Materials have become active today thanks to technological innovation. In trains and stations alike, they are being used in many ways and yielding major benefits.
An innovative material is one with added or augmented characteristics or one that can perform a function. It is a material that is no longer inert and that can even become active thanks to technology. There are many applications in the realm of rail transport.
One example is train aerodynamics. Today, trains may run in two directions, unlike airplanes, which fly in only one. A train perfectly designed from an aerodynamic standpoint to run in one direction can sometimes transform into a sort of parachute and create drag when running in the opposite direction. Aerodynamic shapes adapted to whichever direction the train is going would improve its aerodynamics spectacularly and reduce its electricity consumption, in the case of a TGV by at least 3%. To tackle this challenge, programmable active materials and 4D printing are two promising solutions.
A second field of exploration: rail infrastructure. TECH SNCF teams are working with the prestigious university MIT in the United States on regenerating alloys for metallic materials. Their goal is to design rails that will “repair” themselves!
Yet another field of inquiry: dynamic furniture and fittings in stations. Partitions, counters, seats… how can a station be reconfigured according to passenger flows? How can more modularity be introduced? One idea: a floor that would transform into seats.
Dynamic furniture and fittings will also be found on trains with innovations like self-cleaning window glass, which will eliminate the need for windscreen wipers.
For the engineers at TECH SNCF, the task is now to verify that these promising innovations can become standard equipment, with all safety constraints in rail transport taken into account t and with a viable economic model.