How digitalization is evolving intelligent rail infrastructure

The pressure on the transportation infrastructure is steadily growing, intensified by new mobility offerings like Uber. How can the rails remain an attractive part of the transportation chain in the future? By taking advantage of new digital solutions. Railway transportation companies are using digitalization to expand their offering and make it flexible and adaptable, or in other words: ready for the future. Projects in London, Norway, and Germany prove that it works.

Transportation infrastructure under pressure

Our transportation infrastructure has reached a turning point. Every day in many metropolitan areas, railway and road commuters are approaching the limits of what they’ll tolerate. Today more than half the world’s population is already living in cities. By 2050, another 2.5 billion people will be living in large cities and urban regions worldwide. In these areas in particular, intermodal and multimodal travel will internetwork carriers and reduce traffic. At the same time, a drastically higher quantity of goods from globalized economies must be managed, while environmental protection and passenger comfort are coming to the fore.

How does digitalization help?

Experts at Siemens Mobility are convinced that digitalization will give rail-based mobility an unprecedented boost. The extreme technological complexity of the railway system can be intelligently simplified with digitalization. Operators and suppliers can now securely open and internetwork their systems. “Digital interlockings are the new standard for this comprehensive connectivity,” explains Gerhard Greiter, Segment Manager of Mainline Railway Automation at Siemens Mobility. “But our plans go much further. In the Siemens vision of an entirely digitally networked rail infrastructure, the only remaining field elements will be point machines – all the other components will be virtualized. The control logic behind this vision – the interlockings – will reside in the cloud.”


Using the European Train Control System (ETCS), trains will report their position to a central, secure system via radio control. Track vacancy detection and signals will disappear. It will be possible to view the data acquired from the remaining components anytime and anywhere; it will be used to dynamically control traffic flows and adapt them to environmental conditions using operations control systems – opening up a veritable data universe. “We’ll need clear visions like these to be able to change and master the growing traffic volume in the future,” says Greiter.

Technologies and references – how digitalization works

He continues: “Today there are impressive projects that already prove that the digital transformation works when it’s responsibly designed.” Whether it’s a matter of automated driving, upgrading the entire railway infrastructure to reflect new standards, or digital interlockings, Siemens Mobility is a pioneer in the digitalization field.


The goal is to enable higher capacities and improve punctuality, availability, energy efficiency, and safety. Automated Train Operation (ATO) and Europe-wide standards like the ETCS are important foundation technologies for comprehensive automation and data recording. ETCS is intended to replace the more than 20 national railway control and safety systems currently in use on the European continent, with the goal of enabling cross-border rail traffic in Europe.

Case study: highly automated S-Bahn in Hamburg

The Thameslink project in London was followed by another project in summer of 2018 that will implement automatic driving in mainline transportation: For the first time in Germany, an automated S-Bahn will begin operating in Hamburg in 2021. A collaboration agreement to develop the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg was signed by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Deutsche Bahn, and Siemens.


The agreement specifies that a 23-kilometer-long section of S-Bahn Line 21 between the Berliner Tor and Bergedorf/Aumühle stations will be equipped for fully automated operation and, at the same time, that four trains will be equipped with the required “ATO via ETCS” technology.

Case study: Norway’s rail network goes digital

Bane NOR, the state-owned agency responsible for the Norwegian national railway infrastructure, contracted Siemens Mobility to install ETCS throughout the entire Norwegian rail network. Together the two companies will transform the entire Norwegian rail network into a fully digitalized, IP-based system – a veritable Internet of Things. This conversion will save a significant amount of hardware, allow for maximized capacity, and provide the basis for data-based preventive maintenance. The system is controlled by a central digital interlocking in Oslo, which gives the trains the authority to proceed via the ETCS Level 2 solution from Siemens Mobility. Passengers will benefit from improved punctuality, increased capacity, and greater train frequency. Commissioning of all lines is scheduled to be completed by 2034.

Case study: Gornergrat Bahn – “Mobility as a service”

With digital interlockings, mobility can become a service. Large investment and maintenance volumes will generate flexible new business models. The Swiss Gornergrat Bahn, for example, is operating control technology in the cloud for the first time ever – as a subscription for customers based on a licensing model.

Brand-new: a tool for simple data analysis

The more digital the rails and their field elements become, the more data they’ll generate. But what to do with the almost limitless abundance in the data universe? “Ultimately, big data must also be usable by our customers,” explains Greiter. “We’ll work together to filter out the most useful data from their infrastructure and fleet and clearly organize it in order to create additional value.” The company is succeeding in this endeavor to an extent never before possible, thanks to a brand-new, highly intuitive solution: the System Performance Dashboard. Greiter is impressed with the innovation. “At the press of a button, the system spits out the required data, identifies potential asset losses, and thereby actively supports the decision-making process.”

What comes next?

The digital transformation has already begun, so let’s shape it together. The ongoing development of proven signaling systems and the use of innovative technologies are creating a smart, digitally networked infrastructure. With new digital solutions and business models, companies like Siemens will work with their customers – operators and infrastructure providers – to implement the digital transformation so that passengers can safely and securely benefit from the many opportunities of tomorrow’s mobility universe. Greiter: “If we seize this opportunity, we’ll reach the next level of smart rail transportation. Our goal is to increase availability in mainline transportation by almost 100 percent, maximize throughput, and enhance the travel experience for passengers. As a reliable and experienced partner, we’ll support our customers throughout this transformation.”


Picture credits: Siemens Mobility

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay up to date at all times: everything you need to know about electrification, automation, and digitalization.