Translation tool aims to overcome language barrier international freight

Biasca: centro di manutenzione e intervento (CMI) delle Ferrovie Federali Svizzere. Nella foto il treno di spegnimento e di salvataggio (TSS) pronto ad intervenire in caso di bisogno all'interno della galleria di base Alptransit del Gottardo. © Keystone / Ti-Press / Gabriele Putzu

A pilot with a translating tool has to overcome the language barrier in international rail freight. Translate4Rail, a joint programme by The International Union of Railways (UIC) and RailNetEurope (RNE) developed the tool with a set of predefined messages as well as for speech-to-speech translation of communication between traffic controllers and train drivers. The Language Tool will undergo testing on the Austrian-Italian border section Villach – Tarvisio (Pontteba).

The Language Tool started as an idea in the Language Program and X Border Project, and is now being developed by the Translate4Rail (UIC/RNE) Project. Rail freight and its future rely heavily on cross border exchanges. Nonetheless, interoperability barriers still exist, such as the B1 level language proficiency requirement. To overcome this barrier, the UIC and RNE launched on 1 December 2019 a joint project named Translate4Rail. It is financed from the Shift2Rail fund of the European Union.

Across borders

The Translate4Rail project is coordinated by the UIC Freight Department and will last for 24 months, until 30 November 2021. According to the European Commission, the main target of the Translate4Rail project is ”to increase the traffic fluidity at borders, at least maintain the level of safety,  and to increase the competitiveness of the rail sector.”

The Translate4Rail Advisory Board meeting, which took place in Paris in February 2020, brought the idea to start the Language Tool development for a tablet version based on a prepared set of predefined messages. These predefined messages are tailored for rail operation, and are originally developed by the UIC X Border Project and afterwards harmonised with infrastructure managers in the RNE Language Program.

Translation tool for cross-border communication in rail, source: Translate4Rail

Testing trajectory

The T4R Language Tool prototype is now ready to be tested within pilot tests proving the concept of predefined messages as well as for speech-to-speech translation of communication between traffic controllers and train drivers. The Language Tool will undergo testing on the Villach – Tarvisio (Pontteba) border section.

Austrian Infrastructure Manager ÖBB Infra and the Italian Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI), together with Railway Undertakings Mercitalia, DB Cargo and Rail Cargo Group, are going to start with the laboratory phase of the tool testing. In a second step, based on the laboratory test results, the tool will progress to a field testing phase to evaluate the tool’s functionalities in daily operation. With this approach, railway undertakings and infrastructure managers are making progress in an aligned way to overcome the language barrier.

This approach was entirely in line with the sector Language Programme and covers the first phase of tool development. Starting in December 2019, the functional requirements were prepared and published in order to contract an IT company for the development of the tool. Following the successful tender, work on the tool started in May 2020, delivering results already in August 2020 in the form of the first Language Tool prototype. Subsequently, some first tests were conducted and the tool improved accordingly, to be ready for pilot testing starting from September 2020.

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Author: Esther Geerts

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