Digitisation helps in the battle against unusable toilets_ICE 3, Baureihe 407
Deutsche Bahn AG & Fotolia

THOR app

Digitisation helps in the battle against unusable toilets

03/2016 - The process of provisioning trains has to be quick. A new application is helping to gain a better overview of the status of WCs in the trains: thanks to THOR, train toilets are being provisioned and waste disposed of on a more demand-oriented basis. This makes life easier for all concerned.

An unusable toilet is an annoyance for everyone. Above all for the passengers, of course, who have to walk through the coach to find the next functioning WC. But also for the train attendant who has to bear the brunt of complaints from passengers. In extreme cases, for example, if the disabled toilets or a large number of toilets on the train are unusable, whole trains must be taken out of service, which can have considerable knock-on effects. A new application – THOR – is now helping to supply of toilets in accordance with demand.

In the depots, the provision of toilets was previously commissioned and carried out according to fixed plans. There was, however, no accurate overview of the current status. Time and time again, trains that had just been serviced had to return to the provisioning track – preventing other trains in need of service from being processed. This costs time and money.

This is where the THOR app comes into play. THOR is a German acronym for “reporting toilet supply and waste disposal online by mobile phone” and thus only has a figurative connection with the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder. DB Services personnel record the current status of all train toilets and of the on-board bistro using the simple THOR app and are therefore able to forward this information quickly. From these messages, the train provision control centre and the vehicle management of DB Fernverkehr receive an up-to-date overview across all locations. For the first time, this enables supply and waste disposal for WCs in trains to be controlled based on demand.

App with user-centric functionality and design

The people using the THOR app are the personnel from DB Services who supply and empty the tanks of the train toilets and on-board bistros. The pre-condition is that the trains have been fitted with scannable NFC chips (NFC = near field communication, which permits contactless wireless data transmission over short distances). Installation of these chips on all ICE trains is now almost complete.

App THOR: workflow
App THOR: workflow
DB Systel GmbH

When the train is on the provisioning track, the service personnel use a standard Android smartphone to scan the labels on the individual tank nozzles that are being processed. This automatically records the vehicle information such as series, coach number and position of the supply filler caps. In addition to the supply and waste disposal processes, faults such as iced-up or defective filler nozzles or broken caps can be recorded directly in the system.

The developers at DB Systel, together with the customer, DB Fernverkehr, have tailored the design of the app to meet actual local needs. At DB Services, employees with a very wide range of backgrounds are involved in this process. A conscious effort has therefore been made to keep the graphical elements of the app and the operating sequences very simple. Experience with apps from the private use of smartphones etc. makes it easier to use the professional application (see “Apps for DB Station&Service”). It was possible to seamlessly integrate the recording using the app into the working procedures of the service personnel.

Technology provides the overview

The data from the app is transferred in real time to the central THOR system, where it is evaluated on the basis of the operational business regulations of DB Fernverkehr. The current status for each train can then be reproduced in a web application. “The train provision control centre receives dedicated information about the supply and waste disposal status of a train group,” says Johannes Kremer, who is responsible for technical development at DB Systel. “It tracks the processing of the tanks and knows the current situation at all times.”

If the provision and waste disposal run smoothly, the train can be put back into service very quickly. If complications arise, the problems are noted in the system and additional measures can be implemented on the basis of this information. When a train subsequently reaches a certain number of operating hours, an automated traffic light system indicates that supply and waste disposal is due again.

Optimised communication and a sharp rise in efficiency

“What previously functioned on a spontaneous basis, the employees now receive in digital form. This avoids any misunderstandings and speeds up communication,” says customer project manager Marc Schmitz. “The simple, self-explanatory steps in the depot help to process the job promptly. And the central overview for DB Fernverkehr simplifies the planning for the provision of trains and increases the efficiency of the supply and waste disposal processes.”

Standardised processes as well as transparent and up-to-date information help DB Fernverkehrwith the demand-oriented supply and waste management of the trains. The small, tailor-made THOR app ultimately ensures that passengers are not left standing outside locked toilet doors. This has a direct effect on overall customer satisfaction and thus supports the quality campaign in the Group programme “Zukunft Bahn”.