The agreement, signed on June 12 by Hamburg mayor Dr Peter Tschentscher, Siemens chief technology officer and member of the managing board Dr Roland Busch, and DB board member for infrastructure Mr Ronald Pofalla, calls for the conversion of the 23km eastern section of Line S21 between Berliner Tor and Aumühle for fully automatic operation, and to equip four trains with the required technology to operate on it.

Under the "Digital S-Bahn Hamburg" project, trains will operate on the future European Automatic Train Operation (ATO) standard in combination with European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2. While drivers will continue to be on board for operation outside the automated area, they will only intervene when required along the automated section of track.

“In Hamburg we are starting to digitalise operations in one of our most important S‐Bahn networks in Germany,” says Pofalla. “This is a milestone in our future‐oriented “Digital Tracks for Germany” programme, for it marks the launch of the biggest technological change in years. This project will be an important reference for designing and developing the intelligent and climate‐friendly rail networks that we need, especially in large cities. This is a good day for railways in Germany.”

“The S‐Bahn in Hamburg is an excellent example of how the digital transformation can have a positive impact on many areas of our lives,” says Busch. “Intelligent transport will enable us to have more and more people use urban public transport. Automated rail operations have many advantages: considerably more people can be transported with higher capacities on the same line, energy consumption can also be cut, and costs for the operator can be reduced, such as through optimised travel profiles.”

From 2021 onwards, the four trains will automatically travel the 500m between the siding and platform at the intermediate station at Bergedorf, without any personal on-board.

Following a successful pilot phase, it is planned to automate the entire Hamburg S-Bahn network.

The cooperation agreement is the result of the memorandum of understandings signed last year on the Smart City partnership between DB and Hamburg, with a joint feasibility study agreed upon at the time providing the basis for the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg pilot project.