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Automated timetable generation

The route planner for the best train path

09/2017 – Click & Ride will enhance route utilisation, accelerate freight transport connections and enable train paths to be booked in a matter of minutes. We look back on a unique project.

Every year, DB Netz processes more than one million train path requests for ad hoc services. At present, the process for timetabling these requests is hardly digitalised at all. This means that a strictly make-to-order process is used, with train paths being designed when a customer order is received. The customers register their train journey, stating the specific characteristics of the train: the locomotive, the weight pulled and certain other characteristics such as the drive concept and the train profile. An employee uses this data to manually plan made-to-measure train paths for the request. The existing IT does not support particularly rapid execution because the national train paths must be processed by multiple users consecutively.

The strategic Digital Capacity Increase project will automate this processat the end of next year. “We are standardising and harmonising the existing train path offer,” says Daniel Pöhle from DB Netz. To this end, trains are being grouped in advance, and pre-arranged train paths are being designed, representing a large number of orders that could potentially be received. As soon as one of the approximately 400 railway undertakings (RU) receives a train path order, the pre-planned sections simply have to be combined in line with the customer’s requirements. As a result, the customer receives a tailored offer comprising standard train paths in considerably less time.

Offers in three minutes

This innovative optimisation process will significantly accelerate train path marketing. Manual order creation currently takes between 12 and 18 minutes for each request. With requests for longer train paths, it can take several hours and, in extreme cases, even up to 72 hours before a suitable offer can be created. Thanks to algorithmic optimisation, this will in future take no more than three minutes. When a request for a train path is received, all available routes and available capacity are used to generate three offers for the customer: for example, shortest distance, shortest travel time and most affordable route. In this way, the process provides attractive offers for the RUs.

Just like a route planner, Click & Ride calculates the appropriate schedule times so that there are no conflicts with other transports. All available capacities are checked simultaneously to give customers a train path offer they can rely on. This is what makes the application so attractive, particularly for ad hoc services, because it also supports rapid offers for spontaneous journeys. Authorised users and rail undertakings can access Click & Ride using an app for Android or iOS devices, as well as via a web interface from any computer connected to the internet – from the request right through to contractually watertight booking. But Click & Ride is more than just an application, it can also be seen as an additional sales channel, opened up via app and website. The app supplements the present process for ordering train paths via the train path portal (TPN) or the RU interface. But the customer will, of course, continue to have access to the ordering options currently available.

Agile implementation

Network access using Click & Ride as an electronic route planner will be a rapid-response component of rail freight transport as a whole. The associated mathematical optimisation processes enable a digital capacity increase, growing the volume of rail traffic – and reducing current transportation times.

To meet the objective, the content of the project has been subdivided into five different products. More than 200 employees are leveraging agile methods to ensure that the project will be completed on schedule at the end of 2018. “In terms of time and content, we are at about the half-way mark,” says Daniel Pöhle. The first expansion and development phase has already been completed, and the initial levels of detail are being implemented. Click & Ride will go live at the end of next year, coinciding with the timetable change.

Good collaboration

Management and control is the responsibility of DB Netz. As one of the implementation partners, DB Systel is responsible not only for the Click & Ride app and the necessary adjustments to the existing IT systems for timetables. DB Systel is also contributing its expertise as an IT systems integrator – thereby securing the organisational and technical processes. “We all want to have IT that can be used reliably in day-to-day operations and seamlessly integrated into the IT landscape of DB Netz,” says Daniel Pöhle. “It goes without saying that we’ll draw on DB Systel’s expertise.” The aspects of code quality and technical architecture also play a major role here when it comes to creating an overall solution by connecting software components developed in-house and by third parties in the various subprojects.

Daniel Pöhle, DB Netz
© DB Netz AG

To date, Deutsche Bahn is the only rail infrastructure company working at such a rapid pace to fully automate its train path planning. There have already been inquiries from many countries, and colleagues from Austria and Switzerland have even worked on the project as guests for three months. For all of them, the burning question is: “How do you do it, and what can we adopt for our own purposes?”

If the project is to succeed, outstanding collaboration between DB Systel and DB Netz is essential, with the timetable experts and their IT counterparts working hand in hand to develop the solution and meet the objective as a team.