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Track to the future Remote-controlled trains? Swiss rail bets on technology

The Federal Railways is launching a voice control function on its app with a speaking timetable

(Keystone)

New services for door-to-door journeys, speaking timetables, digital stations – the Swiss Federal Railways says it wants to combine the potential of new technology with the strengths of the railway in order to increase efficiency.

Mobility is undergoing profound and extensive change and other modes of transport are catching up with trains in terms of price and environmental advantage, the Federal Railways acknowledged on Monday.

There is increasing demand for “personalised, intermodal, networked and simple mobility”, it said in a statement.

Targeted investments and increased innovation are at the forefront of its 2020 Strategy. Thanks to digitalisation, the capacity of the Swiss track network – already the most heavily used rail network in the world – can be increased by up to 30%, it estimated.

To this end, it is furthering the automation of timetable creation, rail operations and train control and is also looking into the possibility of remote-controlled trains.

In the first quarter of 2017 it is launching a voice control function on its app with a speaking timetable and a speaking robot as a source of further information. In addition, the new Trip Planner app will let customers compare, combine and book a journey with multiple modes of transport. They will also be able to book taxi services and Uber over the coming months.

Integrated mobility is a further central field of innovation, according to the Federal Railways, which is developing a simple, environmentally friendly door-to-door service called “SBB Green Class” and is teaming up with the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) to research the mobility behaviour of the general public.

Smart carriages

The Federal Railways said it planned to turn its railway stations into “networked, multimodal mobility hubs”, in other words traffic nodes, destinations and service centres all in one.

“Digital departure and arrival boards, screens with up-to-the-minute information about train traffic, e-panels for third-party advertising, touchscreen ticket machines and free WiFi are already available,” it pointed out.

The Federal Railways is also set to use digitalisation in goods transport, installing various sensors in carriages. The instruments will measure temperature, vibrations and the wagon’s position, it said.

The Federal Railways will take into account the needs of transport customers seeking to know what the status of their goods is, where they are at any given time and whether they will arrive on schedule. In addition, SBB Cargo will take the automation of rail production a step further by 2018 thanks to the automatic coupling of carriages.  

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