Climate Change 

Leave the politics at the door; anyone dealing in industries adversely affected by weather has seen the patterns. The old projections of what type of weather rail needs to withstand in each area are unreliable because all the old models are no longer reliable and accurate.

This means flooding where there wasn't previously flooding, new high temperatures affecting track materials in ways that can cause them to shift and buckle, and new cold temperatures in areas that don't have hard-resistant materials. Experts from TRS Staffing say that there are many potential disasters just waiting to happen.

Because of this, massive planning and changes in how planning is done have to take place to build rail designs that can hold up to new challenges that weren't originally part of the local weather. The increase of hurricanes in the Northeast is a prime example of this, as is year after year of record-breaking summer temperatures.

Adjustments to rail have to be made to safely compensate.

Modern Urban 

Growth 54% of the world's population lives in cities and other urban areas, one of the highest in human history. The industrial age has led to a massive boom in urban growth, and plenty of U.N. studies suggest that the number will continue to skyrocket to 2/3 of the world population by 2050.

That means more people than ever who will be in a relatively small area and need reliable transportation in a place that won't be able to work without reliable transportation. Anyone used to rush hour in a city, whether by car or train, knows precisely how over-crowded and stressful this can be. Imagine adding to that substantially.

While these challenges and the rapid growth of "mega-cities" (technically defined as any city with a population of 10 million or more residents), there can also be opportunities to invest in public transportation and create new modern public rail options designed to handle these new challenges.

These challenges fall specifically on rail many times because that's an obvious way to serve the growing urbanization of the world's population. Consider this: in 1950, there was one mega-city. 2015 there are 33-35, depending on which estimates you use for some right on that cut-off mark. By 2030 there are expected to be 40. By many estimates, in 2060, there could be far more, even before considering what continued environmental changes could mean.

Digital Technology Matters 

There's no question that everything is going digital, and as more and more complex demands are being made, it is important to understand that many of the key systems used with rail must go in the same direction. Whether public or commercial, digital technology significantly affects how rail is designed and run.

There's no denying the value of many new things, such as onboard sensors, locating potential issues on the track or among other trains, spotting problems, and automatically working on the most efficient and effective solutions to getting around them.

Stockholm, Sweden, has pioneered using AI & Big Data to get ahead of problems. The computers constantly use data to create a robust predictive model that allows for adjustments based on projected delays, traffic surges, and other issues. This has helped all but eliminate massive delays and the ripple effects they can cause.

These are some of the significant factors that will continue to change how rail is designed and run into the future.