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Social Innovation

The future of urban train networks

Take a trip around Europe to discover the latest innovations in urban rail networks

As our cities grow, more pressure is put on urban rail networks.

Here we take a look at how innovations in technology are helping to overcome these challenges.

European Train Innovation

As urban development continues, metro train networks are having to find innovative ways to improve efficiency, expand their reach and enhance passenger experiences. As you'll see from our examples, the complex nature of modern urban environments presents a multitude of issues that are being solved by ground-breaking technology.


Paris' new transport plan is focused on the creation of new driverless metro lines, the "Grand Paris Express" - a $25 billion expansion of the century-old Paris Métro. Faced with the challenge of transporting more passengers in a continuous and fluid way, the driverless metro system will bring practical solutions: high headway, high flexibility (adapting the service frequency to real time demand), high service level (24/7 service), and higher commercial speed. In addition, driverless metro systems considerably reduce operating costs (by up to 40%) mainly bringing with them human resources flexibility. This means public transport prices are significantly reduced and accessible to more of the population.


The Moscow Metro not only serves over 2.5 million passengers daily but is the operator of the world's largest Wi-Fi network. Even in the deepest tunnels Muscovites can access free, fast Wi-Fi and recent tests delivered 500 Mbps actual Ethernet throughput, setting a new benchmark in the industry. Whilst in some cities Wi-Fi is available on station platforms, before going dark in the tunnels, Moscow is the first city in Europe where the service is available for the full journey.


Copenhagen's driverless metro system became operational in October 2002 and its 34 unattended trains travel at a maximum speed of 80 km/h, ensuring that passengers have two minutes to wait during peak hours, and are guaranteed a 24-hour service. Copenhagen's metro continues to be at the forefront of innovation by investing in new IoT (Internet of Things) technology to automatically adjust train frequency to best cater for change in passenger numbers. Using Hitachi's IoT platform, Lumada, Copenhagen's metro will combine the latest advances in data management and control systems to create a solution that will improve the services provided.


Fibre optic cables were embedded in the huge concrete wall panels of Crossrail's Liverpool Street Station concourse allowing the construction team to monitor the changes in strain conditions during three key stages of construction; tunnel, concourse and base excavation. This groundbreaking technique collected new data about commonly used construction techniques with the potential to refine and improve future design and encourage savings in materials and cost through more accurate modelling.


The deep and difficult digging of Rome's new metro lines has resulted in the building of two "museum-stations" as archaeologists have worked side-by-side with engineers after more than 40,000 ancient Roman artefacts were unearthed. The first to open, San Giovanni Station, has been ingeniously designed to take advantage of its subterranean location to create an immersive time machine experience for travellers and visitors with the artefacts exhibited in softly-lit glass-fronted panels throughout the station. Even with new construction, cities are finding innovative ways to preserve their history.


Deutsche Bahn (DB), Europe's largest railway and rail infrastructure operator deploys drones in an effort to combat graffiti-spraying gangs. The metre wide drones, each costing €60,000 can fly for up to 80 minutes at a speed of 33 mph, can operate autonomously or be remotely controlled by a human operator. The drones' motors emit little noise, making them ideal for surveillance. Removing graffiti costs DB €7.6million a year and it's hoped these drones will help lower this annual cost.


Like its counterparts in Germany, Dutch railway company ProRail uses drones equipped with infrared sensors to check the switch point heating systems on its tracks - if the switch points are frozen, trains are not allowed to move on the track, causing substantial delays. Using the drone's images, the company can see whether the switch point heating systems are operating correctly. Checking the switch points manually is labour-intensive and also dangerous for employees, so drones can offer a number of advantages.

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Rome (2) -
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Berlin (4) -
Amsterdam (5) -
Copenhagen (6) -  
Paris (7) -