Assessment of flexible timetables in real-time traffic management of a railway bottleneck

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - scheduling, operations - traffic, organisation - management, mode - rail


Train traffic, Traffic conflicts, Timetables, Schedules and scheduling, Real time control, Railroad traffic control, Railroad traffic, Punctuality, Netherlands, Bottlenecks


A standard practice to improve punctuality of railway services is the addition of time reserves in the timetable to recover perturbations occurring in operations. However, time reserves reduce line capacity, and the amount of time reserves that can be inserted in congested areas is, therefore, limited. In this paper, we investigate the new concept of flexible timetable as an effective policy to improve punctuality without decreasing the capacity usage of the lines. The principle of a flexible timetable is to plan less in the timetable and to solve more inter-train conflicts during operations. The larger degree of freedom left to real-time management offers better chance to recover disturbances. We illustrate a detailed model for conflict resolution, based on the alternative graph formulation, and analyze different algorithms for resolving conflicts, based on simple local rules or global optimization. We compare the solutions obtained for different levels of flexibility and buffer time inserted in the timetable. An extensive computational study, based on a bottleneck area of the Dutch railway network, confirms that flexibility is a promising concept to improve train punctuality and to increase the throughput of a railway network.


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