Germany Agrees to Accelerating Implementation of Digital Signal Boxes

Deutsche Bahn, the German Railway Industry Association and the Federal Railway Authority (Eisenbahn-Bundesamt) have agreed to work closely together so that new digital technologies can be rolled out quickly.

By the end of 2021 ten German regions will have switched their conventional signal box technology to digital technologies, which will deliver significantly more capacity and better quality rail operations. The German government is financing the introduction of new signal boxes to the tune of 500 million euros. This is giving a boost to the digitalisation of the railway.

Detail of a digital signal box
Detail of a digital signal box

The German Railway Industry Association (VDB), the Federal Railway Authority and Deutsche Bahn signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Berlin, agreeing to push ahead this transition together. Digital signal box technology, along with the rolling programme of equipping the rail network with the European Train Control System (ETCS), are important components of the ‘Digital Railway Germany’ programme.

Enak Ferlemann, Parliamentary Secretary of State in the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said:

“The BMVI is actively pushing ahead with digitalising the railways. The government has been investing heavily in the introduction of the standardised European train control technology ETCS since 2015. In line with our rail masterplan we now want to invest 500 million euros from the stimulus package to support the rail industry and make our network infrastructure more efficient. Standardised, open interfaces make it possible for systems to be approved sooner and for a broader involvement of rail technology companies in the implementation. This will allow us to markedly speed our the digitalisation of our rail network. Since the new systems are compatible with both the current and future signal box technologies from different manufacturers, the environmentally friendly railway will become a future-proof transport mode for the 21st century.”

The Memorandum of Understanding states that the complete digitalisation of signal box technology in Germany is to be achieved by 2035. The original timeline gave a date of 2040. The VDB, Railway Authority and Deutsche Bahn will now accelerate the processes for the planning, approval, financing and changeover of technology in line with existing legal structures.

The digital technology is already in use on a number of regional routes. Digital signal boxes are the latest generation of signal boxes. They are the successor to electronic signal boxes. Instead of requiring lengthy cables and electric switching technology, the commands to points, signals and level crossings are issued digitally using high-performance fibre-glass cables.

Gerald Hörster, President, Eisenbahn-Bundesamt, said:

“The railway must start digitalising its signal box technology now. This will significantly improve the availability of the system. The Federal Railway Authority will support DB and the wider industry within its capabilities. In doing so, we are demonstrating the public administration's capacity to act and are substantially contributing to making the railway fit for the future.”

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