Digital Rail for Germany

Digitalization, automation and artificial intelligence are the key to greater capacity and an optimal utilization of the rail network. The vision of Digital Rail for Germany (Digitale Schiene Deutschland; DSD) comprises a digital, highly automated railway system. Digital interlockings (DSTW), the Euro­pean Train Control System (ETCS) and Automatic Train Operation (ATO) come together to form the basis of this vision.

The implementation of the DSD initiative started in 2020. As part of the launch package, the concrete planning and installation of ETCS and digital interlockings has begun in the context of the Stuttgart Digital Hub (Digitaler Knoten Stuttgart; DKS), the Cologne — Rhine/Main high-speed line and the ability to traverse the Trans-European Scandinavia — ­ Mediterranean corridor (ScanMed). Stuttgart will be the first region in Germany to receive the digital train control and interlocking technology. However, equipping the track infrastructure alone is not enough. In order to support the corresponding refitting of vehicles, the BMDV has published a vehicle funding directive for the affected vehicles in the DKS, meaning that the vehicle equipment (regional transport and S-Bahn (metro) multiple units) could begin in 2022. A total of 333 vehicles have been retrofitted for ETCS and ATO.

In the first half-year of 2023, the development project ­Sensors ­4 Rail (S 4 R) was successfully completed. The follow-­­up project Automated Train will replace S 4 R: within the next three years, for the first time we will see fully automated, driv­­­erless provision and stabling runs, which will result in a more flexible use of trains in the railway system of the future. The project will include the fully automated assembly and dismantling of the train. Moreover, sensor-based obstacle de­­­tection will be used to demonstrate an intervention in the vehicle control, i.e. by using intelligent software combined with sensors at the front of the train, it will be able to recog­nize the environment and respond (brake inde­­pendent­­­­­ly if obstacles are detected. The Federal Ministry of Econom­­ics and Climate Protection is spon­soring the project with € 42.6 million.

The roll-out schedule is currently being further developed taking into consideration clearly defined equipment priorities. An early increase in capacity is to be realized by prioritizing the equipping of associated transport corridors, with obsolescence and operational concerns to be taken into account and the equipping of the basic infrastructure being started in advance. Observing the general modernization of the high-performance network is also included in the DSD roll-out plan. The digitalization of the rail network on the high-­performance corridors is therefore being carried out at pace.

DSD is a major lever for advances in Germany’s transition to more sustainable mobility. In the middle of July, the respective ETCS equipment strategy up to 2028 was published on the DB Netz AG Web site under the Network Statement 2023. The published content provides details about the planned equipping of the lines with ETCS, ATO and the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS). Simultaneously, the class-B systems intermittent automatic train control and the linear train control for DB Netz AG lines will be decommissioned by December 2028. The published route-specific commissioning and decommissioning data is based on the provision that the necessary means of financing are provided in the Federal budget.

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