11. March 2021

Fu­ture tech­nolo­gies for rail trans­port

Measurement run with the ‘advanced TrainLab’ high-speed laboratory
Mea­sure­ment run with the ‘ad­vanced Train­Lab’ high-speed lab­o­ra­to­ry
Image 1/7, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Measurement run with the ‘advanced TrainLab’ high-speed laboratory

The ‘ad­vanced Train­Lab’, a lab­o­ra­to­ry de­vel­oped by Deutsche Bahn for test­ing new train tech­nolo­gies, was used for the IM­PACT and V2X-Du­Rail mea­sur­ing runs car­ried out by the DLR In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Nav­i­ga­tion. The lab­o­ra­to­ry train is based on a 605-se­ries ICE-TD and was spe­cial­ly fit­ted with high-fre­quen­cy tech­nolo­gies, spe­cial an­ten­nas and sen­sors by the re­searchers.
Magnetic field measurements for position determination
Mag­net­ic field mea­sure­ments for po­si­tion de­ter­mi­na­tion
Image 2/7, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Magnetic field measurements for position determination

The idea of us­ing Earth’s mag­net­ic field for ori­en­ta­tion and nav­i­ga­tion is at least as old as the com­pass. How­ev­er, pin­point­ing a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion by de­riv­ing the lo­ca­tion-spe­cif­ic el­e­ment of the da­ta pro­vid­ed by a mag­net­ic field sen­sor is a nov­el ap­proach. The IM­PACT project is in­ves­ti­gat­ing this in­no­va­tive form of nav­i­ga­tion.
Conducting reference measurements along the route
Con­duct­ing ref­er­ence mea­sure­ments along the route
Image 3/7, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Conducting reference measurements along the route

To pro­vide the IM­PACT project team with a ref­er­ence for their po­si­tion­ing tech­nol­o­gy, that is, in­for­ma­tion about where the train was ac­tu­al­ly lo­cat­ed, ref­er­ence mea­sure­ments were car­ried out us­ing a laser-based di­rec­tion find­er.
Communication between trains and cars
Com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween trains and cars
Image 4/7, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Communication between trains and cars

Rail and road trans­port are be­com­ing in­creas­ing­ly dig­i­talised and net­worked. Re­li­able wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a ba­sic pre­req­ui­site for such de­vel­op­ments. How­ev­er, the re­spec­tive ra­dio sys­tems can in­ter­fere with one an­oth­er. In its V2X-Du­Rail project, the DLR team is in­ves­ti­gat­ing dif­fer­ent ra­dio sys­tems that en­able safe com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween trains, sec­tions and car­riages of a sin­gle train and in­ter­sect­ing road traf­fic.
Installation of high-quality specialised antennas
In­stal­la­tion of high-qual­i­ty spe­cialised an­ten­nas
Image 5/7, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Installation of high-quality specialised antennas

Re­searchers on the train re­ceived and pre­cise­ly mea­sured the var­i­ous ra­dio sig­nals from oth­er trans­port users with the aid of spe­cialised an­ten­nas mount­ed on the roof. The V2X-Du­Rail project team is in­ves­ti­gat­ing wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems that will en­able ex­change be­tween train and car drivers and make rail­way cross­ings safer in fu­ture.
Prism on train coupling
Prism on train cou­pling
Image 6/7, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Prism on train coupling

A prism is at­tached to the front of the cou­pling de­vice and is tar­get­ed by the ref­er­ence mea­sure­ment de­vice op­er­at­ed by a DLR team mem­ber along the route.
Magnetic field sensors beneath the train
Mag­net­ic field sen­sors be­neath the train
Image 7/7, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Magnetic field sensors beneath the train

A safe­ty check is per­formed to con­firm that the sup­port struc­ture car­ry­ing the mag­net­ic field sen­sors is cor­rect­ly mount­ed to the un­der­side of the train be­fore set­ting off.

Focus: Transport, security, digitalisation

On 11 March 2021, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) successfully completed a two-week series of tests focusing on the safe, efficient and flexible rail transport of the future. The research conducted at DLR aims to increase the proportion of passenger and freight transport conducted by rail, increase passenger comfort by reducing the number of changeovers during journeys, increase safety at railway crossings, and optimise route capacity by increasing the flexibility of train configurations. In order to achieve this, rail transport requires more automation. DLR is developing the necessary communication and navigation techniques with its cooperation partners to allow for such new approaches. The test journeys were carried out by two project teams from the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation and ran from Halle to Augsburg via Göttingen, Berlin, Munich and Herrsching. The 'advanced TrainLab', a specially equipped high-speed train operated by Deutsche Bahn, was used as a mobile laboratory, complete with high-frequency communications technologies, special antennas and sensors on board.

In the V2X-DuRail project, the DLR team is paying particular attention to radio systems in the five-gigahertz frequency band, which allow secure communications between trains, parts of trains and carriages of a single train, and intersecting road traffic. In future, it will also be vital for the rail system to be able to reliably determine where a train is located, how long it is and whether it is still intact at any given time. The 'IMPACT' project team is developing a new method of localisation that uses measurements of Earth’s magnetic field and works under conditions that are unfavourable for satellite navigation.

Communication between trains and cars

The measurements recorded in the first week of March concentrated on the vehicle-to-everything radio for digital urban train communications (V2X-DuRail) project. Transport systems are set to become increasingly digitalised and networked in future. This will, for example, make railway crossings safer by enabling car and train drivers to be aware of one another. In rail transport, command and control systems for trains are being enhanced with wireless communication capabilities. Such channels could be set up to make better use of the available infrastructure and avoid collisions with other trains or cars. At the same time, cars are increasingly being fitted with radio-based communication systems that ensure an increase in the efficiency, comfort and safety of road traffic, while reducing environmental pollution. These radio systems are essential for networked and autonomous driving.

However, the radio systems used in road and rail transport today and in future can affect one another. This can lead to malfunctions, especially in urban areas with a high vehicle density. There may also be environments such as urban canyons or bridges that make reliable signal propagation difficult. Yet reliable communication is essential for critical safety-related applications.

Against this backdrop, the first series of tests carried out by the DLR researchers were based on determining which factors have what effect on radio transmissions and which countermeasures are effective. Various radio signals from other transport users were received and surveyed accurately within the test train, which was equipped with high-quality measurement technologies. In addition to the train, the project team also used two cars fitted with measurement equipment and a total of four different radio systems. The data obtained in this way can be used to make communications between trains and other transport users more reliable both now and in the future. The manoeuvres were coordinated using the Railway Collision Avoidance System (RCAS). This radio system, which is designed to prevent train collisions, was originally developed by DLR and is now available on the market via a spin-off company.

Position determination using Earth's magnetic field

Until now, trains have been localised to a section of track using axle counters at transition points. These sections of track can be several kilometres long and the axle counters are costly to set up and maintain. Satellite-based localisation technology is used only to a limited extent, in part because the signals it relies on cannot be received in tunnels. As part of the Intelligent Magnetic Positioning for Avoiding Collisions of Trains (IMPACT) project, DLR researchers are developing an autonomous on-board system that allows trains to precisely locate themselves on the track even under difficult conditions. The system makes use of the local strength of Earth's magnetic field and artificial intelligence.

Earth's magnetic field is altered by the presence of metals. The local pattern that is created, referred to as the 'magnetic field signature', is unique, similar to a fingerprint. It is therefore possible to distinguish between every single section of rail track. The magnetic field is measured with high precision and the unique signature determined allows for very reliable location determination.

In the second week of March, the IMPACT project team was able to test its localisation system in the field and measure real magnetic field signatures. To do this, they conducted measurements along the stretch of railway line between Göttingen and Kassel, which includes a lot of tunnels. The rolling laboratory reached a maximum speed of up to 200 kilometres per hour. The researchers also varied the points at which the measurements were made between the two directions of the reference track several times within a 10-kilometre tunnel. This would present a serious challenge for any train-based position determining technology.

In the future, this localisation system will also utilise machine learning to independently familiarise itself with relevant sensor parameters. This will make it easier to retrofit within existing vehicles. The new technology could not only greatly increase the safety of rail transport, but also its flexibility and efficiency as it would allow trains on a specific route to be operated at higher density.

Optimal route utilisation

Reliable wireless data transmission and high localisation accuracy for trains are also vital prerequisites for virtual coupling. When trains are no longer mechanically linked, they can be configured with a much higher level of flexibility. Carriages or wagons assigned to different routes could be coupled to one train, but transferred to other trains during the journey. Dynamic virtual coupling technology allows a lead vehicle to control one or more follower vehicles electronically. This will also help the rail network be more effectively harnessed through the increased density of train operations.

Now the IMPACT and V2X-DuRail measurement campaigns have been completed, the data will be evaluated by DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen. The knowledge acquired will help advance important technologies, from the development of prototypes, to the application and manufacture of products alongside industrial partners where necessary. In this way, the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation is continuing to make advances in the digitalisation of rail transport and the harnessing of its potential.

About the projects

The V2X-DuRail project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) as part of the mFUND research initiative. This initiative has been providing support for research and development projects related to data-based digital applications for Mobility 4.0 since 2016.

The IMPACT joint project is funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy and conducted in conjunction with Intelligence on Wheels, a spin-off from the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation. Intelligence on Wheels prepared the Railway Collision Avoidance System (RCAS), originally developed at the institute, for market launch and has successfully implemented it in a number of countries.

The 'advanced TrainLab', a technology laboratory on board a train developed by Deutsche Bahn, was used for both measurement campaigns carried out by the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation. The laboratory train is based on a 605-series ICE-TD. The vehicle’s diesel-electric drive allows it to be used on the entire Deutsche Bahn route network, regardless of whether or not power is available via overhead lines.

  • Bernadette Jung
    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ober­paf­fen­hofen, Weil­heim, Augs­burg
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-2251
    Fax: +49 8153 28-1243
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
  • Stephan Sand
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Nav­i­ga­tion
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Oberpfaffenhofen-Wessling

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