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Stuttgart, the new heart of European rail transport

In 2008, the city of Stuttgart unveiled a new slogan describing itself as "Das neue Herz Europas" ("The new heart of Europe") and launched an ambitious plan to transform rail transport in and around the metropolitan area.

As part of this plan, Thales was recently awarded a major contract (worth 127 million euros) to digitalise the signalling system for the Stuttgart rail node. Oliver Dörre, Chief Executive Officer and Country Director, Thales Deutschland, describes the project and explains how it is expected to be a blueprint and a decisive impulse for digitalisation of the entire German rail network.

Mr. Dörre, what does the Thales contract involve?

Deutsche Bahn, one of our most important customers in transportation, has selected Thales to comprehensively digitalise the Stuttgart rail node. Specifically, it involves installing a digital signalling system and deploying the latest European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 system, as well as an Automatic Train Operations (ATO) system with driver. This includes more than 6,000 electronic kilometre markers (balises), at least 1,300 axle counting points and approximately 650 point machines for real-time traffic supervision and guidance.

What are the main benefits for rail users?

The Stuttgart metropolitan region is one of the most densely populated in Germany, with about 2.7 million inhabitants, and has a high volume of road traffic. Furthermore, building new lines within the city limits is out of the question.  By digitalising the signalling system, we will help boost the capacity of existing rail infrastructure by 20%.

How will you do that?

Digital signalling systems enable train operators to safely reduce the headway between trains, while maintaining maximum operational safety. That means they can run more passenger and freight trains, with better on-time performance and improved comfort, without building a single kilometre of new track.

And how will the operator, Deutsche Bahn, benefit?

Deutsche Bahn will benefit in many ways: by carrying more passengers and freight on the same rail infrastructure, reducing its carbon footprint and maintenance costs, increasing customer satisfaction, boosting revenues and improving the competitive performance of rail transport compared with other modes of transportation. More broadly, the project will support Europe's ambition to become carbon-neutral by 2050 through the promotion of greater rail transport use.

How important is the environmental dimension?

It's very important, particularly for Stuttgart region. By making rail transport more attractive, Deutsche Bahn and we are convinced that people will be encouraged to leave their cars at home and take the train instead — and that will bring significant reductions in CO2 emissions for us all.

“This demanding project will be a reference for European and worldwide major cities”. 

What makes this particular contract so special for you?

For several reasons. First, it's a complex, challenging undertaking, in which we are able to demonstrate one of our core expertises, namely the handling of complexity at all technical levels. It's much harder to modernise an existing rail infrastructure, especially a high-density infrastructure like this, than to build a new one! You need to install a brand-new signalling system with minimum disruption to train service, and of course without compromising safety in any way. We are a renowned specialist in modernising legacy signalling infrastructure, as we have a lot of global experience not only with this type of operation on rail systems in general, but also in particular with Stuttgart, where we have been present for many years. What we are aiming to do is deliver top-notch technology from Stuttgart to Stuttgart itself.

That's also why the Stuttgart contract, which relies on very advanced technologies, is a co-innovation project with the operator. We have built a lot of mutual trust with our strategic customer Deutsche Bahn over the years, and in this case we will be working together even more closely because Thales's main competence centre for mainline rail is also located in Ditzingen, near Stuttgart.

Last, but not least, this contract is also the first stage in an even more ambitious programme. Stuttgart will be a blueprint for the digitalisation of Germany's entire rail network, and is likely to serve also as a shining reference for metropolitan regions all over the world.

“With our dual competencies in rail signalling and cybersecurity, Thales is exceptionally well placed to manage this type of large-scale project”.

What about cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is clearly of paramount importance – it's something we design into the system from Day 1 and take into account at every subsequent stage of the project. We call this “Cyber-secured by design”. With our dual competencies in rail signalling and cybersecurity, Thales is exceptionally well placed to manage this type of large-scale project.

When will the project be delivered?

The Stuttgart node digitalisation project is scheduled to be completed by 2025. As of that date, long-distance, regional and suburban S-Bahn trains will all travel on a network equipped with the latest digital technology. Digitalisation of the entire German rail network is scheduled for completion in 2035.