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Pictures of the Future



Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Urban Mobility

Riding High on World’s First Cloud-Based Rail Traffic Control System

The Gornergrat Bahn was the world’s first fully electrified cog railway. Today it is still setting standards.

The world’s first cloud-based rail traffic control system is now providing service to the Gornergrat Bahn, a rail system that’s practically in the sky itself – thanks to a control system, IT infrastructure, and application software from Siemens.

A centralized rail automation traffic control system from Siemens known as “Iltis” has been controlling and monitoring the rail operations of the Swiss federal rail company (SBB) and of numerous private Swiss railroad companies for 20 years. The system is also used by the Gornergrat Bahn (GGB), a rack railway built in 1898, which ascends 1,500 meters, connecting Zermatt with the summit of the Gornergrat. The 3,089 meter peak offers visitors a magnificent panorama — weather permitting.

The GGB railway brings passengers direct from Zermatt station to the summit of the Gornergrat. The ride takes 33 minutes and requires a vertical climb of 1,469 m.

In addition to swirling around the mountain, clouds are now also playing a role at GGB –  Europe’s second-highest railway – thanks to a virtual implementation of its control system. The implementation, which is the first of its kind worldwide, entered service only recently. Known as “Iltis as a Service,” the new cloud-based system has made it possible for GGB to obtain all of the functions of its rail traffic control system by licensing it as a service. This has obvious benefits, because expensive investments in hardware and software are no longer needed. What’s more, maintenance and any necessary repair work are carried out directly by Siemens, without the need for a site visit by a technician. A dispatcher in Zermatt remains responsible for operating the control system, which is used to monitor the overall system and to set switches; all of the underlying technology and computing power is installed in Siemens’ data center in Wallisellen, Switzerland.

The views from the Gornergrat plateau take in the Monte Rosa massif with Switzerland’s highest peak (Dufourspitze, 4,634 m); the second-largest glacier in the Alps, the Gorner Glacier; and a total of 29 mountains above 4,000 m, including the Matterhorn.

Security First

“Iltis as a Service” is based on the three-computer principle so that it can provide Iltis functions in their accustomed high availability and security. A redundant fixed line connects Siemens servers with Iltis operator workstations in Zermatt. Securing these lines against external threats was a key element of the realization of this configuration, and was achieved by utilizing state-of-the-art security technology. Dispatchers also have the option of activating a replacement computer on site. This provides an additional fallback level with which the GGB’s interlockings can be operated autonomously in Zermatt.

A permit for test operation had to be obtained from the Swiss Federal Office for Transport (BAV) before “Iltis as a Service” could enter service. This was issued in June 2016. The experience gained during the test phase, which lasted from August to December 2016, was consistently positive and fulfilled all expectations. Regular operation, which commenced at the beginning of 2017, has confirmed the capability and reliability of this cloud-based solution.

Benno Estermann
Picture credits: from top: 1. Steffen Schnur/Moment Editrial/Getty Images, 2. mauritius images/hanmon/Alamy, 3. mauritius images/Helene ROCHE Photography/Alamy