The Future of Rail
December 7, 2022
Posted by Larry B. Jordan
At the Wi-Tronix User Conference back in June, I suggested that we double the volume of freight rail and passenger rail by 2035.
Why? Because for rail to be a viable competitor in the future global transportation market, we must drastically improve the safety, efficiency, and emission of global transportation. And what the industry needs to get there is a unifying vision and a plan to see it through because a vision without a plan is just wishful thinking. That’s not to say that my vision is necessarily the “correct” or best one and I hope everyone contributes their thoughts so that all parties have buy-in. But I presented this vision forward to, at the very least, get us to start talking about what the future of our industry could look like.
As we’ve seen from other industries like aeronautics in the 1960s, when there is a clear, singular goal that everyone is working towards, that goal is not just aspirational, it’s achievable.
You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up now since the User’s Conference was six months ago. Fair point! But I think that the end of the year is the optimal time to be looking ahead.
So the question begs: how do we double the volume of freight and passenger rail by 2035?
The vision is broken into 3 key components that, if you look at history, are needed to actualize it:
Rail needs to adopt an agile mindset. I know that this can be a sensitive subject, but the industry needs to become more nimble to the changing circumstances and the world. Historically, rail has been able to thrive because of its ability to remain constant, but adaptation is quickly becoming a critical component of future industries. Especially, when you consider imminent climate problems, the agility of rail is not just aspirational, it is absolutely essential.
We will also need the right technology. It’s easy to talk about tech innovation for the sake of innovating, but what I’m talking about is innovating with a focus on a particular gathering vision. Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In rail, I believe we need to embrace this quote in its totality—advancing the technology of rail such that even we ourselves marvel at how well it works.
But none of this would make any difference if we didn’t have the will to make it happen. That’s what landed man on the moon. It’s what has led Space X and Virgin Galactic to pioneer space travel. It’s what even founded rail itself centuries ago. But in recent years, we have lost the will to make intentional innovation a priority. But now that freight trucking is making inroads into rail, we need to remind ourselves that rail’s dominance is not a certainty. And if we want to be able to iterate into the future, we’re going to need to have the will to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We will need the will to be agile and invest in the right technology if rail is going to continue to be the best option for a sustainable future.
But these are just my thoughts. As I said, my vision may not be the best one. What are your thoughts? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.