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“The rail sector must be far more open-minded”: A Q&A with Katrin Höhne

Posted: 28 November 2019 | | 1 comment

At Global Railway Review’s Digital Rail Revolution 2019 conference, Katrin Höhne, Manager of the Group Programme Technical Excellence (TecEX) at Deutsche Bahn (DB), spoke to our Editor, Craig Waters, about the importance of transparency in the rail sector and learning from each other to push forward rail’s digital transformation.

Katrin Hohne

Has there been a standout project that has pushed the use of digital technology in rail that you had admired, and why?

I think there are a lot of very interesting projects within the rail industry as a whole at the moment. One thing that I’m working on is Deutsche Bahn’s technical programme, ‘Technical Excellence’ (TecEX) which includes 14 stand-out projects that are pushing digital technology to advance further.

One thing that I’m working on is Deutsche Bahn’s technical programme, ‘Technical Excellence’ (TecEX) which includes 14 stand-out projects that are pushing digital technology to advance further.

One of these is 3D printing technology (additive manufacturing). At DB, we began 3D printing small coat hooks – and now we are able to print 17kg heavy metal components for trains. It has been quite an interesting revolution! Also, a key focus for us is maintenance processes; essentially the end-to-end maintenance process and how digital technology is helping us in this way. For instance, intelligent solutions for infrastructure maintenance, such as predictive maintenance, has real potential for us in the next few years. Doing well in this area will ultimately improve services for our customers, as well as further our internal business processes.

Our TecEX programme focuses on stakeholder management. We are convinced that the digital revolution is strongly forged by working closely together, and by finding the right experts with the right mindset. Communication will be a key enabler for us to be successful.

What do you consider to be the main hurdles that the rail sector must overcome in the future as it strives to be more digitally advanced?

For me, it’s quite clear that the rail sector must be far more open-minded and transparent. It needs to come out of its comfort zone!

For me, it’s quite clear that the rail sector must be far more open-minded and transparent. It needs to come out of its comfort zone! We have to work together with experts from non-rail specific sectors, especially experts with a focus on artificial intelligence. I was happy to hear during Digital Rail Revolution’s panel discussions that a lot of people join me in this opinion, and it’s good to know that we’re on the same path.

To what extent do you think rail is under threat by other modes of public transport that are already more digitally advanced than rail?

I don’t feel that it is a case of rail being under threat. We need to all work together to enable each sector to achieve their full potential and, crucially, meet customer expectations. Increasingly today, customers expect mobility to be at their fingertips. The digital generation particularly, expect hassle-free travel which is on-time, eco-friendly, cost effective and in tune to their needs.

Our focus is on meeting the needs of all of our customers. If we continue to strive to meet this aim, then I’m convinced that rail will continue to thrive.

What do you think will be the main digital trends and emerging technology to come to the forefront of rail over the next 12 months?

I think there will be developments in many different areas, but 3D printing will certainly be a key focus.

I think there will be developments in many different areas, but 3D printing will certainly be a key focus. We need to think about the availability of spare parts, and I think there’s a big future for 3D printing in meeting this need. In addition, 5G, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, as well the interface of humans and machines with data, will be key areas to watch.

What would you like to see change most within the rail industry over the next five years?

I would like to see more learning from each other. If we are to create a rail revolution, we really need to be more open-minded as an industry, and this will show that we are willing to change and adapt.

I would like to see more learning from each other. If we are to create a rail revolution, we really need to be more open-minded as an industry, and this will show that we are willing to change and adapt. Of course, we need to continue building our rail knowledge and furthering industry expertise, but, also, we need to work with open mindsets and learn from experts in different fields. I believe it is not just one area of expertise that will push our industry forward, but a mix of different mindsets and know-how. We need this, and I sincerely hope that this will be the way of the future.

I also think it is important to be as diverse as possible in our workforce. A diverse workforce brings new ideas, and so I hope to see more of this in the future.

Why was it important for you to attend Digital Rail Revolution 2019?

I think the event has proved that the industry is thinking in the right way. The mix of delegates and attendance has been great and that’s incredibly important for knowledge-sharing. There’s a bright future ahead for rail, and bringing everyone together can only benefit the industry going forward.

One response to ““The rail sector must be far more open-minded”: A Q&A with Katrin Höhne”

  1. Daniel Dunoye says:

    Very informative and interesting report on the Conference.

    I find the quote of Ms. Höhne very appropriate and relevant to the the railway industry at large i.e. beyond digitization concerns.

    Indeed the rail sector needs to move out of its comfort zone which I equate to breaking away from the guinea pig syndrome.

    This is particularly noticeable for rail infrastructures, the service life of which is the longest one in the overall system.

    Innovative infrastructure solutions are developed to achieve the lowest total cost of ownership over the life of the system. Great idea on paper. Yet it is quite difficult to achieve as:

    1. decision makers are often constrained by yearly, separate budgets (procurement and O&M), or
    2. the rail service is delivered by separate companies, one dedicated to the delivery of the service, the other responsible to provide and maintain the associated infrastructure
    3. In all cases, at least two generations of specifiers and maintainers will be involved over the life of the original infrastructure.

    Items 1 and 2 are driven by short term objectives, a pillar of the comfort zone. To expand the comfort zone, it will be necessary to:
    • reorganize of the procurement process to allow for a proper assessment of the TCO during the tender stage
    • verify that the consistency of performances between model and field and an associated bonus/penalty regime

    Item 3 is related to the need of:
    • being abreast of new innovative solutions,
    • enlarging the comfort zone though trial tests and training of specifiers and maintainers.

    A tall order for sure. But without it, innovative infrastructure solutions will be an exception and TCO will stay a concept. That unfortunately could restrict the growth of the rail system sector in an environment that is adapting very quickly to change.

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