Ein S-Bahn-Triebwagen in der Wartung

Digital S-Bahn Hamburg: first digitally controlled S-Bahn in passenger service

Even more efficient and environmentally friendly through the Hanseatic city

The very pioneering first project of Digital Rail for Germany is ‘Digital S-Bahn Hamburg’. It will ensure that in October 2021, for the first time, digitally controlled S-Bahn trains will shuttle through the Hanseatic city carrying passengers. Starting, accelerating, braking, stopping: these highly automated trains will do all this by themselves. In the coming months, up to four trains on the S21 line will run highly automatically on a 23km stretch adapted for this purpose between the stations Berliner Tor and Bergedorf/Aumühle.

Digital technologies in use

This is made possible by the train control system ‘automatic train operation’ (ATO) and the European Train Control System (ETCS) – two technologies whose interaction is being tested together here for the first time. To realise digital operations and highly automated driving, suburban trains are being retrofitted: for example, with balise antennas, radars or ETCS, and ATO computers. The infrastructure along the line has also been upgraded with an upgraded interlocking system, revised signalling technology and Eurobalises.

Both safe and efficient at the same time

A driver is still on board to intervene in the event of disruptions or irregularities. Even the journey to the shunting track where the S-Bahn turns is fully automated. The driver and passengers get on and off at Bergedorf station.

Outside the digitised section, the train is controlled again as usual. In Bergedorf, another technology is being tested: this fully automated undertaking is being carried out using the Nokia 5G mobile network.

Digital S-Bahn Hamburg gets people to their destination faster

A highly automated S-Bahn operation has many advantages: significantly more trains can run on the same line with higher capacity. This means the minimum interval between trains can be reduced to less than 90 seconds. In addition, the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project reduces energy consumption and operating costs. The technologies are not only to be demonstrated as part of the pilot project, but are to be rolled out across the entire Hamburg S-Bahn network. 

This smart solution shows how other rail networks in metropolitan areas can also be digitised in the future. In fact, most local and long-distance trains and routes could follow suit in the next 15 to 20 years in Germany.

Digital S-Bahn Hamburg is being financed with €60 million, split equally equal across the city of Hamburg, Deutsche Bahn and Siemens.

When is it going to happen?

The first highly automated S-Bahn is already on the starting blocks. The technical conversion of the first S-Bahn train was completed in summer 2020. By the time Hamburg’s Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress takes place in October 2021, four S-Bahn trains will be ready for regular passenger service. As the world's largest trade fair for intelligent transport systems, with around 12,000 participants from politics, science and industry, the ITS Congress is the ideal platform for this innovative pilot project.