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Annaberg-Buchholz and TU Chemnitz Intend to Establish Research Campus for Automated Train Operation

Partial success in "WIR! - Transformation through innovation in the region" funding program: application can be submitted to federal government for unique pilot program in the Ore Mountains

  • Logo of the project with a train in the background
    Photo: Jacob Müller

What used to be possible only in science fiction movies will perhaps soon become reality at a research campus in Annaberg-Buchholz, due to the combined expertise and influence of several regional partners. The course has now been set: with numerous powerful confederates onboard such as Siemens AG, Deutsche Bahn, the German Federal Railway Authority, as well as the Free State of Saxony, the city of Annaberg-Buchholz and the Chemnitz University of Technology submitted a grant application to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for their idea to establish a pilot program. This project, the first and only one of its kind in Europe, will advance research on and promote implementation of highly automated train operation on standard-gauge rails in the Ore Mountains as well as eco-friendly transit with particular focus on hybrid technology.

Conditions are excellent: since 2005, cutting-edge computer-based railway interlocking technology from Siemens AG has been in use at the Annaberg-Buchholz Süd train station. As of January 19, 2018, all train operation conducted by the Erzgebirgsbahn railway company will now be fully automated by means of a digital interlocking system. The track between Annaberg-Buchholz and Schwarzenberg is available to be used for test drives. Development on Saxony’s EcoTrain project for hybrid railway vehicle technology has made great progress and the lower train station in Annaberg-Buchholz is an ideal location to establish a research campus in the Ore Mountains.

The first major hurdle has already been cleared. Just a few days ago, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research confirmed that the project concept was accepted to the "WIR! - Transformation through innovation in the region" program. From more than 100 proposals, only the best 32 drafts were selected. Now, supported by the first grant funding totaling 200,000 euros, it can be shaped into a detailed plan. This must be re-submitted to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research by autumn 2018. Of the 32 projects remaining, only twelve will be accepted and awarded substantial research funding amounting to five to eight million euros in just the first two years.  

TU Chemnitz and the Fraunhofer institutes IWU and ENAS, the city of Annaberg-Buchholz and the DB RegioNetz Verkehrs GmbH/Infrastruktur GmbH Erzgebirgsbahn are responsible for the project on a broad scale. Economic development corporations in Chemnitz and the Ore Mountains also provide support along with many additional partners.

The challenges are formidable: issues such as control, safety and route monitoring are central to automated train operation. It is also important that the people, signals, surroundings and train stations can be interactively detected. For this, powerful computers, sensors, cameras and interfaces are necessary. A high-performance 5G network will be constructed along the route for this purpose.

Vice President for Transfer and Academic Qualification at the Chemnitz University of Technology, Prof. Dr. Uwe Götze, sees an enormous potential in the project: “With these intended research goals, we will be able to make significant contributions to sustainable railway transportation. In addition, the establishment of the research campus will enhance the connection between regional businesses and the Chemnitz University of Technology and also boost their innovative capacity. Based on the existing cooperative ties between the partners and the preliminary work that has already been done, including in the EcoTrain project, the conditions are excellent for conducting successful research.”

The Mayor of Annaberg-Buchholz Rolf Schmidt is confident: “This project idea has the potential to put the Ore Mountains in an absolutely unique position in Europe. Under real-world conditions, research, technology and innovation on automated railway operation would be integrated and refined. We are very well-equipped with the TU Chemnitz and many other partners. There is an opportunity for an academic research institution in our city with far-reaching positive effects for the entire region and for highly-skilled jobs. Regional automobile and supply industries, mechanical and plant engineering, and businesses in the digitalization sector also stand to profit from this project. Furthermore, innovative concepts for the mobility of tomorrow could also be developed in the rural area.”

Additional project partners and supporters of the planned "Smart Rail Connectivity Campus": Saxon State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport / TU Dresden, Institute of Railway Vehicles and Railway Technology/Chair of Electric Railways / German Federal Railway Authority / SIEMENS AG Mobility/Rail Automation Domestic / DLR German Aerospace Center - Institute of Transportation Systems / IHK Chemnitz / IAV GmbH Ingenieurgesellschaft Auto und Verkehr / Hörmann Rail & Road Engineering GmbH / BTS Rail Saxony / Mechanical Engineering Network Saxony VEMASinnovativ / MENNEKES Elektrotechnik Sachsen GmbH / Handtmann Leichtmetallgießerei Annaberg GmbH / FUCHS Ingenieurbüro für Verkehrsbau GmbH

More information is available from: City of Annaberg-Buchholz, Mayor Thomas Proksch, telephone +49 3733 425101, e-mail thomas.proksch@annaberg-buchholz.de, as well as Chemnitz University of Technology, Vice President for Transfer and Academic Qualification, Prof. Dr. Uwe Götze, telephone +49 371 531-10030, e-mail ptw@tu-chemnitz.de.

(Translation: Sarah Wilson)

Mario Steinebach
25.01.2018

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