Year of Rail

High-speed rail innovation is set to boost sustainable travel

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In a world where the struggle against climate change demands that we decarbonize and reduce short-haul air and road transportation, long-distance rail is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative.


But for train operators to win commercially, it's not enough simply to provide a less polluting mode of transport. Greater passenger comfort and speed of travel will help nudge people to make the environmentally friendlier choice. Providing these elements brings a need for innovation.

People need to actually choose the train over other modes of transport. And when do you choose a train? Of course, the number-one reason is an acceptable journey time.

Design efficiency drives efficiency 

But speed is not the only benefit of designing faster trains. While aerodynamic considerations are less of an issue for trains running at speeds of up to 160km/h, for high-speed rail they achieve multiple goals: the right design reduces drag and lowers energy consumption at high speeds.


With a new Siemens train, the Velaro Novo, has been able to reduce energy consumption by 30% at 320km/h compared with previous designs, saving more than 1,375 tonnes of CO2 per train per year.


This can be achieved by innovative design to reduce aerodynamic drag, such as reducing gaps and edges in the underfloor area to an absolute minimum.


Components such as voltage converters and main switches are completely insulated to reduce the height and are installed under cladding behind the pantograph [the apparatus on the roof that connects with the overhead power line], further improving aerodynamics and also cutting maintenance costs.


Indeed, new design also lowers operational cost. “From the pure economic angle, as a railway operator, one of your big cost drivers is energy. Looking ahead, energy is not going to get cheaper. Potentially, it’s even going to be more expensive. So, there is a primary economic incentive to buy or to invest in energy-efficient trains,” notes Kutscher.


However, improvements to the aerodynamics mean little if the core power and braking systems are less efficient than they could be. Regenerative braking capabilities for example maximize the energy efficiency of high-speed trains by returning power to the electricity network.

Flexibility is the key to comfort

In addition to the obvious requirements of a speedy journey and an environmentally friendly mode of transportation, there are still a lot of other factors that determine passenger choice.


“These other considerations include comfort,” says Kutscher. “Is it quiet? Do I easily find a seat? Can I get a nice catering service on the train? Can I properly relax? So there are a lot of questions that need to be answered and different passengers take the train for different reasons,” he suggests.


This need to meet different passenger requirements has led to a trend in more frequent train refurbishments, observes Kutscher. “Conscious operators will try to cater to the needs of their passengers. And, for that, the train concept needs to provide flexibility for the operator to actually build out the different environments for the different passengers, for different journeys during the life of a train,” he says.


Operators want to have total freedom to configure their trains however they wish and enable new internal passenger compartment configurations that will further enhance passenger comfort.


High-speed rail operators around the world now have even greater pulling power to attract passengers from other modes of transport and make a positive contribution to climate change mitigation.

Fact Box: The Velaro Novo

Siemens Mobility has designed a new breed of high-speed train since the development of the ICE 3 train for Deutsche Bahn in 1996. The Velaro high-speed train has undergone a continuous program of improvement and, since 2018, Siemens has been testing new innovations on the Velaro Novo platform to enhance further the economic and environmental advantages of high-speed rail technology.


Energy efficiency
The Velaro Novo’s vehicle height has been reduced to 3,940 mm, and the running gear is fully housed and features a lightweight design. Together with other improvements this not only enhances aerodynamics but also contributes to a 15% weight reduction.



The Velaro Novo is available in three performance configurations:

  • very high speed of 360 km/h, with six traction units and traction power of 8,000 kW
  • conventional high speed of up to 320 km/h, with five traction units and 6,600 kW
  • and inter-city traffic of up to 280 km/h, with four traction units and 4,700 kW


  • By increasing vehicle length to 28.75m, the Velaro Novo augments usable interior space by 10%.
  • In its ultimate configuration, Velaro Novo can operate as a fixed 400-m-long train, offering more than 1,200 seats.


The Velaro Novo offers a game-changing 20% reduction in full lifecycle costs.