The sustainable freight railway: Designing the freight vehicle – track system for higher delivered tonnage with improved availability at reduced cost


The Sustrail objective is to contribute to the rail freight system to allow it to regain position and market, accounting for:

  • The increase of the demand of the total freight transport volumes: 40% (in tonne-kilometres) by 2030 and 80% by 2050;
  • The shift of 30% of road freight over 300km to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030 (50% by 2050) as targeted by the European Commission.

Within this framework and motivated by the necessity and opportunity for change in rail transport, Sustrail provides the approach, structure, and technical content to improve the Sustainability, Competitiveness, and Availability of European railway networks thanks to an integrated approach.

Innovations in rolling stock and freight vehicles combined with innovations in the track components will be pursued by:

  • adopting a holistic approach;
  • implementing a clear methodology and viable procedures
  • setting up appropriate business cases
  • ensuring the penetration and the exploitation of the project results by means of effective dissemination activities
  • cooperating with National and EU authorities in view of future proposals for recommendations to be adopted for enhancing freight transport in the railway context


A deliberate approach is adopted to guarantee innovations in both vehicles and rail infrastructures: Methodology, Implementation Timeframe, and Means of Application are the three key feature of this approach.

  • Methodology: employment of a holistic approach that leverages the skills of the consortium, including vehicles and their subcomponents, freight, passenger, track and substructure, and operational procedures. State of the art, benchmarking, and integration of ongoing rail projects are fundamental in the conduct of technical activities.
  • Implementation Timeframe: we will develop both short term and medium term solutions. We are focused an actions that can have an impact today and in the near tomorrow. Several consortium members have very strict parameters on what can and cannot be supported. For example, rail companies that have recently retrofitted vehicle systems at large expense are not receptive to new short term vehicle requirements. However, other topics and other timeframes can be supported. SUSTRAIL will balance actions for short term impact with room to be strikingly innovative for mid term impact.
  • Means of Application: Adoption of an integrated approach. The Sustrail solutions (in vehicles, track, and operations) will be demonstrated on real routes, which have been selected based on their geographic dispersion, their type (freight vs. passenger) and their frequency of traffic.
SustRail Structure

The Sustrail Integrated Approach

Expected Results - Key Innovations

The main scientific and technological expected results of the project are:

  • The development of advanced vehicle dynamics concepts based on new wheel profiles and improvements in suspension design responding to the needs of a mixed traffic railway
  • Developments in the traction and braking systems for high speed low impact freight operation
  • Novel designs and materials for lightweight high performance freight wagon body vehicles and bogie structures, within a targeted maximum speed of 160km/h and an increased axle load, equal to 25 tons
  • Advanced condition based predictive maintenance tools for critical components of both railway vehicles and the track
  • Identification of performance based design principles to move towards the zero maintenance ideal for the vehicle/track system
  • Optimisation of the ballast system and novel ground stabilisation and monitoring techniques to reduce track geometry degradation
  • Optimisation of the track system and geometry, including switches and crossing
    Full-scale field tests will be carrying on proving and demonstrating the feasibility of the Sustrail solutions on real routes
    Business cases will be set up, accounting for whole-system implementation, including phasing in of novel technologies and strategies for the equitable redistribution of whole-system savings.

The market penetration of the Sustrail results is guaranteed by the participation of:

  • railway suppliers
  • research groups
  • railway operators (under-takings and infrastructure managers), guaranteeing that project solutions will satisfy user needs and fulfill railway requirements
  • railway organizations at EU and international level


SUSTRAIL started in June 2011 with a duration of four years (June 2011 - May 2015)