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Translation for breaking language barriers in the railway field

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Language tool boosts cross-border rail network

A prototype tablet-based application enables train drivers and controllers to communicate across the language barrier. This will help to ensure smooth, safe and reliable rail transport across Europe.

Transport and Mobility

While Europe’s road freight transport sector is economically important, negative impacts in terms of carbon emissions and road fatalities are also significant. To mitigate these impacts going forward, it is critical for rail transport to attract a higher share of freight. “We estimate that achieving 30 % of freight by rail by 2030 would lead to 290 million tons of saved CO2, 40 000 fewer premature deaths due to avoided pollution and 5 000 fewer fatalities due to saved truck accidents,” says Translate4Rail project coordinator Sandra Gehenot, freight director at the International Union of Railways in France. “We are convinced that this ambitious target is achievable.” For this to happen, substantial challenges must first be overcome. One key obstacle is the language barrier, which continues to constrain international rail operations. “Current legislation stipulates that only language-skilled train drivers be used for international rail traffic,” notes Gehenot. “This makes the sector heavily reliant on a scarce and expensive resource.” Overcoming the language barrier is therefore critical to increasing rail infrastructure capacity, flexibility and reliability. “The sector needs quickly implementable and deployable solutions,” Gehenot adds. “This is what the Translate4Rail project was all about.”

Cross-border communication

The key objective of Translate4Rail, a Shift2Rail-EU funded project, was to enable any train driver to operate safely in a country in which they do not speak the national language. To achieve this, the project team developed a tablet-based app that enables easy, safe and efficient communication between driver and controller, in any European language. The team began by mapping out the kind of information typically exchanged, and developed a list of predefined messages to cover normal and exceptional circumstances in all countries. Next, a tablet-based prototype application was developed, equipped with voice recognition and translation software. The system works like this. During a train journey, a train driver from, say, Italy can communicate with an Austrian controller via the app. Voice recognition software translates the driver’s voice into text on the screen, which can then be edited or sent. Predefined messages are used as a safe means of communication. The message is translated into German and sent to the Austrian controller, who can then respond to the driver in exactly the same way. The prototype tool was tested in lab conditions, before being successfully trialled by several actors on the Austria-Italy stretch.


Translate4Rail, railway, freight, transport, language, translation, software

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