Residents of the Hanseatic city can look forward to a world first, as the world’s first digitally controlled suburban trains start operation in Hamburg this week.
Hamburg: S2 runs digitally
The first of these is the S2 commuter rail line in Hamburg, on which four converted trains will initially roll fully digitally over the rail network. For the operator, the digital S-Bahn represents the way into a “new age.”
According to Transport Senator Anjes Tjarks (The Greens), who attended the first passing ride of the digital S-Bahn on Thursday, digitalization should allow for various advantages – for example, in punctuality. It also allows trains to run at closer intervals, he said, which promises shorter waiting times and an additional level of comfort for passengers. It is also expected to reduce the energy consumption of the commuter trains.
The goal after the pilot launch is to expand the system to all of Hamburg in the future and thus improve the performance of the S-Bahn network, Tjarks continued. However, there is still a long way to go before that happens, because so far the digital S-Bahns are only running on a manageable section between Berliner Tor and Bergedorf.
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Digital S-Bahn network by 2030
Since the entire line has not yet been digitized, a train driver must always be present to take over operations. By the end of the decade, however, the entire S-Bahn network should be digitized.
The digital S-Bahn trains in Hamburg are part of the digitization of Deutsche Bahn. Back at the beginning of the year, the company announced that it planned to invest a full 13.6 billion euros in the digitization of its infrastructure over the course of 2022.
Hamburg’s S-Bahn network covers a distance of 147 kilometers, with six lines serving around 70 stops. So far, four Class 474 trains have been digitized. By 2030, a total of 200 trains are to be retrofitted with the new technology.
Orders have also been placed for 64 additional trains of the latest 490 series, which are already equipped with digital technology. These are to be delivered and put into service in Hamburg from 2025.
Two technologies will be used as the basis for the digital commuter trains: the European Train Control System (ETCS) replaces and digitizes the signaling and emergency braking systems, while ATO (Automatic Train Operation) uses computers to enable fully automatic operation. This includes control, starting and braking, and in Hamburg also opening and closing the doors.
However, this requires information points in the tracks, the so-called balises. Around 500 of these points are said to have been installed in the track of the Hamburg S-Bahn test network. The computer is in constant contact with the balises and thus reacts independently to incoming signals.