Optimising traffic management

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Taku Fujiyama, from University College London (UCL), and Lei Chen, from the University of Birmingham, on the work and early findings of the Developing and Evaluating Dynamic Optimisation for Train Control Systems project.

Capacity shortage is a major problem on the GB mainline railway. As new trains, signalling, asset and customer systems are increasingly connected to each other and produce a wealth of real-time data, it is possible to use them to better regulate and optimise railway traffic, thereby increasing the capacity. 

Missing at present, however, are clever and reliable algorithms to exploit the data for traffic control, as well as fully integrated simulation environments that can test and compare different algorithms and optimisation approaches. As part of the Future Traffic Regulation and Optimisation (FuTRO) programme, the ‘Developing and Evaluating Dynamic Optimisation for Train Control Systems (DEDOTS)’ project by the UCL and the University of Birmingham provides a step towards the goal of optimised traffic management. 

The core idea of UCL’s algorithm is to get trains to arrive at junctions not only at the right time, but also at the right speeds. Speed control of arriving trains is often neglected, but it can be beneficial to prevent trains from having to slow down more than necessary and then having to gain speed again when the movement authority is extended. By arriving at the right speed, junction clearance time can be shortened. This is particularly true for freight trains. 

UCL’s algorithm also optimises train sequences at junctions. Currently, when two or more trains are competing for the same route, Automatic Route Setting systems can prioritise them through the conflicting section. Our system has larger control areas in which a prediction of the traffic state is made. Thus, even if there is no competition for a particular route, some trains may be better to wait for others because reordering them would be good for the future traffic state. Furthermore, our algorithms for sequence management closely work with those for train speed control – optimisation across them both allows for even better traffic management. 

The developed algorithms have been thoroughly tested using the University of Birmingham’s DEDOTS simulation model. While many suppliers develop simulation programs to test their own systems, it is important to objectively compare different approaches and techniques. The University of Birmingham has capabilities for a range of post-processing analysis, allowing for comparison and benchmarking. The project has modelled the Birmingham Cross City Line and the section of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between King’s Cross and Doncaster. 

The project is now testing the DEDOTS system under various scenarios. The results so far showed that our system works better than the traditional first-come, first-served approach. In the Cross City Line simulation, where scenarios with small day-to-day perturbations were mimicked, the performance improvement, i.e. improvement in delay recovery, was limited because of the frequent stopping service. In the case of ECML, the results so far suggest potential for better delay recovery and more efficient use of capacity. Interestingly, we have found that while a larger control area leads to a better overall performance, increasing the traffic state prediction function’s time horizon does not necessarily improve the performance: in our case, a 15-minute time horizon works better than a 20-minute one. Detailed results can be seen at or in our forthcoming journal papers. 

The project is now comparing simulation results with detailed data from real train movements in collaboration with FirstGroup to further test our DEDOTS system. As universities, we hope that our systems and models will be widely used by suppliers to the GB mainline railway and beyond, so that our research eventually contributes to increased capacity and better customer experience. 

The optimiser and its interface design and development are conducted by UCL (Fang Xu, Taha Ghasempour, Benjamin Heydecker, Taku Fujiyama), while simulation model development and output evaluations are the work of University of Birmingham (Lei Chen, Dave Kirkwood, Gemma Nicholson, Clive Roberts).


To contact the University of Birmingham about its simulator, email:


Or to contact UCL about its optimiser or anything else, email:



Lutz   25/09/2017 at 13:13

This is very interesting topic.

Chrism   29/09/2017 at 03:59

Many of the energy conservation principles described here will be familiar to bike riders. Anticipating the optimum speed at junctions for example will reduce total energy usage and brake wear, and give a much smoother ride to passengers. It should also cause less stress to passengers who react to hard braking. If instead (for example) speed drifts down to 80mph from 125mph over four or five miles few travellers will even notice.

Add your comment


rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Year with brand-new infrastructrure to... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Apprentice to Co-leading the Rail Sector Deal

05/06/2019Apprentice to Co-leading the Rail Sector Deal

In a series of Q&A’s with key speakers on the run up to TransCityRail Midlands, we caught up with TransCityRail panellist and Amey’s commercial account director, Anna Delvecchio, for her insight into what the Rail Sector Deal means for the rail industry and its supply chain. Anna started her career as an apprentice at the age o... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

By Ewan Quayle, Rail Technology Magazine Reporter Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on R... more >
Malcolm Holmes, executive director of West Midlands Rail Executive, announced as TCR Midlands speaker in Birmingham

24/06/2019Malcolm Holmes, executive director of West Midlands Rail Executive, announced as TCR Midlands speaker in Birmingham

Ahead of his appearance, Malcolm Holmes spoke with Rail Technology Magazine about what key leaders in the industry were doing to improve rail in ... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projec... more >
Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

12/03/2019Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

RTM sits down with Samantha Smith, sole female member of the TransPennine Route Upgrade Alliance Leadership Team, to find out more about encourag... more >