CO2 accounting model for tendering, now standard with Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) since 2021. In 2024, the tool is transitioning to a web-based, fully digitised format, tracking emissions across the supply chain and supporting focused supplier development for decarbonization and Green Deal goals. Though not used in all tenders due to resource constraints, it has proven successful without supplier dissatisfaction. This cross-industry methodology can also be applied beyond rail, to tendering processes in a wide range of fields.
Sharing data is paramount
The creation of this model by Schirmer and Landgraf, implemented by ÖBB, highlights the importance of promoting exchanges between research and companies, particularly in terms of data. “In Austria, I must highlight the excellent cooperation we’ve had with ÖBB. They’ve consistently placed trust in research institutes, fostering openness to collaboration and data sharing. Having access to real, current data is essential to bridge the gap between theoretical concepts and practical applications,” explains Landgraf.
“Historically, it hasn’t always been easy to foster collaboration with research institutes in this sector, and the ease of sharing data varies from country to country. I believe there needs to be a significant level of open-mindedness and a willingness to share data and information, especially in the railway industry, particularly among large corporations, railway infrastructure managers, and railway undertakings,” he elaborates. This aspect continuously gains importance, as the rail industry is dealing with increasingly large and complex data sets.
“To achieve this, there must be a shared goal, an open mindset, and a commitment to sharing not only data but also addressing the financial aspects,” adds Landgraf. “From my observations and discussions with colleagues across Europe, particularly in major railway countries, it seems that governments and railway entities are genuinely enthusiastic about progressing, investing in research, and developing new products to enhance capacities. Overall, I believe there’s a positive momentum in Europe towards advancing and enhancing the railway industry,” he states.
Across the Atlantic
Beyond his experience in research and teaching at the Institute of Railway Engineering and Transport Economy of the Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), Dr. Landgraf was also a research fellow at UC Berkeley, California, in the United States. There, he noted a significant difference in the academic approach compared to European universities. While in Europe, the academia-industry collaboration allows for a more practical and application-oriented research approach, Berkeley’s “strong emphasis on fundamentals and theoretical aspects (…) comes at the cost of having a direct connection to the railway industry,” according to Landgraf.
He gives the following example: “During our research at UC Berkeley, specifically on life cycle assessment of railway infrastructure, obtaining necessary data and information posed a challenge. In contrast, in Europe, particularly in academia, there’s an advantage in having connections with the industry. For instance, when I needed specific information, I could easily reach out to professionals in relevant companies, and they would promptly provide the required information. This collaborative approach is less common in elite US universities.”
Landgraf posits that “while focusing on fundamentals and theory is crucial, incorporating practical industry insights enhances the applicability and impact of the research. Europe’s approach, which integrates fundamental and applied research, offers a distinct advantage in this regard.” As such, “the optimal scenario, in my opinion, involves a balanced combination of both approaches,” he concludes.
Founding Evias Rail
Dr. Langraf has now decided to shift towards more application-oriented work in academia, founding a rail consultancy company, Evias Rail. “While academia often pursues extensive projects and collaborations, my goal is to be more agile and closely aligned with practical applications,” he states. The approach has proven successful in the first year, allowing for a higher impact on the application side, working with companies such as Austrian Federal Railways, while leveraging a strong research background.
“The primary focus of my work involves conducting studies and projects to transparently calculate and reduce the environmental impacts of different branches, particularly in railway infrastructure and maintenance.” The services provided by Evias Rail encompass a blend of calculation, research, and consulting, addressing areas like efficiency improvement, service life optimization, and sustainable asset management through data analysis of railway infrastructure.
Challenges Evias Rail helps companies navigate often revolve around environmental reporting directives, such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). “Striking the right balance between top-down reporting and bottom-up operational details poses difficulties, and there’s often uncertainty about the depth of reporting required,” he explains. “Additionally, selecting appropriate software applications for environmental reporting can be overwhelming. Struggles also emerge in implementing calculations or software applications when data within companies is not uniformly structured. The aim is to assist companies in overcoming these challenges and implementing effective environmental management practices,” he concludes.
Schirmer and Landgraf will speak in more detail about their model and insight during the 15th edition of the RailTech Europe conference. Their presentation, entitled “Environmental impacts and sustainable tendering in railways” will take place on Thursday, 7 March 2024 from 13:25 to 13:55, at the Utrecht Jaarbeurs.
The conference program of the 15th edition of RailTech Europe, which takes place on 6 and 7 March 2024, will host a range of discussions on innovations, services and products that have a significant impact on the future rail infrastructure. A special focus will be on the future of rail in terms of sustainability in Session 3 of the conference. You can learn more about the conference program here and register here.