Tech innovation is the key to better trains

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Tech innovation is the key to better trains

Trains are timely, can transport cargo and are environmentally friendly. Advanced technologies such as vehicle, parts, signals, control and communication are integrated, and the front and back-end industrial connection is significant. According to consultancy company SCI Verkehr, the global railway market grows by 3.4 percent annually and is expected to reach 230 trillion won by 2018.

Countries are making overseas expansion: Germany’s Siemens is focusing on railway systems, while France’s Alstom promotes high-speed cars and high-tech light rail. In Japan, train car manufacturers work in joint production. China has its own technologies and is growing rapidly, winning a bid to build high-speed rail in Indonesia.

With technology established in 2004, Korea introduced KTX and developed Korean KTX-Sancheon in 2009. This February, an urban maglev levitation train was developed and opened in Incheon International Airport. High-Speed Electric Multiple Unit train (HEMU) will operate in the light-rail section. However, domestic train technology is about 83 percent of developed countries, and the Korean railway market is 1 trillion won annually ($902 million), only 2 percent of the global market. As Korea depends on foreign manufacturers for key parts, we need to analyze the trends of the global railway market and Korea’s technology level and prepare strategies.

Firstly, since each train car requires over 35,000 parts, Korea needs to nurture parts makers. France established the railway cluster Transalley and produces 40 percent of the parts used in the country. Parts production is suitable for small and medium-sized companies, and by supporting research and development and commercialization, they can create jobs and contribute to the enhanced competitiveness of the railway industry.

Secondly, it is important to create technology verification grounds and initial markets through research and development. Railway operating agencies should participate in research and development and use the developed products to secure technology verification and purchasing center at the same time.

Thirdly, we need a strategy to expand to the overseas market. According to the Korea Railway Association research, the biggest challenge is lack of network and financial support. The government should provide various export support packages such as systematic technology financing, mentoring and technology road shows.

Fourthly, we need to invest on future railway technology by integrating IT technology. When we secure leading technologies in remote monitoring and control and intelligent integrated control using ICT and IoT, we will be able to dominate the global market.

The global railway market is fiercely competitive, but when the government, industry and research institutes work together, Korean technology will be world-class and garner the attention of the world in the next InnoTrans fair.

Kim Byung-soo, CEO of the Korea Agency for Infrastructure Technology Advancement
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