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High-speed, automation and interconnectedness

Mobility of the future: Researchers and city planners are developing ideas of how trains and stations might look a few decades from now

Hubs or transshipment terminals in our city centres: huge changes are in store for railways and stations as people and products become more and more mobile. That will lead to more passengers, more trains, higher speeds and shorter intervals. At the same time space is becoming ever scarcer as metropolitan areas continue to grow.

Today, researchers, architects, city planners and DB employees are already working on the future of rail freight transport. They are designing stations that are more flexible, more efficient and – most importantly – smarter.  

Passenger railway stations that form part of a larger complex of buildings, containing offices, apartments and local recreation centres, are conceivable. As central hubs between various modes of transportation, the railway stations of the future will continue to grow in importance. In just a few decades, passengers will commute in a high-speed, autonomous pods from one interchange point to the next. Smaller railway stations will become lively centres of public life.

The more cities grow, the less centrally organised they will be. Instead of one city centre, there will be many smaller centres, similar to the current situation in Berlin. Railway stations can become the core of these hyper-local communities", says Johannes Zück from DB. He is working on the topic of smart cities in the department for Group strategy.

Hauling freight all the way into the city centre

Naturally, these changes will affect freight transport, too. Freight trains have long been high-tech modes of transportation with a high level of interconnectedness. In future, they could become even smarter and more efficient.

The German Aerospace Centre (DLR), for example, is working on the "Next Generation Train NGT Cargo" project to devise the train of the future. "We want to make transporting goods by rail more flexible, efficient and punctual and thus more attractive", says Joachim Winter, the project head. Smart individual wagons with their own electric drive could be ordered by customers using apps and assembled into trains by means of automated processes. Coupling and control processes managed digitally will network the single wagonload network with block trains operating at constant intervals. That will save time and money and add to the number of trains that can travel on the network.

The transshipment terminals will also change accordingly. Various carriers will be automatically loaded and unloaded on open sidings and in centralized logistics centres. It will be possible to transport even small quantities of freight at a reasonable cost.
These highly automated means of conveyance will even transport cargo up to the last mile. The transshipment terminals in the cities and metropolitan regions of the future will be linked to an underground rail network. Freight will be loaded automatically on multiple levels or transferred onto other modes of transport while city life continues above ground.