Climate Change
Leave the politics at the door, anyone dealing in industries that are adversely affected by weather has seen the patterns. The old projections of what type of weather rail needs to withstand in each area is no longer reliable because all the old models are no longer reliable and no longer 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, new cold temperatures in areas that don't have cold resistant materials. Experts from TRS Staffing say that essentially, there’s a lot of potential disasters just waiting to happen.

Because of this massive planning and changes in how planning is done have to take place in order to build rail designs that can hold up to new challenges that weren't originally part of the local weather. The increase of hurricanes to the Northeast is a prime example of this, as are 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 now, and that number is one of the highest in human history. The industrial age has led to a massive boom in urban growth, and there are plenty of U.N. studies suggesting that number is going to continue to sky rocket all the way 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 an area that won't be able to work without reliable transportation. Anyone used to rush hour in a city whether by car or by train knows exactly how over-crowded and stressful this can be already. Imagine adding to that substantially.

While these challenges and the rapid growth of "mega-cities" (technically defined as any city that has 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 are challenges that 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. In 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 2060 there could be far more even before taking into account 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 in nature, digital technology is having a major effect on how rail is designed and run.

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

Stockholm, Sweden has been a pioneer with using AI & Big Data to get ahead of problems. The computers constantly go through data to create a strong predictive model that then allows for adjustments on the fly based on projected delays, traffic surges, and other issues. This has really helped all but eliminate massive delays as well as the ripple effects they can cause.

These are some of the really major factors that are going to continue to change how rail is designed and run into the future.