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HANNOVER MESSE 2018, 23 - 27 April
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Logistics 4.0

Rail traffic switches to autonomous trains

The inauguration of the high-speed route between Berlin and Munich was characterized by delays. One reason: problems with the European ETCS control and safety standard. This is set to change.

07 Feb. 2018
Eduard Heilmayr
Foto: Deutsche Bahn AG
Foto: Deutsche Bahn AG

In ten to 15 years , Deutsche Bahn hopes to control and monitor its trains entirely by digital means – something not only practical for the company, but also in the interest of customers. Up to 20% more trains should be able to travel on the same rail network and they're even expected to be more punctual . The European ETCS standard will replace the 20 different signal systems available until now. For Deutsche Bahn, around 160,000 signal points will no longer be required. Instead, communication will be automatic, carried out digitally by radio. Ultimately, trains would even be capable of controlling themselves autonomously.

This also means that 400,000 km of laid cable will also soon be rendered unnecessary. In principle, this would make the train network less vulnerable to malfunctions and lower maintenance. But the costs are extremely high. Currently, Deutsche Bahn is in negotiations with its owner (the Federal Republic of Germany) regarding financing. And smaller companies are less pleased with the possible European-wide harmonization of the ETCS control system, which would require not only the railroad network, but also locomotives to be modernized in order to process the signals by radio. This is expensive and hits freight traffic especially hard with its, in some cases, outdated locomotives.

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