A secure and sustainable data processing infrastructure
For the new digital technology, we are introducing a new and secure data processing infrastructure on both the trains and the track. This is mostly built around the latest cloud trends, but still meets stringent railway standards.
With Digital Rail, we are using technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), high-precision positioning systems and sensory perception of the environment to control train traffic even more efficiently in the future and to be able to guarantee driving at optimal intervals. This requires large amounts of data to be processed in real time. For example, trains must be able to work out their location continuously, reliably and with absolute accuracy during their journey. They must then be able to pass this on in real time, together with information on speed, acceleration and train completeness, to the control and safety technology, as well as the traffic management system that schedules nationwide rail operations. This requires, among other things, a digital map as a central repository for static and dynamic infrastructure data, as well as a powerful, scalable and future-proof data processing infrastructure.
Secure computing platform – separating application and platform as a paradigm shift in the railway sector
An essential foundation for an efficient, scalable and future-proof data processing infrastructure is, firstly, to clearly separate applications (eg, control and security technology and incident management) from the underlying data processing infrastructure or platform. With such separation – and the introduction of a standardised interface in between – the very different life cycles of (mostly long-lived) applications and (often short-lived) platforms can be taken into account, for example, and both sides can be migrated independently of each other. Furthermore, in this way the rail sector as a whole can draw on a larger market of application and platform manufacturers and achieve better cost efficiency through the use of cross-industry standard software and hardware.
To take this important first step, Digital Rail for Germany is working closely with other railroad companies, control and safety technology manufacturers and IT companies. In the european railway initiatives RCA and OCORA, in collaboration with partners like Siemens Mobility, Thales and SYSGO, the concept for a ‘secure computing platform’ is currently being developed. This allows applications and platforms to come from different manufacturers and still meet the high safety requirements (up to SIL4) of critical applications. For this purpose, as well as the holistic concept and standardisation of the interface between applications and platform, it is also necessary to develop modular certification processes – so that, for example, an application that’s already approved can be imported to new data processing infrastructure without having to be approved again.
A hierarchical data processing infrastructure for diverse needs
It is important to emphasise that the digital railway system not only places stringent demands on the data processing infrastructure, but, above all, it has very versatile needs that cannot be served with a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, cloud-like approaches are suitable for applications like the digital map, but critical applications, like advanced control and safety technology, must be handled in a more restrictive manner. Applications based on artificial intelligence (AI) also need data processing infrastructure with hardware acceleration, and applications that are particularly latency critical should be placed ‘close to the action’, ie, in ‘edge clouds’. Applications running onboard trains, on the other hand, have completely different requirements due to factors like operational constraints on the train, higher cost pressure and less space
Taking these diverse needs into account, Digital Rail for Germany is developing a hierarchical data processing infrastructure consisting of private central, regional and local cloud-like data centres, combined with a powerful new onboard computing platform.
Testing is already underway in one area of Germany
An extensive digital test field is being built in the Ore Mountains. It shows how integrating and validating digital railway system applications, based on FRMCS/5G and cloud technology, works in practice. An important component of the digital test field is the construction of a mobile radio base infrastructure in a test track around 10km long. This is the basis for testing FRMCS/5G and cloud equipment from various manufacturers.