The digital railway's interface to the future city

Ben Dunlop | 10 Mar 2016 | Comments

As the population of cities continues to grow, how will rail contribute to the growth of hubs?

By 2050, it is expected that nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. By 2030, there will be more than 40 so-called “mega-cities” worldwide with populations of more than 10 million, such as Delhi, Shanghai and Tokyo, tipped to be the world’s largest urban agglomerations. 

Future-proofing these cities will bring new challenges, from mitigating climate change to managing huge spikes in demand for transport capacity. One of the most important features of the urbanisation of human society is the creation of new and complex relationships. Increasingly, cities will have to directly understand and manage their relationships with other cities. 

The relationship between London, Birmingham and Edinburgh and, now, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull for HS3, are critical issues for the digital railway. If such multi-city networks as the “Northern Powerhouse” are to reach its potential, the brakes on growth will come from limitation on the growth of city hubs. In the absence of a solution to the housing crisis, demand for intercity travel will continue to surge, creating increasing need for operational optimisation, multimodal integration (of both passenger travel and particularly last-mile freight solutions) and capacity management. 

In my opinion, railway capacity around hubs is already dependent upon integration between high-speed, metro and light rail. This shows the impact of urbanisation on demand for rail services; and the experience of rapid urbanisation in the developing world will be a crucial contribution towards understanding these challenges – and will drive new collaborative partnerships. 

I can see this transforming the digital railway’s interfaces at the city-level – whilst the benefits will only be realised by those who can demonstrate the ability to understand macro-level demand and the integration of city-to-city business processes.