New transport on old infrastructure
Mobility Forus has initiated two research projects on the disused train tracks, Ålgårdbanen (Ålgård line). The aim is to find out if the rail tracks have a future as a public transport service with autonomous shuttles, and how it can be utilized as a test arena for transport infrastructure.
– We are going to evaluate the climate and environmental effects an autonomous public transport service might have and how this might fit into existing services, says Linn Terese Lohne Marken, CEO of Mobility Forus about the research projected funded by Regionale Forskningsfond.
National research institution SINTEF, the Norwegian business cluster VIA and Kolumbus are partners in the research projects.
Ålgårdbanen runs from Ganddal in the municipality of Sandnes to Ålgård in the municipality of Gjesdal. It runs, to a large degree, parallel to highway E39, the main transport ore between Eastern and Western Norway, and crosses into several industrial areas, residential neighborhoods and nature favoured for leisure walks. Traditionally the area has a high degree of private car usage, and locals have for decades voiced interest in re-instating a train service on the tracks.
The Norwegian Rail Administration have recently calculated costs of upgrading the tracks to today’s standard for train operations to cost approximately 195 million euro (2 billion NOK). Part of the research project is to evaluate the cost of upgrading the infrastructure for autonomous shuttles which operates on digital rather than physical tracks.
– This initiative will seek answers to whether it is socially and economically sustainable with a public transport service with self-driving vehicles on the Ålgård line. If results are positive the tracks would be preserved beneath the asphalt, says Lohne Marken, emphasizing that at this stage the initiative is focused on research to find answers. Any upgrade to or new use of the Ålgård line infrastructure will be more extensive and require political consideration.
Transformation of the transport sector
Europe and Norwegian authorities have adopted ambitious goals for the use of new technology and reducing emissions in the transport sector. An important goal is to transfer more people from private cars to public transport. In European context, intelligent transport systems (ITS) are considered fundamental to the transformation of the transport sector to achieve the target emission reduction of 90% by 2050.
– Intelligent transport systems is big business. There is a rapid development in the market for new technology within the sector, says Karina Lavik, business developer at Mobility Forus.
– Both legislation and technology have opened for higher speeds and more comfortable driving experiences in the years following Mobility Forus’ first operation on public roads in 2018. Norway is an early adopter of intelligent transport systems and autonomous vehicles, but to further strengthen Norway’s position within the industry we must accelerate our ambitions, says Lavik.
Test arena for green transport
The funding from VRI Rogaland will map the potential for business development with the Ålgård line as a test arena for intelligent transport systems.
– The region has companies with high tech solutions for automation. There are companies here that have delivered products for complex infrastructure projects, including the world’s longest underwater tunnel. For the road network and Norwegian traffic authorities to handle smarter cars, buses and lorries in the long term, knowledge and testing of new technology is needed, says Helen Roth, general manager of the VIA cluster.
– This is a large international industry with an enormous market potential for Norwegian suppliers, she adds.