© DLR

Rail2X research project

Improving safety in every way

03/2017 – More and more cars on the road are capable of communicating with each other. In the future, DB wants to be part of this, too. A research project is to identify the possibilities available.

Over a period of 150 years, the locomotive has developed from a purely mechanical steel construction into a computer network on wheels. The availability of data is of key importance today for safe, efficient and needs-based mobility. You only need to take a look at the automotive industry, where standards are already being defined for Car2Car and Car2X communication. Car2X facilitates improved communication between individual vehicles or between a vehicle and infrastructure. If you take this theme one stage further, it soon becomes clear that this trend also has considerable relevance for rail transport. For this reason, the Group is involved in the federally funded Rail2X research project, which is aiming to extend the networking concept from road to rail.

  • Vehicle2X: Generic term for the exchange of data between modes of transport, such as ships, trains and aircraft, and the surrounding structures (Car2X, Airplane2X, Ship2X, etc.). Research is being conducted on how a holistic approach to this can help interlink the mobility chain better in the future.
  • Car2Car: The exchange of data between one or more cars, for example, to pass on warnings about obstacles, aquaplaning or other hazards.
  • Car2X: Term that describes the exchange of data between a car and other vehicles, cars, infrastructure, traffic control centres and internet applications. The data transmitted by each vehicle enables more precise traffic control.
  • Rail2X: The exchange of data between trains, the surrounding infrastructure, such as level crossings and waiting vehicles, is called Rail2X communication. This allows train drivers, for example, to receive information about whether the level crossing ahead is already secured, while the waiting car drivers receive an indication of when the level crossing will be clear again.
  • mCLOUD: The mCLOUD is a research platform for open data from the field of mobility and related topics. In the form of mCLOUD, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) has provided a central point of access to all open data of its business segment, while also allowing private vendors from the mobility sector to offer their data on the portal.

An example: in Germany, there are about 45,000 rail crossings, at which 45 serious accidents occurred in 2012 alone. These figures are relatively constant and progress can only be achieved with new measures. Almost all accidents are caused by road users, which is why improving technical safety of rail transport is hardly appropriate. This means that other measures need to be taken. One way could be the automatic exchange of information amongst all road users. This is precisely one approach being taken by Rail2X.

The simulation shows how rail vehicles, level crossings and cars can automatically share information with each other.

© DLR

Together with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Siemens AG, Dralle Systemtechnik and the Hasso-Plattner-Institut (HPI), DB Systel is researching into the cost-efficient and needs-based deployment of existing and future technology – while at the same time improving traffic safety. Rail2X is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), which indicates just how great an impact is expected.

It’s a trend topic – and due to its use in the automotive sector, it’s anticipated that standardised communication components will soon be produced in large quantities and at low cost. “We want to show that we can achieve synergies using the resources already available in the market. Creating added value in this way is at least as important as developing new technologies,” says Ingo Schwarzer from DB Systel, stating the aim of the project. In a test field to be set up on the Erzgebirgsbahn railway in Saxony, three user scenarios are initially to be implemented and demonstrated as examples in the field of public transport.

Three different use cases

“We have deliberately mixed the use cases,” says Dr Michael Meyer zu Hörste from DLR. “They have quite different characteristics, so the added-value effects also vary significantly.” The “Barrier” use case focuses on improving traffic safety and efficiency through the direct exchange of data between motor vehicles and level crossings. “So it’s primarily a matter of the interaction between cars and level crossings. Technologically, this is already well advanced and also fits in with the standardisation for which we’re aiming. For a car, only a minor software update would be necessary in order to activate this function.”

In the “Service and Diagnostics” use case, the exchange of information between train and infrastructure facilities is in the foreground. It aims to demonstrate how the maintenance of trains and systems can be improved by way of more up-to-date data. “In this purely functional case, it’s a matter of digitally transmitting maintenance data from A to B, for example, to save on cables.”

The third case, “Request Stop”, brings something directly to the end user, because an exchange takes place between train and station: passengers could, for example, use an app or call button to signal that they want to board a train at a station where the train will only stop on request. The aim would be to preserve existing request stops. This addresses current efforts to enhance the attractiveness of travelling by rail.

All of these use cases draw on data from central sources such as the mCLOUD as well as enriched or newly recorded data.

New options with existing resources

Rail2X has been created on the basis of existing standardisation from the Car2X universe. Its deployment also results in a positive macro-economic benefit. Through needs-based deployment of vehicles, for example, appropriately sized vehicles or stops on request only, ecological improvements can be achieved, such as lower energy consumption and noise and emissions reduction, as well as economic effects such as lower costs.

The use and expansion of a test field on the Erzgebirgsbahn for Rail2X applications and the combination of industrial companies, research institutes and smaller businesses is generating outstanding expertise on the subject matter of the project. Thus for Ingo Schwarzer, the project is also showing ways of working and developing in the future: “We are collaborating closely with industry, research and science. The future is in intermodal transport and intermodal collaboration across all disciplines.”

Dr Meyer zu Hörste agrees: “Together we’re creating access to the future. This is where the transportation system of the future is being created, with the involvement of Deutsche Bahn. That’s our aspiration.”