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A timetable for more safety

Min Reading Time
Tags: Efficiency, Safety, ArtificialIntelligence, ZeroAccidents
Hop on, hop off, be there: Streetcars are an important part of urban mobility. Safety and reliability are decisive criteria for passengers – something that ZF supports with two intelligently networked systems.
Lars Weitbrecht, September 18, 2018
Lars Weitbrecht originally comes from the music and gaming industry, but in addition to holding a game pad or guitar in his hand, he also enjoys the power of the pen and the feel of the steering wheel.
Many people believe that streetcars – or trams – are just as much a symbol of their city as the local football team. Streetcar passengers are spared many of the problems that car drivers face when traveling through the city: They don't have to deal with a lack of parking spaces, driving bans or speed cameras. Subways and metropolitan railways are becoming increasingly important in times where sustainable mobility solutions are popular in view of imminent gridlock and climate change.

In 2016, subways and streetcars travelled 17 billion passenger kilometers throughout Germany – a trend on the rise. So there's no question that there is plenty of potential for growth in the field of urban railway traffic. However, this also increases the requirements placed on vehicles, infrastructure and the safety concept of the streetcars.

Danger on the Streetcar Tracks

Like a scene from a horror movie: A railway crossing, poor visibility. Pedestrians in a rush, not looking at the warning light or have overlooked it amongst the hustle and bustle. Man against 35 tons of metal.

In Germany, the Federal Statistical Office listed just under 1,300 accidents with physical injuries in streetcar transport in 2016. Points at which railways and roads cross are particularly dangerous as a collision with a careless motorist can derail trains. However, even stations harbor treacherous risks. Here, those who are in a rush are more than happy to shorten their route by crossing the tracks. What’s more, the widespread use of smartphones over the course of the past decade has certainly not helped the accident statistics. People who are busy staring down at their phones are obviously paying less attention to their surroundings.
Metropolitan railways and streetcars in Germany travel
passenger kilometers
each year.

There have been pilot projects with warning lights installed in the ground, but it is still unclear as to whether they really help in preventing accidents. As a result, it is often left to the train driver to keep their eyes peeled for people and other sources of danger. This means checking several displays, then the mirrors, then potentially leaning out of the cabin to take a look. Only then it is safe to set off.

The solution: artificial intelligence on rails

This process is simplified by a new safety function that ZF has developed on the basis of the new ZF ProAI central computer that is capable of deep-learning. A smart algorithm uses data from cameras, LiDAR and radar sensors to calculate a detailed virtual image of the surroundings. As a result, the driver is able to take a look at their surroundings within a radius of six meters by simply looking at the monitor. Furthermore, the perception system of ZF ProAI, cameras and radar sensors automatically recognizes people as well as obstacles and highlights them on the display. Due to the fact that ZF ProAI is equipped with respective interfaces, it can also be connected to actuating systems in the future in order to take rescuing action, e.g., with an automated emergency braking function.

Status monitoring for enhanced streetcar punctuality

Alongside safety, reliability is also a sore point for passengers. This is because the following seemingly likes to happen especially during snow, hail or rain and when time is of the essence: The streetcar is late or canceled. There are plenty of possible reasons for this. Such issues can sometimes be attributed to human error (operating error, blocked door) or force majeure (branches on the tracks), sometimes the train's technology simply fails. Other reasons include the operator not noticing quickly enough that the rails should have been serviced and it is no longer safe to travel along the route.
Comprehensive condition monitoring helps to make streetcars, subways and other types of trains safer and more reliable.
Smart Typeplate, the digital typeplate from ZF simplifies predictive maintenance planning for rail vehicles.