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RCRS — Research Cluster Railway Systems initiative in Austria

Research Cluster Railway Systems RCRS
The Research Cluster Railway Systems research initiative aims to make technological progress in the rail system. © Lunghammer | TU Graz

[TU Graz] TU Graz, voestalpine, ÖBB, Siemens Mobility Austria and Virtual Vehicle pool their railway expertise. The joint establishment of the Research Cluster Railway Systems (RCRS) research initiative marks the start of measures aimed at further enhancing the competitiveness of the railway through sustainable overall optimization.

In the European Year of Rail 2021, Austria’s key players in the rail sector will come together even more closely. Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), voestalpine, ÖBB, Siemens Mobility Austria and Virtual Vehicle will in future be working closely together on an even more efficient and competitive rail system of the future.

To this end, the partners have founded the Research Cluster Railway Systems (RCRS) research initiative at TU Graz. The spotlight is on rail vehicle technology, rail infrastructure and rail operations in this project, with a focus on synergy potential and on digital transformation. Accredited testing, inspection and simulation facilities are on the agenda at RCRS, as is the interdisciplinary training of the next generation of engineers for tomorrow’s rail technology.

New professorships, joint COMET project
Railway-related research and innovation has been a fixture at TU Graz for many decades. In order to further anchor this focus at TU Graz, two new professors have been appointed for Structural Durability and Railway Technology (at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Economic Sciences) and for Railway Infrastructure Design (at the Faculty of Civil Engineering). The professorships are held by Martin Leitner and Ferdinand Pospischil, and they also head the institutes of the same name.

In addition, the RCRS partners want to promote joint research projects and apply to appropriate funding programmes. The first project is the FFG-funded COMET project Rail4Future, which started under the lead of ÖBB in spring 2021. The project involves working on a new virtual platform that can be used to simulate new scenarios and developments in the rail sector under operational and environmental conditions. In addition to the RCRS consortium, other partners from science and industry are on board, such as TU Wien, TU München, Wiener Linien and Plasser&Theurer – the world market leader for track construction machines.

Together on track
The COMET project Rail4Future and the RCRS research initiative both count towards the ultimate goal of the five partners, which is to work closely together to develop innovative system solutions for an even more efficient and competitive rail system. In the future, other domestic companies, rail operators and scientific institutions are to join this endeavour in order to jointly create a beacon of Austrian rail competence that is visible throughout Europe.

“We all want to make the rail system better. This will only work with intensive exchange and a collaboration of equals. This is a project which the five partners are firmly committed to and for which we want to bring our respective expertise along a common track, so to speak,” says Harald Kainz, Rector of TU Graz, on behalf of all project partners.

Barbara Eibinger-Miedl, state minister for economic affairs and research affirms: “Rail plays an essential role in the mobility of the future. Styria has made a name for itself in this field in recent years thanks to innovative companies and outstanding research institutions. The new research initiative will consolidate our position as an internationally visible innovation and research country. We will also strengthen the mobility sector, which is a particular economic strength of Styria.”

Sustainable, safe, intelligent and convenient
Rail is among the most sustainable forms of passenger and freight transportation. Around 75 per cent of all EU-wide rail kilometres are electrified, and the trend is rising. Rail thus accounts for only 0.4% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector, which together account for about a quarter of the EU’s total emissions. Furthermore, rail is the only mode of transport that continually reduced its emissions and energy consumption between 1990 and 2017, while increasingly relying on renewable energy sources. (Source: europa.eu/year-of-rail/why-rail_en)

Harald Kainz, Rector of TU Graz: “Rail is indisputably a particularly sustainable, intelligent, safe and also convenient means of transport that will make a major contribution to the goal of the European Green Deal – climate neutrality by 2050. It is a matter close to the heart of TU Graz to make the entire railway system even more competitive through appropriate research, innovation and cooperation work together with high-calibre and powerful partners from research, rail operation and industry and to train engineers for the future railway system. The two new professorships set further research accents at TU Graz and at the same time increase our Europe-wide visibility in railway-related research.”

Mark Topal-Gökceli, CTO ÖBB: “In terms of climate protection, there is no way around rail. In the transport sector alone, Austria has to save an additional 8 million tons of CO2 by 2030. And ÖBB is clearly part of the solution here. That is why every step we take today for the mobility of tomorrow is enormously important. We need to rethink mobility so that networked systems push competitiveness; cooperation helps here. The Research Cluster Railway Systems research initiative represents the concentrated know-how of the railway industry. A clear distribution of roles for successful and efficient cooperation is of great importance here, in order to be able to contribute individual strengths and expertise accordingly. The role of the railway is in the active area – from current challenges and support for RTI development to testing and validation under real operating conditions.”

Research Cluster Railway Systems RCRS

Infrastructural issues, such as the interaction between components like the track superstructure, the ballast or the rails, are the focus of scientific interest. © Lunghammer | TU Graz

Franz Kainersdorfer, member of the Management Board of voestalpine AG: “In order to meet the requirements for 24/7 availability while at the same time increasing the stress on the railway, precise knowledge of the reciprocal effects of vehicle and track is essential. With the help of digital twins of the entire real system, simulations and analyses can be accelerated and insights for the design of the entire system can be derived. This requires the cooperation of all partners. Not only do they share their knowledge in this collaboration, but also work together on the future of rail.”

Arnulf Wolfram, CEO Siemens Mobility Austria: “Research and development have traditionally been very important to us. In Austria alone, we apply for around 30 patents for rail vehicles and rail infrastructure every year. We are already connected with our partners at the VIF competence centre, which we are now leading into the future with RCRS. In this way, we want to contribute to a major goal: an innovative and strong railway that is also essential globally in the fight against climate change.”

Jost Bernasch, CEO Virtual Vehicle: “In its railway systems research area, Virtual Vehicle focuses on virtualization and digital operation, and has attracted international attention. Our research focuses on simulation, artificial intelligence and digital twins. With the help of digital twin networks, elementary decision-making bases for the design of chassis and vehicle components can already be created in the development phase. A key driver of this development is also our involvement in Shift2Rail – the first and only European initiative for focused research and development in the field of market-oriented rail solutions. In summary, the Virtual Vehicle, as Europe’s largest research centre for virtual vehicle development, is thus also a central key enabler in the rail sector for sustainable, resilient and green technologies in mobility.”

Further information on Research Cluster Railway Systems