Connect with us


On track for reduced noise pollution and railway safety amplifiers

Avatar photo




With more people getting on track for sustainable high-speed rail, reducing noise pollution and sophisticated traffic management will boost adoption.

The whistle coming down the tracks is the sound of Europe’s rail renaissance. Coming round the bend is increased adoption of high-speed rail transportation which promises to reduce road traffic and to curb harmful emissions. Cars are major culprits in air pollution, accounting for 14.5% of Europe’s total carbon emissions. Around half the flights in Europe are short haul journeys of less than 1 500km which generates many more emissions than the equivalent journey by rail.

The European Green Deal policy features plans to double high-speed rail by 2030 and triple it by 2050. At the moment, 75% of freight is moved by road, so movement of goods by rail is set to double by 2050.

Making trains more competitive with road and air travel means market reform and improvements to the passenger experience as well as infrastructural upgrades. Prioritising sustainable rail transport promises significant benefits but unfortunately, it comes with unseen dangers of its own and not just for passengers.

Low frequency

One of the lesser-known hazards of rail transport is the kind of noise pollution nobody can hear. Inaudible, low frequency ground vibrations emanate from the rolling stock on the railway as it passes. As well as affecting the structural integrity of nearby infrastructure, these vibrations can have a detrimental effect on people’s health, causing headaches, fatigue and even irritability in people experiencing them.

‘Right now, it is possible to reduce vibrations by putting rubber pads under the tracks,’ said Giovanni Capellari, co-founder of Phononic Vibes. ‘That system is okay for new railways because you can put them in during construction.’ His company specialises in noise and vibration technology. For an existing railway line, rubber pads are very expensive because you have to remove the tracks to install them, according to Capellari.

The BioMetaRail project is researching and developing special submerged barriers that can be deployed alongside the track to absorb the vibrations. The barrier walls rely on their shape for their noise reduction performance, rather than the properties of the material.

Known as metamaterials, these synthetic composite materials have designer properties not found in nature. Their internal structures are engineered to interact with the low frequency sound waves of a passing train to trap and insulate against them.

‘Basically, the idea is that we use shapes that have some resonant effects at frequencies that are typical for vibrations in the railway sector,’ Capellari said. In this context, the frequency of vibrations is typically between 30 and 60 Hertz. The result is a design for a two-by-three metre concrete structure that resembles a large window.

This ‘works for very low frequencies, which is very good for railway trains.’ Additionally, the “window panes” could be divided into even smaller sizes to trap a wider range of frequencies.

Distinctive design

If the panels did not have their distinctive shape and design and were simply slabs of concrete, they would not be able to halt the train’s ground-borne vibrations as effectively as BioMetaRail’s barriers. For ease of installation, there is no need to lift the railway line as these panels can be inserted into the ground alongside the track like a sunken fence, to protect clusters of homes or buildings.

The research team is also investigating the ideal material, thickness and sizes of the barriers for their vibration damping effects.

Capellari’s BioMetaRail project is an offshoot of the BOHEME project, which stands for Bio-Inspired Hierarchical MetaMaterials. BOHEME investigates and develops different types of mechanical metamaterials inspired by principles found in nature.

From spider webs to shell whorls, BOHEME characterises natural systems and studies their possible applications. ‘The goal is to take the results from BOHEME and try to understand the best geometry (for the rail barriers) considering the market, the cost, production and installation,’ said Capellari.

‘The next step is to go to market,’ he said, as well as obtain certification for the vibration-blocking intervention. ‘There’s no such kind of system in the market right now.’

Ultimately, these panels will be lining the ground alongside the track in residential areas, allowing rail networks to significantly boost their train traffic without adversely affecting the people and buildings nearby.

In 2021, it was proposed to increase speed limits on Trans-European Transport Network trains to 160km/h or more by 2040. Increasing rail traffic also makes it vital that network operators are able to monitor the entire length of their railroads in real time. Acoustic monitoring can help achieve both these goals.

Richard Aaroe’s Next Generation Rail Technologies has developed a passive listening device that can provide railroad operators with an early warning about obstructions on the track. It can even predict what the obstruction most likely is, and where it might be found. The SAFETRACK project is working on a standalone system to ‘give accurate real-time warning of anything that happens on the infrastructure,’ Aaroe said.

The system comprises sensors, which pick up vibrations on the track, and software that identifies where on the track the sound originates and what could have caused it.

Sophisticated microphone

‘In a way, it is a very, very sophisticated microphone,’ Aaroe explained. The acoustic vibrations on the track that are picked up by the sensors have a ‘unique fingerprint’. The sound of a tree branch falling on the track is distinct from a mudslide, for example. Aaroe’s company has built up a ‘library’ of these railway acoustic fingerprints.

He compares the technology to when submarines use sonar to detect surface ships by picking up its acoustic signature. ‘Today, that technology has evolved so that you can not only pick up that there is a vessel passing, but you can pick up the type of engine, the class of the vessel itself, the speed, direction, and so on,’ Aaroe said.

The same principles apply with rail acoustics. ‘Every incident has a uniqueness and we have identified that and then we can report this to either the train controller, operator or even the driver themselves.’

The sensors are relatively small, about the size of a smartphone. An installation includes four sensors, one on each rail of the track and then another two 10 metres further along the track. Because sound travels through solid rails much better than through air, one sensor package can detect acoustic vibrations five kilometres in each direction.

The technology is currently being trialled by national rail networks in the UK, Germany and Spain, and it will soon be deployed in another three countries, according to Aaroe.

The European Union is committed to growing its rail transportation as part of the European Green Deal which aims to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. As more people opt for rail over cars, technology that makes trains safer and quieter will increasingly be important.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

Continue Reading


Global warming did the Unthinkable

Avatar photo



French ski resort closes permanently because there’s not enough snow, CNN informs. Winter is coming. And for yet another ski resort in France, that means facing up to the reality that there isn’t enough snow to carry on.

La Sambuy, a town which runs a family skiing destination near Mont Blanc in the French Alps, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts because global warming has shrunk its ski season to just a few weeks, meaning it’s no longer profitable to keep them open.

“Before, we used to have snow practically from the first of December up until the 30th of March,” La Sambuy’s mayor, Jacques Dalex, told CNN.

Last winter, however, there was only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow,” he added. That meant “very quickly, stones and rocks appeared on the piste.”

Able to open for fewer than five weeks during January and February, Dalex said the resort was looking at an annual operating loss of roughly 500,000 euros ($530,000). Keeping the lifts going alone costs 80,000 euros per year.

La Sambuy isn’t a huge resort, with just three lifts and a handful of pistes reaching up to a top height of 1,850 meters (about 6,070 feet).

But with a range of slopes running from expert “black” to beginner “green” and relatively cheap ski passes, it was popular with families seeking more of a low-key Alps experience than offered by bigger, higher-altitude destinations.

UK snow report website On The Snow calls it “an idyllic place to visit, with exceptional panoramic views and everything you need in a friendly resort.”

La Sambuy is not the only French ski resort facing a meltdown. Last year, Saint-Firmin, another small Alpine ski destination, opted to remove its ski lift after seeing its winter season dwindle from months to weeks, a situation also blamed on climate change.

Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001, and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites in the country.

According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience “a very high snow supply risk” at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of global warming above pre-industrial levels, without use of artificial snow.

A report published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found a “substantial possibility” of global temperature rises crossing this 2-degree Celsius threshold by mid-century.

La Sambuy’s Dalex said that “all winter sports resorts in France are impacted by global warming,” particularly those at a medium mountain altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.

Continue Reading


G20 summit must formulate plan for Global South climate change threat

Avatar photo



The G20 summit in India must have a “concrete plan” for “scaled-up” green financing for the Global South as a critical strategy to combat climate change, affirms the founder of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organizations.

The comments from deVere Group’s Nigel Green comes as leaders of the Group of 20 top industrialised and developing countries will gather this weekend in New Delhi for a summit that will celebrate the end of India’s 12-month G20 presidency.

He says: Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a present reality. Rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, melting ice caps, and sea-level rise are already affecting communities, ecosystems, and economies worldwide. 

“The Global South, comprising developing nations with limited resources, bears a disproportionate burden in this climate crisis, despite contributing minimally to greenhouse gas emissions.

“As such, the leader of the G20 – the richest countries in the world – must use the summit starting in India this week to formulate a concrete plan for scaled-up green financing to help the Global South tackle the biggest issue of our time. 

“A failure to do this could, ultimately, have catastrophic consequences for our planet and its communities.”

Green financing encompasses a range of mechanisms designed to support sustainable, environmentally friendly projects that mitigate climate change and enhance resilience. 

These include investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate adaptation, sustainable agriculture, and conservation efforts. 

“One of the major challenges faced by the Global South is access to financial resources needed for climate action. Developing nations often lack the financial capacity to invest in green projects without incurring significant debt,” says the deVere CEO.

“The G20 summit must play a pivotal role in bridging this financial gap by prioritising green financing and creating mechanisms to make it more accessible.”

G20 countries, being the largest economies in the world, must also “commit to increasing in a considerable way their financial contributions to international climate finance mechanisms. These funds are essential for providing support to developing nations in their efforts to mitigate emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” he notes.

Nigel Green goes on to add that the G20 summit should also serve as a platform for fostering collaboration between developed and developing nations. 

This collaboration can take various forms, including knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and capacity building. 
In addition, to scale up climate action, it is crucial to engage the private sector. G20 countries can promote public-private partnerships and initiatives that attract private sector investment in green projects. 

“This can be achieved through incentives, guarantees, or risk-sharing mechanisms that make investments in sustainability more appealing to businesses.”

Innovation in financial instruments, such as green bonds and climate insurance, can unlock alternative funding sources for climate projects in developing nations. 

The deVere CEO says: “The G20 summit must urgently encourage the development and adoption of such instruments to diversify funding options.”

The G20 summit in India presents a crucial opportunity to prioritize green financing for the Global South as a key strategy to combat climate change. 

This summit can be a turning point in the global fight against climate change, demonstrating that unity, innovation, and commitment can drive transformative change toward a sustainable future for all.

“The urgency of climate action cannot be overstated, and the global community must act decisively. 

“By committing to green financing, promoting collaboration, and bridging the financial gap, the G20 can lead the way in ensuring that all nations, particularly those in the Global South, have the resources and support they need to address the climate crisis effectively,” concludes Nigel Green.

Continue Reading


To tackle wildfires, researchers in Europe team up with frontline forces

Avatar photo



The EU is seeking to limit growing threats from blazes through the use of satellites, artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles.


Picture the following scene on the French island of Corsica: a local fire service uses a special surveillance camera to detect smoke in the area, quickly declare the outbreak of a blaze and mobilise a targeted response.

No, the action in the Biguglia municipality on Corsica’s northeastern coast wasn’t one of the many wildfire emergencies in Europe in 2023. Rather, it was a demonstration in October 2022 under an EU-funded research project to help regions in Europe counter threats from wildfires.

Teaming up

The Biguglia exercise used a smoke bomb to simulate the start of a fire and an extensive data network to trigger the rapid-reaction steps. It involved a service that has 1 300 firefighters who protect a population in this part of Corsica – the Mediterranean’s fourth-biggest island – that grows to around 400 000 in summer.

‘This first demonstration on Corsica was very positive,’ said Michael Pelissier, a firefighter who participated in the test.

As part of the EU project, called SAFERS, a similar firefighting exercise took place in the Piedmont region of Italy in February 2023 and two more trials are planned in Greece and Spain toward the end of this year.

After the next two demonstrations, we would like to push the management system forward in Europe and also beyond,’ said Claudio Rossi, who coordinates the project and is a senior researcher at an Italian research and innovation centre called the Links Foundation in the city of Turin.

With the help of EU funding, Europe’s research community is joining forces with firefighters to prevent fires from spreading or from happening at all. SAFERS is one of several EU projects to combine resources and know-how for tackling wildfires on the continent.

Satellite support

The focus of SAFERS is primarily on the use of satellites and artificial intelligence, or AI, to provide information that could help save lives and contain environmental damage.

‘The orchestrated utilisation of AI-powered solutions can increase resilience to forest fires,’ Rossi said.

Running for three and a half years through March 2024, the project features weather and hazard maps, fire-detection techniques, input from the general public and other tools to help local authorities prepare.

The ultimate goal is to build on the demonstrations in France, Greece, Italy and Spain and develop a comprehensive wildfire-control system for use around Europe.

By combining satellite images and other data, the system is intended to give first responders, decision-makers and ordinary people a clearer view of what’s happening and to facilitate the best responses.

Earth-observation data from the EU’s Copernicus programme is the primary source of information. This would be combined with data collected from smoke detectors, mobile applications, social media and forecast models.

Present threat

A stark reminder that wildfires pose a growing threat in Europe came from news images in July 2023 of tourists fleeing flames on the Greek island of Rhodes and blazes spreading near the Sicilian city of Palermo.

A month later, attention turned to Spain and Portugal where blazes destroyed more than 16 300 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of villages and tourist accommodations.

The Biguglia municipality on Corsica was chosen as a SAFERS demonstration site in part because of a major fire there in 2017.

‘These last years we have noticed that, notably because of global warming, the summer season has a tendency to expand,’ said Pelissier, the firefighter. ‘So we are increasingly threatened by forest fires.’

The EU, which recently doubled its firefighting fleet of aircraft, has deployed more than 10 planes, 500 firefighters and 100 vehicles to help control and quell wildfires in Greece alone during the summer of 2023.

Over the past two months, the EU has also mobilised such support for Cyprus and – outside Europe – Tunisia. The moves were closely coordinated with national authorities.

Hotspot training

Another EU-funded project – TREEADS – plans to feature drones, high-altitude balloons and satellites in a Europe-wide protection system.

‘We can’t only invest in fire trucks, helicopters or planes – we need to train our communities before the fires happen,’ said Kemal Sarp Arsava, who coordinates the project.

Arsava is a senior research scientist at Norway-based RISE Fire Research, which specialises in fire safety.

TREEADS aims to establish a comprehensive fire-management platform covering all three stages of wildfires – before, during and after a blaze breaks out.

Arsava is a native of Turkey who has also worked and studied in the US.

While in the US in late 2019, he was reminded of the international dimension of the wildfires threat by noticing the effect of Australia’s major outbreak of bushfires at the time.

Based then in the state of New Hampshire, Arsava said the blazes caused a slight haze in North America while primarily hurting air quality in South America. 

‘The smoke from all of the wildfires in Australia basically crossed the Pacific Ocean and even changed the colour of the sky in America,’ he said.

Drones and balloons

TREEADS began in December 2021 and is due to run until end-May 2025.

The initiative brings together research institutes and companies from 14 European countries and Taiwan.

Besides Norway and Taiwan, the participants are from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

The team of researchers is developing new technologies that’ll be tested in eight countries represented in the project.

One plan is to use drones and high-altitude balloons to detect blazes early, collect data for fire crews and even aid their actions by dropping fire-suppressant materials.

A four-layer approach is foreseen: low-altitude drones to locate fire hotspots; mid-altitude drones to drop fire suppressants; high-altitude balloons to provide a broader view; and satellites for the whole picture.

The trials are due to start early next year.

The project is also testing a virtual-reality headset to train firefighters who aren’t typically assigned to dealing with wildfires. That means teaching city firefighters to deal with blazes in different terrains should the need arise.

In total, more than 26 technologies including for fire protection and suppression will be enhanced, developed and verified in TREEADS.

‘These new technologies will make it easier to fight wildfires in the future,’ said Arsava.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

Continue Reading