Exact Positioning for Automated Rail Applications


Collaborative "Galileo Online: GO!" project successfully completed.

  Persons at a rail track looking at a demonstrator vehicle Copyright: © IRT/RWTH A demonstrator vehicle during a live demonstration of an automatic sorting process at the Rail & Logistic Center Wustermark, in front of invited guests from the railway sector.

In the rail sector, autonomous driving holds the promise of improved safety and operations for many transportation applications. It enables efficient and secure processes – for example, it allows to reduce the number of individuals working on the tracks and thus the risk of accidents.

However, this requires comprehensive and precise localization information. As part of the “Galileo Online: GO” project, in collaboration with five industrial and research partners, the RWTH Institute of Automatic Control has developed a satellite navigation receiver connected to a central service platform and providing optimized communication paths for rail applications.

Automation offers enormous potential for the railway system, which is subject to intense cost pressures, as it promises increased efficiency and higher safety standards. Automated manoevering allows 24/7 operation, a reduced number of workers on the tracks, and profitability even for small classification yards.

Moreover, automation makes it train integrity checks easier – a function of great interest to many railway operators throughout Europe. With the help of a permanent, automated detection system, which employs two satellite navigation receivers to measure the distance between the rail car and the rearmost vehicle of the train, train integrity can be confirmed. It is possible here to differentiate between the loss of a vehicle, failure in communication, and loss of position information. Advanced train integrity checks are a prerequisite for enabling a higher density of traffic in the rail network, which in turn would result in higher efficiency and profitability.

To some extent, automatic train operation is feasible today and has already been implemented. However, further developments are necessary to make its application in passenger and freight transport a reality. The technology requires precise localization information with high availability.

  Man giving a presentation Copyright: © IRT/RWTH Dr. René Zweigel presents the vision of an autonomous railway world. The »Galileo Online: GO!« project can significantly contribute to making this vision a reality.

Navigation Receiver with Optimized Communication Paths

For the project, a reliable and highly precise satellite navigation receiver has been developed, taking into account application-specific problems such as signal shadowing effects under railway-specific conditions.

As Dr. René Zweigel from the RWTH Institute of Automatic Control explains, “The unique selling point of the receiver is that its software and hardware are seamlessly connected to a data infrastructure, a so-called central service platform. This makes it possible to centrally analyze the data transmitted by the receivers and make them available through a wide range of different information services.”

Just to name an example: one such offering could be a rail inspection service, which detects rail defects in everyday operation and thus makes it possible to schedule maintenance and repair activities in a highly targeted way. The implementation of such a service is within reach, as the Go! System is capable of detecting rail defects.

Project Completion and Live Demonstration

On June 21, 2018, the project was officially concluded with a presentation event at the Rail & Logistics Center Wustermark. In talks and live demonstrations, the project consortium illustrated how a freight train can be assembled with the help of automated sorting processes, how train integrity can be monitored, and what data analysis opportunities are available.

Precision Localization Using the New Galileo Satellite Navigation System

The Institute of Automatic Control developed the sensor fusion concept, which combines high-frequency acceleration data and rotation rate data with the low-frequency signals of the GPS and Galileo systems. The result is a robust and highly precise localization, which can be immediately used to implement automation functionality.

Galileo Online: GO! is a joint project led by the Institute of Automatic Control at RWTH Aachen University. Partners include Vodafone GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, SCISYS Deutschland GmbH, IMST GmbH, and InnoZ GmbH. The project, which has been commissioned by the German Aerospace Center DLR, has received funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.