ICT Research: new railway scheduling tool reduces waiting times and train delays

Date: Fri, 07/16/2010 - 14:08

Thanks to a research project that has received €2.6 million of EU funding, Europeans face less disruption when travelling by train this summer. The ARRIVAL project has developed advanced software that schedules trains more efficiently and handles disruptions, as they happen in real time, more effectively while maintaining the same level of safety

ICT Research: new railway scheduling tool reduces waiting times and train delays Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes

The results of this research are already being applied by railway operators across Europe to ensure more efficient use of rail networks, in terms of both timetabling and dealing with unforeseen disruptions. The algorithms developed have potential applications in other areas such as road traffic navigation systems, industrial work-flow systems, e-commerce, peer to peer networks, grid computing networks and healthcare.
Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, said: "This first class European research allows more passengers, more freight and goods on more trains to safely use the same infrastructure while increasing punctuality, passenger satisfaction, and operator profit. It's a win-win situation for everyone."
The key to minimising rail travel delays is to optimise planning and avoid any domino effects that traffic disruption can cause. Should a connecting train wait or depart on time? Normally, the order in which trains use tracks is fixed. How should platforms be reallocated if there is a delay? These decisions involve complicated logistics and little time to update timetables and keep passenger inconvenience at a minimum.
Traditionally, disruptions have been dealt with by railway operators using very little computer assistance (usually graphic software to visualise what is going on). The new methods can determine optimal train schedules and what should happen when the trains are running late.
ARRIVAL’s success is based on the development of new algorithms that can be used to organise railway infrastructure management more efficiently: from train scheduling, platform allocation, staff distribution and freight loads to dealing with disruptions such as train rerouting or rescheduling as they happen in real time.
The ARRIVAL project involved new concepts and algorithmic research methods that considerably advanced the theory necessary to tackle large and complex optimisation problems – like those in railway networks – efficiently. It has already been successfully implemented in The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. For example, ARRIVAL algorithms were used to draw up a new timetable for the Dutch national railway system which handles 5500 trains per day; it is now one of Europe's most efficient railway networks. In Berlin, the waiting time between trains on the U-Bahn underground network has been reduced from 4 to 2 minutes thanks to the application of ARRIVAL algorithms. Swiss railways have implemented an optimal planning schedule, based on ARRIVAL algorithms, for additional trains on high-risk corridors where both freight and passenger trains operate.
Other railway operators across Europe are interested in implementing this technology. Trials in Italy at the Palermo and Genoa train stations have resulted in a 25% reduction in delays. By improving railway efficiency, this new algorithm technology delivers benefits to all Europeans using trains. On average, every European travels nearly 800 km per year by train.

From 2006 to 2009, researchers from 12 universities (in Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands) and French railway company SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) worked on the ARRIVAL project.
The research project has developed advanced software algorithms that optimise rail services. €2.6 million of the total cost of €3.2 million was financed under the Commission's overall research programme (Sixth Framework Programme 2001-2006) within the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) research scheme. This scheme supports high-risk research in information technologies.
For further details on the ARRIVAL project, see:
More EU-funded ICT research success stories will be presented at ICT 2010, Europe's largest ICT research event, in Brussels from 27 to 29 September 2010. More than 100 exhibits showing the latest advances in digital technologies developed thanks to EU funding will be on display.


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