Organizing secure digital transactions
There are no blueprints for Blockchain technology, so anyone who wants to use it needs to develop and test solutions themselves. That's why DB created a dedicated blockchain department a little over a year ago to thoroughly test ways to use the technology for rail. The department's some 30 employees, including developers, software architects and project managers, contribute technology skills and rail expertise.
Their first task was to determine how the new technology could improve processes. One simple example is collaboration among the different organizations at DB. One of the first pilot projects was to allocate internal services using smart contracts in the company blockchain, which has made a big impact. The process used to take several weeks in some cases. Now it only takes a couple of days.
DB is currently working on around 20 use cases for blockchain technology, including logistics supply chains, more convenient ticketing across modes of transport, and rail operations – from research and prototyping to use in the field.
Blockchain-based revenue allocation: the technological basis for seamless travel
More and more people are taking public transportation, with more options available all the time: train, bus, carsharing, bikesharing and ride pooling. People want to get from A to B as conveniently and easily as possible without having to worry about transferring between transit authorities and providers or having to worry about different fares.
Here's where blockchain comes in. It is being used to transparently allocate revenues from regional and local transport. Transit authorities, which need to allocate ticket revenues among different companies, have to determine which revenues were generated for which provider, and it's no easy task. Seamless travel chains integrating a growing number of providers make it even more difficult to allocate revenues.
A new blockchain-based platform shows in real time the percentage of revenues each provider is entitled to. The result is greater transparency. Talks with partners in the industry have already started, and the aim is to have a transit authority test the platform for the first time.
Blockchain behind the scenes: rail operations of the future
In simple terms, it makes sense to use blockchain any time a secure transaction takes place. Most current applications are financial and are limited to the virtual world. DB is researching whether blockchain could also be used to move trains weighing several tons.
At the theoretical level, a train entering a route section or passing through a station or switch could be considered a secure transaction. The idea is for trains to use blockchain to communicate with each other and with components like signals, switches and tracks. Blockchain creates the necessary transparency in real time, for example what trains are on what route sections at what time. And this lets trains know whether a route is available or not. Ultimately it means that trains can book their own routes, use them and then clear them for the next train.
But there are a few requirements that need to be met before the system can be used. Trains, switches and tracks need to be mapped out digitally in the blockchain. This essentially lets them interact to negotiate services with each other and securely document processes. And of course that would only work in combination with other technologies, such as sensors and AI.
The first tests, which were conducted at the rail operations simulation facility in Darmstadt, demonstrated that it is theoretically possible to manage traffic using blockchain. The next step will be to test the system with real trains.
Blockchain at DB Schenker
Blockchain technology has a lot of potential for logistics in particular. DB Schenker is no exception. It has also tested a number of blockchain applications in logistics. For example, using blockchain to monitor national and international transport was shown to improve the efficiency of transport management processes and reduce counterfeiting. Not only does the transparency that blockchain provides prevent data errors and duplicate entries throughout the supply chain; it also makes it nearly impossible to introduce counterfeit products undetected into the transport process. Blockchain also has the potential to improve collaboration with customers and partners.