Attractive and safe
Arrival and departure, welcome and farewell, staying and shopping - a train station is not just a traffic hub, a building or a site of transition. It is quite a complex operation designed to serve numerous interests, desires and functions. About 5,800 active train stations are located in Germany. Since Deutsche Bahn (DB, German Rail) was privatised in 1994, DB Station&Service AG has been in charge of operating the German train stations. In order to provide high-quality service, DB Station&Service AG has developed the SST program.
This concept is based on the main aspects of Service, Safety and Tidiness and is dedicated to making the non-transportation part of your travel activities as pleasant as possible. In other words, the goal is to accompany the train travellers in an attractive and safe manner from the moment they drive up and park their cars in front of the station, during their stay in the building, up to the moment they board the train. This also includes arrival assistance in the form of city information systems and optimised links to public transportation systems.
Extraordinary pilot project
This customer-oriented approach is put into practice in a decentralised fashion by approximately 70 station management units throughout Germany. In the German federal state of Saarland, the Saarbrücken station management unit is responsible for 73 local train stations. Similarly, it is the prime goal for the 50 employees to make the travellers' stay at the stations as pleasant as possible. Helpful information at the right time is one aspect of this concept. In order to improve this service to its customers, the station management unit in the Saarbrücken central station has initiated an extraordinary pilot project.
Out of sight
"Dear ladies and gentlemen on track 12, welcome to Saarbrücken central station. After a short stop, this regional train will continue its journey to Trier. Your transfer options are as follows: regional train to Pirmasens Nord via St. Ingbert, Zweibrücken." Such announcements would sound strange if the train had not arrived yet or had already departed. In order to start the announcements properly, the announcers need direct visual contact with the train in the station.
Until the end of March 2003, this was not a problem in Saarbrücken as the announcers' workplace was in the switch tower from where they could view the tracks. On April 1, 2003, however, the Saarbrücken switch tower was closed. Instead, tracks are managed remotely from Karlsruhe, some 100 miles (150 km) away. Worse yet, the new announcers' office does not allow seeing the tracks directly. As switch tower activities are centralised all over the country, more and more stations are facing a similar situation.
Hartmut Fries, head of the Saarbrücken station management unit explains, "We could have moved the announcement service to Karlsruhe as well. But the announcers there wouldn't know exactly when the train doors were opening. And on top of this, we would not have had any influence on the announcements any more."
Nevertheless, the station manager's top priority is to provide customers with competent and accurate information. "As a result, we have created the position of a Regional Announcer and have installed nine cameras that provide precise images of the trains on our ten tracks," he says. With more than 420 trains arriving and departing at Saarbrücken central station every day, such a solution was desperately needed.
"Additionally," Hartmut Fries continues, "this solution will soon enable us to provide on-time announcements for the stations in St. Ingbert and Homburg/Saar - from Saarbrücken." These two towns are located about 10 and 22 miles (15 and 35 km) away from Saarbrücken. Future plans have developed even beyond that. "By the year 2010, we want all announcements for all train stations in Saarland to be made from just one announcement centre so that travellers will be informed not only competently but also efficiently", Hartmut Fries explains.
For the Saarbrücken pilot project, Deutsche Bahn uses network cameras made by MOBOTIX. Using a server, these cameras provide live images of the tracks to the announcers' office. In order to protect the travellers' privacy, the cameras' extended image storage features are not utilised. Instead, the system is used exclusively for detecting when the trains are stopping.
Individual IP addresses
The nine cameras are password-protected and they are integrated into the internal network of Deutsche Bahn using individual IP addresses. Thus, only the Regional Announcer can access the camera images. Thanks to a customised menu, the Regional Announcer can switch between a tiled view of all tracks and the view of an individual track by a simple mouse click.
All requirements met
Uwe Lebeck of the station management unit explains why the company has decided in favour of the MOBOTIX system. "When drafting the new position, we worked out a list of requirements covering all major aspects. The MOBOTIX network camera fulfils all these requirements: it is small, it can be installed easily and it has an individual IP address. Also, the cameras' features and the low price compared to a CCTV system has made this decision an easy one," he adds.
Since March 28, 2003, the system is operating. "So far, we have not experienced any problems," summarises Hartmut Fries. "For our present situation, this solution is more than sufficient. And I am convinced that it will continue to be so for future installations as well," he adds.
"As compared to the switch tower situation of the past," his colleague goes on, "our announcers now have a much improved overview and can react to a lot more details." Chances are - bearing the train travelers in mind - that this pilot project will be transformed into a future-oriented station management concept.