Estimated Time of Arrival rail freight to become more accurate
It is up to the terminals now to present their valuable data regarding the arrival times of certain trains. This data is collected and combined with other Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) figures. Combined, they should result in more accurate predictions on when a train arrives at a certain location.
The above is the aim of the ELETA project, which stands for Electronic ETA. It is one of the projects that was agreed upon during the 2016 TEN-T Days in Rotterdam, when the sector committed to boosting international rail freight by defining ten priority projects. Last week, on Rail Freight Day, the respective committees presented the progress of each of these projects. “Execution of the ELETA is on schedule, targeting completion in September 2019”, the team explained.
Getting on board
“The ELETA project has focused on letting railway undertakings (RU’s) and terminals sign TIS user agreements. Practically all RUs and about 67 per cent of ELETA-terminals have signed the TIS user agreement”, it added. TIS is the platform where data is inserted, combined and calculated. “The TIS user agreement is an eight-pages long document to ensure the parties involved that they only receive the data that applies to their train path”, explained Ad Toet, project coordinator.
Unfortunately, the aim of the document is misunderstood, he continues. “The document is considered to be complicated and legally significant, although it only results in more information for the terminal.” The fact that ETA figures should be more accurate was agreed upon by all stakeholders, according to the project management. “When provided to contract partners, resources such as rolling stock and terminal capacity can be optimised and freight forwarders and shippers can be provided with up-to-date information about the status of their freight and estimated time of arrival.”
Although ETA figures are provided in the industry, the quality and data for the algorithms are poor, the project describes. Most forecast messages are based on time-shifting; for example, if a train is fifteen minutes delayed, the forecast for the continuing train run is a delay of fifteen minutes. “This method is quite rough, but it was the best alternative available”, commented Toet.
More exact data can be calculated by forecast calculators taking algorithms into account, and this is what the TIS platform aims to do. “By using the experiences of previous train journeys and delays from the past, Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning can achieve a higher level of accuracy”, said Toet.
Currently, only a few infrastructure managers take into account the ETA of their neighbouring counterparts. “To display train running information during a whole train run, sharing of forecast messages is a prerequisite”, the management describes. But here another problem arose: a unique reference number connecting different train numbers to one train run is necessary in order to share train running information. An estimation of all train runs in TIS shows that over 25 per cent are not linked with a reference number.
Currently, there are many trains, which have national train numbers instead of unique international numbers. This results in loss of connections in TIS, where they appears as separate trains. The use of unique train numbering is due to be implemented by 2021. For the duration of the ELETA project, there are alternatives for linking national train’s numbers for the trains in the ELETA project, such as manually or automatically.
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The ELETA project is applied in twelve pilot intermodal trains. Most of these are on the Rhine Alpine Corridor, while another is on the line Ludwigshafen – Barcelona and the connection Rotterdam – Linz – Wolfurt (Austria). The projects involves terminals in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy. The customers are the combined transport operators involved: Hupac, Kombiverkehr, Rail Cargo Operator (RCA), Lineas and Mercitalia Intermodal. “The challenge was to derive the relevant data for these customers from the TIS database. Here, we have succeeded”, explained Toet.
Another challenge is the difference in digitalisation levels between the terminals. Whereas some are fully digitalised, others are small-scale terminals where digitalisation barely plays a role. “Digitalisation of terminals in the EU is still in its infancy and ICT systems are not really harmonised. The information ELETA needs from the terminals can be entered via an interface in TIS and from there used again for the ETA calculation. But, best would be if that information can be entered directly into TIS via an interface. We are working on this in the Netherlands and it is being done in Duisburg and Ludwigshafen”, explained Toet.