Deutsche Bahn and Siemens have partnered to digitally operate the Hamburg S-Bahn, a rapid mass transit railway network in the Hamburg metropolitan region.

A cooperation agreement for the ‘Digital S‐Bahn Hamburg’ project was signed last week by Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg Dr. Peter Tschentscher, Siemens chief technology officer and member of the managing board  Dr. Roland Busch, and Deustche Bahn management board for infrastructure member Ronald Pofalla.

The €60m plan, the first of its kind in Germany, will be completed by October 2021, when four trains will operate fully automatically on a pilot line. According to the agreement, the trains will be equipped with the required technology to run on a 23km-long section of the S-Bahn Line 21, stretching between the Berliner Tor and Bergedorf/Aumühle stations.

Deutsche Bahn’s Pofalla said: “In Hamburg we are starting to digitalise operations in one of our most important S-Bahn networks in Germany. This is a milestone in our future‐oriented ‘Digital Tracks for Germany’ programme, marking the launch of the biggest technological change in years. This project will be an important reference for designing and developing the intelligent and climate‐friendly rail networks that we need, especially in large cities.”

The testing and development of the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg will be carried out on the same line section it will cover once operational. According to Siemens, the technical basis for the operation is the standards set in the upcoming European Automatic Train Operation (ATO) through the radio‐based European Train Control System Level 2 (ETCS).

Radio signals will be used to control the four trains, with data transmitted between them and the block control centre. A driver will continue to be on-board the automated trains and will intervene in cases of disturbances or irregularities in the system. However by 2021, four trains will run fully automatically from and to Hamburg’s Bergedorf station and will operate unattended for over 1km when entering and leaving a siding near the station.

Siemens’ Busch said: “The S‐Bahn in Hamburg is an excellent example of how the digital transformation can have a positive impact on many areas of our lives. Intelligent transport will enable us to have more and more people use urban public transport.

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“Automated rail operations have many advantages: considerably more people can be transported with higher capacities on the same line, energy consumption can be cut and costs for the operator can be reduced, through optimised travel profiles.”

The two companies plan to digitalise the entire Hamburg S-Bahn network if the pilot phase is successful, which should help increase the throughput of trains, improving mobility for passengers.