© Deutsche Bahn AG

Digitalisation in freight transport

Book reliable transport chains now internationally

09/2017 – The Xrail production alliance is forging even closer bonds throughout Europe: international rail freight transport is becoming more customer-friendly and efficient. With its new transport and service chain management system, DB Cargo is laying the foundation for a European booking platform for single wagonload transport.

To date, the European freight operating companies have mainly transported single wagonload transports in line with the “first in, first out” principle. As a result, the wagons are often transferred from one freight operating company to the next at very short notice. This frequently creates unplanned capacity spikes and fluctuating transport durations, which are inconvenient, particularly for customers. “There is little optimisation and coordination of the processes at international level,” says Guido Adolphi, who is responsible at DB Cargo for integration with the Xrail production alliance, which aims to optimise international rail freight transport. “There is currently no transnational check of transport capacities. In future, this will be fully digitalised.”

The foundation for this is Xrail, an alliance between the six European rail freight operators DB Cargo (Germany), Rail Cargo Group (Austria), CFL Cargo (Luxembourg), Green Cargo (Sweden), LINEAS (Belgium) and SBB Cargo (Switzerland). With the joint Xrail Capacity Booking (XCB) initiative, all the Xrail rail freight operators intend to enable seamless, transparent and reliable international single wagonload transport. To achieve this, the alliance members are introducing national networks that are interconnected via Xrail. At DB Cargo, another key component for integration into Xrail is the new TSM (transport and service management) system, jointly developed with technical partner DB Systel .

Fotostudio T.W. Klein / DB Cargo AG

We’re talking about industry change.

Guido Adolphi, DB Cargo

Each rail freight operator will continue to manage capacities in its respective network. However, if there is a booking request for a transport between the Xrail railways, the central Xrail broker automatically checks the required capacities across all the integrated networks involved in the transport. The Xrail broker uses state-of-the-art web services to link the capacity management systems of all alliance members, without any capacity databases of its own. This reaches deep into the business logic and into virtually every level of DB Cargo’s business model, from both a functional and a technical perspective. “We’re talking about industry change. What we’re doing with Xrail is nothing less than implementing a booking platform for single wagonload transport in Europe – a platform that is comparable with Star Alliance, where users can book flights online across multiple international airlines in a single step,” says Guido Adolphi, who adds: “This will allow us to offer customers more information and greater reliability in future.”

Video Xrail – Capacity Booking
Credits: © Xrail S.A.

When it comes to actual booking, little will change for customers. But the situation behind the scenes is truly revolutionary. When a booking request is received for a transport involving multiple alliance members, end-to-end bookable international transport chains are calculated on the basis of ultra-fast queries by combining national transport schedules with checked capacities. Once booking is complete, all the alliance members involved in the transport receive a booking confirmation including the estimated arrival time in the other country. “All in all, this will not make booking faster for customers. But when the Xrail network is firmly established, we will be able to provide customers with more reliable estimated times of arrival thanks to the more reliable predictions provided by the system,” says Mathias Back from DB Systel.

Key milestone

DB Systel has been implementing software from subprojects of the major KAPA Xrail project since 2015 and has introduced agile working methods for this purpose. “We’ve decided to gradually migrate the majority of projects to the agile working method,” says Mathias Back. During implementation of TSM, this will significantly increase flexibility and responsiveness to changing market situations compared to conventional methods. First and foremost, this enables short, iterative delivery cycles for subfunctions and ensures uninterrupted delivery capability.

The state-of-the-art modules required to achieve this were chosen by DB Systel. The development of TSM and its integration in the existing system landscape of DB Cargo will be ensured within the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) software development framework. Docker virtualisation software is used to efficiently provide the software in all environments, from development to test through to production. This provides a platform-independent development container. In addition, a fully automated delivery pipeline has been set up, which will ultimately automate all commissioning steps in the various environments, from test right through to production. The decision to operate the solution in the AWS Cloud has many advantages – ranging from scalability and high availability to the pay-per-use payment model, which keeps down DB Cargo’s costs for using parallel test environments. “We have development and test environments for various setups, but these are basically required for only a particular period,” explains Mathias Back. “This gives us the option of switching between configurations very rapidly.” Above all, it allows the necessary environments to be scaled immediately.

The first package of the TSM system was rolled out in June. As a result, it will be possible to book “complete” single wagonload transport orders between DB Cargo and the Austrian rail freight operator Rail Cargo Group in the subsequent pilot phase. “In a first step, we can book selected transports from Germany to Austria, giving us end-to-end transport schedules with checked capacities between the two countries,” says Guido Adolphi. This is an important milestone in harmonising international rail freight transport. The next delivery package, which is scheduled for this year, will enable bookings in the opposite direction. Other Xrail operators and transports will gradually be added.

The project is slated for completion by the end of 2018, allowing DB Cargo to book and perform capacity-checked international single wagonload transports with all Xrail operators.