Train traffic control in merging stations: A data-driven approach

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, operations - performance


Railway operations, merging stations


Railway operations are subject to deviations from the planned schedule, i.e., delays. In those situations, high-quality traffic control actions are needed to reduce the delays. Existing studies mainly used prescriptive techniques (e.g., mathematical programming, heuristics) to identify the best control action. These methods have limitations in the firm reliance on deterministic parameters prescriptively or normatively determined beforehand, and little understandability by the practitioners. These drawbacks hinder their acceptance in practice.

This study exploits instead past realization data to provide decision support for traffic control. The realized data describe the traffic control actions taken by human controllers, and their effects; those latter are more complex than a linear sum of predetermined parameters. We use decision graphs to identify which traffic control action leads to the best solution, in terms of reduction of delays, based on the past performance of the same action in similar conditions. We are also able to explain the reasons and the factors that lead to each suggested action.

We focus on the relevant case of merging stations, where multiple lines merge as one line, deciding the relative order between two consecutive trains. The method determines the stochastic effects of the two possible decisions at merge points, which allows for choosing the best one. Compared within the framework of realized data, the action suggested is the best out of a series of benchmarks, including simple rules and optimization, improving (reducing delays) approximately 11.7% on the common benchmarks. The variables with the highest impact on the utility are the length of the planned dwell time and the planned presence of an overtaking. The variables influencing the utility most are the actual delays of trains, the train type, and the order actually implemented.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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