Network slicing delivers autonomous trains in Germany

Via Vodafone

Nov 29, 2022

Around the world, governments are under increasing pressure to improve the safety, efficiency and cost of public transport services.

Using technology, we can digitise travel to give transport providers greater visibility of their services, leading to better customer experiences.

Making railways more intelligent

Let’s take rail travel as an example.

Taking the guesswork out of journeys, a connected railway infrastructure means that the condition of the train, it’s track, and its surrounding environment is always known. This leads to less maintenance downtime, derailments and signalling issues that can cause delays, or worse, accidents.

Automating trains, also brings intelligence on board, reducing human error and increasing running times. They can even adapt to passenger demand in real-time, recover quickly from disruption and, in some cases, avoid delays altogether.

So how does it work?

On track to transform

In Hamburg, Germany, we’re using self-driving trains on a 30km route from Bergedorf/Aumühle to Berliner Tor.

In line with the future European Automatic Train Operation (ATO) standard and supported by the European Train Control System (ETCS), the train’s digital operations work by receiving radio signals.

To ensure they are transmitted reliably, even during peak times, the railway network Hamburg S-Bahn, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, relies on 4G network slicing.

What is 4G Network Slicing?

Think of a 4G network as a cake being cut into slices. Each slice forms a network within the network and is individually configurable and can be used for a variety of unique applications.

This means that each application gets the connection it needs when it needs it. So even if the train is full of passengers all using the network to talk to loved ones and friends, or to stream entertainment, there is always enough capacity available for the trains to communicate about mobility data and timetable changes.

This constant communication ensures a smoother journey and more punctual trains.

In fact, with this technology, Hamburg S-Bahn can transport up to 30% more passengers, significantly improve punctuality and save more than 30% energy.

As a result, the railway line is going to start a regular passenger service using these digital trains by December and plans are in place to digitalise the entire system by the end of the decade – along with related investments in trains and infrastructure.

The future journey

A key challenge to bring these services to life is usually regulation, but since this technology has already been officially approved, and because it features open interfaces, it can immediately be used by operators worldwide for all types of trains.

Acting as a blueprint, we hope to support the transformation of our railways, making train travel more attractive and supporting society’s wider sustainability goals.

We’ve been testing the same capabilities using 5G technology too.

Together with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Smart Rail Connectivity Campus (SRCC), we performed a recent trial which saw a train at Schlettau station in Erzgebirge, remotely operated by a train driver sat 340km away in Braunschweig.

Using two screens to feed in camera data from the train in real-time, Volker Grube was able to control the car with a sure hand.

The aim of such projects is to test new possibilities for rail travel coordination from a control centre, which can serve as a fallback option when train drivers are ill, or where we have unmanned crossings.

Remote control and remote access to rail vehicles via mobile networks are milestones in the development of modern railway operations.

Find out more about how we’ve been working with Deutsche Bahn to upgrade its services so that passengers can surf the web faster and without losing connection.

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