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Station for open data

Hackathons and crowdsourcing guarantee innovation

03/2016 - Deutsche Bahn is opening itself up to the developer community. By means of a Group-wide data portal, it is making many of its database treasures freely available. This enables programmers to develop applications from which everyone can benefit.

Many companies and administrations are now making their data openly available on the internet. This is done, for example, to satisfy the public’s need for information. However, companies can also use their data to develop potential new uses.

This is working well with “hackathons” – marathon weekend events at which interested programmers try to solve problems using the data in less than 48 hours. At any rate, these events involve considerable exertion. The developers are motivated in competition – alone or in teams – to be the first to create something with new, “unused” data. Prototypes are created for innovative, practical applications.

The idea for organising such a hackathon was conceived at a design thinking workshop run by DB Systel. Just three weeks later, the first event “DB Data Train Challenge” (March 2015) took place, organised jointly by passenger transport and DB Systel. This showed how valuable the data of Deutsche Bahn can be.

The data used was, however, no longer available after the hackathon. This was initially frustrating for many participants. They had sacrificed their weekend, but the result of their work could no longer be used due to the missing data.

Portal for open data

“One significant finding of the first hackathon was that the format does not function without data that is permanently open,” says Tobias Friedrich from DB Systel. As a result of this experience, a decision was made in the Group to open the data gradually and create a group-wide portal for open data.

In order to achieve this, an “Open Data Team” was formed, in which dedicated staff from various business units work closely together. At present, the vast majority of participants are members of the Infrastructure 4.0 Group initiative, as well as employees of DB Systel. In a shared launch for this Open Data Team, the current data portal Data.deutschebahn.com was created. This was filled with the first data records from long-distance transport and from infrastructure, including stations, lifts and operating centres. Recently, DB Vertrieb also published the first timetable data via an interface. The data portal is, so to speak, the station for open data from the entire Group.

New application ideas and quality improvement through crowdsourcing

Meanwhile, a third data hackathon has already taken place in December 2015. This time, about 100 developers in the DB mindbox – the innovation lab of the Infrastructure 4.0 initiative – came together to work on the data released by Deutsche Bahn. As a special “appetiser”, DB Station&Service released live data on the operating status of 100 lifts situated across the country. At the end of the hackathon, 17 prototypes were presented. In addition to an app for crowd-based recording of missing lift data, the prototype of the “lift monitor” was also created. This app notifies users about the operating status of lifts at stations. This is vital information for persons of reduced mobility.


In the crowd-based approach, therefore, there is great potential when interesting data is published. The advantage here is that external developers do not think within internal corporate limits, but simply focus on solving the problem: “Open data acts as a generator of ideas,” adds Friedrich. Innovative apps or features arising from this process can, for example, subsequently be integrated into their own applications.

Open data does not, however, solve every technical problem. The expectations for solutions must not be set too high, because the results remain slightly open and can only be controlled to a limited extent by means of hackathons and community management. The first value-added results for the specialist departments, however, are very positive and confirm that the right course has been followed. It is important, therefore, that new data is published with a specific purpose in mind.

Data suppliers now required in the Group

In order to expand the database to other areas of business, the Open Data Team is now reliant on assistance from within the Group. “We would like to encourage all parts of the Group to make their data available,” says Axel Sommer. “Everyone will benefit from this – the developer community, the specialist departments and above all the rail customers.”

Would you like to share your data?
Please contact the Open Data Team directly at: dbopendata@deutschebahn.com

The experts in the Open Data Team are waiting to advise and support you in the selection and transformation of data.