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EuroBrake 2021: Eight things road can learn from rail – and vice versa

Updated: May 20, 2021

Apart from the physics involved in stopping, what, if anything, do rail and road have in common?

Dr. Stefan Doersch, DB Systemtechnik GmbH

EuroBrake 2021 once again featured a focus on rail. The list of differences between the vehicles, driving conditions, and infrastructure for road and rail is of course considerable, but the presence of the rail industry at EuroBrake 2021 on a predominantly automotive agenda raised the question: what can industries such as automotive learn from other sectors, such as rail? And apart from the physics involved in stopping a vehicle, what, if anything, do rail and road have in common?

This was the subject of a EuroBrake 2021 keynote by Dr. Stefan Doersch, who heads up brakes, couplings, and door-systems at DB Systemtechnik GmbH.

In addition to Doersch’s keynote, the EuroBrake 2021 agenda features three technical sessions and a panel session devoted to the global rail industry.

Chris Mason, FISITA

“The more we can learn from other industries, the more we can bring new ideas into the work the automotive industry is doing,” said FISITA Chief Executive Chris Mason during the event. “Influence comes in ways you wouldn't have thought previously. We used to talk about the automobile and its constituent parts. Now we learn from people who are bringing in new technologies. They're going to influence mobility in the future. The fact that train-to-infrastructure connectivity is of interest to the automotive industry is a great example.”

Roy Link, Link Engineering

There are also things the rail industry – and other sectors such as aerospace – can learn from the automotive industry, noted Roy Link, Chairman and Chief Executive of Link Engineering and Chair of the Executive Board for the SAE Brake Colloquium. “The information which you glean out of those interactions is extremely valuable,” said Link. “And remember, in between rail and automotive is mass transit. How to handle a massive number of people, and the energies that we see in rail, and the speeds that we see in aircraft all contribute to the technology that's coming in the automotive industry.”

“We're working hard in the FISITA community on the technology of mobility, and that's not just automobile based,” said Mason. “Mobility is where traditional automobile-based technology meets aerospace technology, or the mass movement of people,” he explained. “There are many other industry sectors we can invite to our braking conferences.”

Here are eight areas where the automotive industry can learn from rail and other sectors – and vice versa:

Jan Münchhoff, AUDI AG


“Rail has been doing standardisation work for many years,” said Jan Münchhoff, Chair of EuroBrake. “This is something the automotive industry can learn from rail. There is considerable standardisation in the rail world, and this is also a good opportunity for the development of automation.”


“There is a realm of material technologies and ways of investigating materials, and looking at better ways of doing things that we see in the rail industry and the aircraft industry,” said Roy Link. He noted the use of carbon fibre, which came out of the aircraft industry and is now being utilised in automotive applications on an increasing basis.


“Train-to-train and train-to-infrastructure communication is of real interest to the automotive industry,” said Jan Münchhoff. “Obviously there are different circumstances, but the automotive world can learn about communication from rail.”


Although simulation is being increasingly used in the automotive industry, automakers and suppliers still have much to learn about the use of simulation, said Roy Link, who noted that “Scale testing and utilising samples of materials to project full-scale action is very commonly used in the rail industry, and in the aircraft industry.”


“The use of software to influence brake performance and braking comfort, and also the blending of electrical and frictional braking, is something we can learn from other sectors,” said Münchhoff.


As noted earlier, the physics involved in stopping a vehicle are the same, whether it’s a passenger car or an intercity train – and there is an accompanying need to ensure the comfort of the vehicle occupants during that braking activity, said Dr. Stefan Doersch of DB Systemtechnik, especially when the vehicle is in autonomous mode.


The automotive industry always talks about how the use of autonomous systems has the potential for dramatic increases in safety, said Doersch; by contrast, the rail industry talks about “proof of equivalent safety” – that is, proof that high levels of operational safety are not negatively impacted by the replacement of human drivers with autonomous systems. When it comes to automation, the issue of liability is the same in road and rail when the responsibility for the task of driving is transferred from a human driver to an automated system.

Daily brake testing

Daily brake testing is a legal requirement for rail operators, said Doersch, who asked, could daily brake testing be introduced in the automotive industry for autonomous cars? “In our daily brake testing, we check if the brake command line is working and active from the driver's interface to the very end of the train. We have to check if the local brake components in each carriage are switched on and working. And we have to check the pneumatic and electric energy supplies throughout the train.” These checks can be automated, using sensors, or manual, by the driver and staff. And at the end of each brake test, the driver has to manually check the brake lever and the HMI.


As we move into an era of mobility as a service (MaaS), cars, trains, and all other forms of transportation take on equal importance, and the journey becomes more important than the vehicle. Clearly, there is very little technology overlap between road and rail, but there’s enough to begin seeking out areas of common interest, lessons to learn, and opportunities for knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

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