Rail transport project: Into the age of digitization at high speed

Funkwerk Systems GmbH/Dirk Neumann
The research and development team in front of the real locomotive and the three times smaller laboratory model

The discoRAIL research project has just been successfully completed with antenna measurements on electric locomotives. The "Digital services connected rail traffic" project, in which the TU Ilmenau and Funkwerk Systems GmbH were involved, took a look at the limits of the performance of antennas currently installed on locomotives. With the successful completion of the project, the way is now clear for completely new types of antenna designs in the rail transport of the future.

Safe, efficient and comfortable mobility is the order of the day in the age of digitalization. Automation and networking are the key concepts here - not only in road traffic, but also in rail traffic when driving and maneuvering. The 5G shift toward digitization in rail transport is called FRMCS -Future Railway Mobile Communication System. In a Europe-wide network, FRMCS, the successor to the GSM-R standard used to date, will revolutionize train radio in both voice and data communications as a completely new development. This will largely automate train operations and ensure maximum security of wireless transmission networks against cyber attacks and data theft.

At the heart of widespread deployment of networked and automated rail vehicles are antennas for wireless data transmission. The requirements of rail operators for secure communication and signaling and the desire of rail passengers for a networked environment on board are causing the number and quality of the antennas required for this on rail vehicles to increase rapidly. Before they can be used, the function of the antennas must be evaluated and validated in practice. The design, development and testing of new antennas for rail vehicles present particularly demanding challenges:

TU Ilmenau/Michael Reichel
Research work on the locomotive model in the virtual environment VISTA at ThIMo

To take the necessary measurements in the laboratory, the locomotives, with their 20 to 30 meters in length and 60 to 90 tons in mass, are far too large and heavy. On the other hand, measurements on a railroad operating site are distorted by the surroundings, such as track systems or maintenance halls. The Thüringer Innovationszentrum Mobilität (ThIMo) at the TU Ilmenau and Funkwerk Systems GmbH, an industrial company from Kölleda in Thuringia that specializes in rail technology, have therefore been working at full speed for two years on powerful solutions to this problem.

Before they can be used in practice, the new antennas, which are to be used in the future in train traffic for secure and robust radio communication, must be reliably tested in their final installation state. The state-of-the-art laboratory where such measurements can be made is available in the form of the "Virtual Road - Simulation and Test Facility VISTA" at the Thuringian Innovation Center for Mobility (ThIMo) at TU Ilmenau. In order to be able to measure antennas on locomotives in the laboratory, the model of a widely used locomotive type was exactly replicated in reality on a scale of 1:3.

TU Ilmenau/Tobias Nowack
From a 25 meter high working platform, the radio waves emitted by the locomotive's antennas were scanned

After extensive measurements on the model and numerical simulations of the digital twin, what was still missing were - indispensable - comparative measurements on its real counterpart. These measurements were recently carried out jointly by ThIMo and Funkwerk on the premises of the former Weimar railroad depot with the support of the Thüringer Eisenbahnverein e. V. (Thuringian Railway Association). For this purpose, an electric locomotive of the type AEG 12X was available, which corresponds very exactly to the small model in the essential details. To perform the important comparative measurement on the real locomotive with the three times smaller laboratory model, the engineers used a 25-meter-high working platform to scan the radio waves from the antennas previously mounted on the locomotive with high-precision position sensors in three dimensions and with centimeter accuracy, while the 84-ton locomotive was rotated 360 degrees on a turntable.

Within just two days, the five-member research team led by the director of ThIMo and head of the TU Ilmenau's Group RF and Microwave Research, Prof. Dr. Matthias Hein, and Funkwerk's head of development, Dr. Uwe Stöpel, successfully completed the extensive measurements. Both praised the excellent cooperation afterwards. Prof. Hein: "With these measurements, we were able to close an important technological gap with great success and in exemplary cooperation between science and industry, which will considerably accelerate the future development of antennas for rail vehicles and bring us close to a connection with established methods in the automotive sector." Dr. Uwe Stöpel has a similar view: "These free-field measurements were a brilliant conclusion of a successful professional cooperation in an extremely challenging joint research project over more than two years. The results of this project provide important foundations for the further product development of Funkwerk Systems GmbH in the new technology field of FRMCS."




Prof. Dr. Matthias Hein
Head of HR and Microwave Research
+49 3677 69-2832


Dipl.-Ing. Philipp Clauder
Project Management and Development
+49 3635 458 529