S-Bahn in Hamburg goes digital

S-Bahn Hamburg goes digital

First highly automated operation in German mainline and regional railways
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Siemens Mobility pioneers digital rail operations in Germany

Every day, 750,000 passengers board and deboard at 69 S-Bahn stations in the German metropolis of Hamburg. According to one prediction, the Hanseatic City alone could have more than two million inhabitants by 2040. That’s a tremendous gain that will cause more growth in the volume of traffic – a challenge that can only be mastered by increasing network capacities.

One solution is automated rail operations. This allows a much higher operating frequency for trains, which results in an expanded capacity, improved timetable stability, and reduced power consumption thanks to optimized trip profiles. The “Digital S-Bahn Hamburg” pilot project demonstrates how this new technology can improve the performance of urban transportation in growing cities. The project is part of the “Digital Rail for Germany” initiative.

“Digital Rail for Germany”

Along with expanding the rail network and deploying innovative technologies, the most important method for making the railway system more efficient and future-ready is digitalization. That’s why Germany has made a commitment to digitalize its railways. The goal is to convert German railways from conventional signaling technology to radio-controlled operations, which will enable the expansion of the European Train Control System (DSTW). In 2019, Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the German Railway Industry Association (VDB) agreed to collaborate on the rollout of digital technologies on Germany’s rails and established the sector-wide Digital Rail for Germany initiative. Digital S-Bahn Hamburg is part of this initiative.

In Hamburg, we’re starting to digitalize operations in a major German S-Bahn network. This is a milestone in our future-oriented Digital Rail for Germany program because it marks the launch of the greatest technological change in years.
Ronald Pofalla, Member of the Deutsche Bahn Management Board for Infrastructure
Visual for trends and solutions for tomorrow’s networked rail transportation

How Digitalization is transforming rail infrastructure

Digitalization is the key to increased availability, automation, connectivity, and sustainability in rail infrastructure. Learn more about our vision of the future for a networked and intelligent rail infrastructure.


Innovative development partnership with Deutsche Bahn

In July 2018, the Hanseatic City entered into a groundbreaking partnership with DB subsidiary S-Bahn Hamburg GmbH and Siemens Mobility.

The three partners are collaborating on the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project, which is providing a blueprint for highly automated mainline and regional railway operations in Germany. The goal of this extraordinary project is to develop and pilot automated S-Bahn operation using four vehicles on a 23-kilometer section of track between the Berliner Tor and Bergedorf/Aumühle stations on S-Bahn Line 21.

The technology: “ATO over ETCS”

The technological foundation for highly automated operation is the future European standard ATO over ETCS. ATO (Automatic Train Operation) works closely with the radio-based ETCS (European Train Control System) Level 2. ETCS ensures safe adherence to headways and monitors speed. ATO controls the train’s traction system and brakes. Control is transmitted via radio signals, and data is sent between the trains and the block control center.


In highly automated operation, railway operators can automate the starting, acceleration, cruising, coasting, braking, and stopping of trains. For all runs on the Hamburg section, a driver continues to be on board. In the future, however, drivers will need to intervene only if there are disturbances or irregularities.

The benefits: more punctual trains, a more stable timetable, and greater travel comfort

One of the main advantages of ATO over ETCS is the increase in rail network efficiency due to shorter headways. Information on the current traffic situation is continuously transmitted to the trains via radio. By adapting to this information, a train can run more efficiently, with an optimal speed profile and fewer braking operations. The result is more punctual trains, a more stable timetable, and greater travel comfort. In addition, the new technology can optimize boarding and deboarding times, which reduces stop times. It will also reduce energy consumption and mechanical stress on the vehicles, lowering the customers’ operating costs.

The Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project is winner of the German Mobility Award!

Digital, networked and most of all, highly automated.

Global debut

First public demonstration in fall 2021

The Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project will implement highly automated operation using ATO over ETCS on the section of track between Berliner Tor and Aumühle on the S21 Line. The 200-member project team is right on schedule. The first of four vehicles has already been converted, and test runs have been successfully completed. The first successful ATO test runs took place on the Berliner Tor – Bergedorf/Aumühle section in September 2020.

The first highly automated shunting operation from the platform to a siding was successfully executed in Bergedorf in February 2021. This means that a train can be operated over an entire 1,000-meter section without an accompanying driver.


At the World Congress for Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in October 2021, Siemens Mobility and Deutsche Bahn have jointly demonstrated the underlying ATO over ETCS technology on the pilot track section. In addition to highly automated operation, fully automated shunting between the siding and the Bergedorf platform was demonstrated for the first time. Plans are already in the making for deploying this technology in the Hamburg S-Bahn network outside the pilot section.

World premiere: DB and Siemens present the first automatic train

Press Release


Highly automated train operations

Would you like to learn more about the pilot project “Digital S-Bahn Hamburg“, or other solutions from Siemens Mobility, or do you have a specific question? Then contact us and get to know us without obligation.

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