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The railway industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the need for high efficiency, reduced emissions and enhanced passenger experience, and growing importance of technologies such as automation, hybrid and electric propulsion systems, advanced train control and signalling, and smart monitoring and surveillance systems. In the last three years alone, there have been over 46,000 patents filed and granted in the railway industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Environmental sustainability in Railway: Electric locomotives. Buy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 9,000 patents to analyse innovation intensity for the railway industry, there are 10+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Electric locomotive is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability

An electric locomotive is a railway vehicle, which is powered by electricity from overhead power cables, a third rail or an onboard battery energy storage system. Unlike conventional locomotives that use diesel engines, electric trains use electricity to power traction motors that move the wheels along rails. An electric locomotive typically emits up to 35% lesser carbon than its diesel counterparts.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established railway companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of electric locomotives.

Key players in electric locomotives – a disruptive innovation in the railway industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to electric locomotives

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
BYD 76 Unlock Company Profile
CRRC Group 63 Unlock Company Profile
Siemens 42 Unlock Company Profile
Toshiba 23 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Electric 19 Unlock Company Profile
Alstom 15 Unlock Company Profile
Android Industries 8 Unlock Company Profile
Norfolk Southern 7 Unlock Company Profile
Plasser & Theurer 6 Unlock Company Profile
Harsco 6 Unlock Company Profile
Gemac Engineering Machinery 6 Unlock Company Profile
Daifuku 5 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Chinese company BYD is the leading patent filer in electric locomotives. Its patents are mostly related to straddle-type monorail electric trains featuring multiple guiding and stabilising wheels, innovative collector shoe assemblies, dynamic electric regenerative braking, and lightweight bogie frames that are structured to optimise the pass way for emergency exits.

SkyRail is a fully-integrated urban rail transit solution offered by the company. The SkyRail monorail vehicles run on an elevated single-track beam that supports, stabilises, and guides the carriages. The advanced design of the locomotive aims at optimising energy efficiency, safety, passenger comfort, and cost-effectiveness.

BYD provides rail vehicles with autonomous driving technology and futuristic design for the Bahia SkyRail project, a proposed monorail system to serve the metropolitan region of Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia. It will be the world's first SkyRail line to be partially built above the sea. The first Bahia SkyRail vehicle was rolled off the production line by BYD in Shenzhen, China, in April 2021.

Other leading innovators in the electric locomotives space include Chinese state-owned rollingstock manufacturer CRRC, Siemens, and Toshiba.

In terms of application diversity, Android Industries leads the pack, followed by Daifuku and BYD. By geographic reach, Android Industries is the leading company, followed by Harsco and Daifuku.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the railway industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Railway.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.