Estonian Railways: Digitalisation enabling sustainability

Estonian Railways: Digitalisation enabling sustainability

With Estonian Railways set to electrify and digitise its entire network by 2028 for efficient, sustainable transport, data is key to this transformation

How do you bring a 150-year-old railway company into the future? Estonian Railways Ltd, a state-owned company that’s been operating since 1870, ensures the smooth operation, development, and maintenance of the entire country’s railway infrastructure, as well as efficient traffic management throughout. An additional layer of this is acting as a partner in resolving cross-border issues and setting standards.

As the owner of the railway infrastructure, Estonian Railways holds a central role in the functioning of the transit sector, at the helm of maintaining a competitive situation both in railway passenger and cargo transport. But what really sets it apart as embracing the future is its environmental awareness credentials, operating above and beyond the basic objectives of a run-of-the-mill railway company. From the year 2019, Estonian Railways has been awarded with the Corporate Responsibility Gold level award, which is the highest reward granted to Estonian companies that care about the environment, wishing to contribute more to society than required by either legislation or societal norms.

The vision of Estonian Railway Ltd is to be the region’s most advanced railway infrastructure manager. To this end, it has embarked upon a very ambitious investment plan for the current decade that includes different projects for the modernisation and electrification of its infrastructure. 

Discussing this transformation is Aleksandr Zaitsev, the Head of its Digital Transformation and Innovation Department. Zaitsev is responsible for the digital transformation of work processes within the infrastructure business unit, alongside the implementation of new technological solutions. 

Estonian Railways’ plan to electrify the entire rail network by 2028 

During the first major stages of the electrification project, railways from Tallinn through Tapa to Tartu and Narva will be electrified. At the moment, a large number of preliminary projects have already been completed, while the majority of building permits have been issued for the Aegviidu-Tapa-Tartu section. 

At the beginning of this year, the company signed a contract with two companies – GRK Suomi OY and GRK Eesti AS – for the construction of the contact network and transmission substations for the Aegviidu-Tapa-Tartu section. According to the contract, the Tartu direction must be electrified by the end of next year. As such, Estonian Railways has planned the procurement of the Tapa-Narva section for 2024, and, if everything goes as planned, electric trains will be able to run between Tapa and Narva from the end of 2026. 

The project is ambitious, but achievable, and has several goals.

The first is to reduce the impact of the transport sector on the environment. Estonian Railways already only buys electricity from renewable sources, which then supplies all current electric train traffic. Another goal is to increase the speed of traffic on the railway and reduce train travel times, both of which will make travelling on the railway faster and more comfortable. The third goal is to improve the living environment of people living near the railway as well as companies operating close by, through noise reduction and traffic vibration monitoring. This is what streamlining looks like.

Moving Estonian Railways into the digital era through data 

Zaitsev admits that moving the railway into the digital era is a very long and laborious process. 

“The turning point for our company,” he says, “is global renovation, in which we are moving from relay-based CCS systems to microprocessor logic. The modernisation of control systems allows us to start collecting data, studying the behaviour of systems and making data-driven decisions. 

“Data is the basis for digital transformation. We have formed a digital transformation strategy for the next few years, and we decided to focus on building Enterprise Asset Management (EAM).”

This strategy includes 3 separate projects:

  1. Asset Management. This includes the register of the assets, warehouse module, and financial aspects of the assets and its lifecycle costs
  2. Field Service Management. The goal of this is to bring work planners and technicians to a unified, real-time platform for better planning and use of resources as well as an overview of the performed works.
  3. Digital Services. This gives additional value to asset management and all other IT systems from analytics and monitoring of the data perspective. In addition to that, the company is constantly developing the Geographic Information System (GIS), which stands for geospatial data management of assets.

Moving from calendar-based to conditional maintenance 

Railway is a critical infrastructure. As the owner of said infrastructure, Zaitsev emphasises that Estonian Railways must be 100% sure of security and enact timely maintenance. 

“For sure, moving from calendar-based type of maintenance to conditional-based type of maintenance is one of the goals that we want to achieve within the Enterprise Asset Management programme,” he says. “Our mission is to complete it with assets’ performance management, so we can analyse the behaviour of the assets remotely and reduce maintenance time. 

“This year, we have started a pilot project for remote condition monitoring of point machines, powered by the Smart Maintenance Platform. This improves the decision-making process by offering evidence on asset conditions and, consequently, informing the maintenance priority. It’s too early to talk about the results, but I believe that this project will serve as a starting point for moving to a conditional maintenance direction, and, in the future, we will add additional systems for analysis.”

The centrality of data and analytics to digital transformation 

Zaitsev says that data and analytics serve as the basis for Estonian Railways’ transformation. He points out that digital transformation starts from implementing data Infrastructure for secure data transferring and integration with other products and applications.  

“This year we have created a new department to start monitoring the data coming from various systems and subsystems. As the next step we need to create an environment for connecting information from different sources that will let us provide better analysis.

“To create a unified ‘data landscape’, we are creating product roadmaps for our existing information systems. One of the main tasks is to describe the data entities used in each information system and to define right data sources for a common "data lake". The ultimate goal of this work is to collect the initial and consistent data of various information systems into a single enterprise data lake for further cross-analysis and use it to create digital models of business processes. 

“We are at the very beginning of this journey,” he says.

Adding digital & data-based capabilities to the UX

Presently, responsibility for all the information displayed in Estonian Railways’ terminals and stations rests with a third-party company. But, by the time the Time-tabling, Traffic Control, and Management System (TTCMS) project is ready, Estonian Railways will be able to provide all the necessary information and data to the Public Information Management System (PIMS), directly from the TTCMS database. This means that passengers will be able to get live updates regarding the train traffic schedules and conveniently plan their trips.

“Right now, we are in the process of using data to improve different services. For example, with the TTCMS project covering the whole Estonian Railway infrastructure, the objective is to improve train traffic safety, punctuality, and reliability. The system will be a single source of truth for train traffic accuracy and traffic forecast data, with this information available for both internal and external stakeholders and users. 

Zaitsev continues: “In the following years, the company will be taking a huge step forward in the quality level of our infrastructure. It is a historical moment for us, being able to invest with the help of EU funds and government support to provide even better services for our freight and passenger railway traffic partners.

“Railway is the most environmentally-friendly means of transport, so it is crucial that we do everything in our power to popularise it.    

“Regarding data management, if a company does not have a well-defined data collection strategy – but is constantly initiating new projects and implementing new technologies – it is crucial to focus on the data architecture and data gathering. The sooner you start gathering data in a structured way, the easier it will be for you to implement new projects, as well as make better business decisions based on the data.”

Estonian Railways’ Partner Ecosystem


Hexagon is Estonian Railways’ major partner for the geospatial data management of assets and infrastructure. 

“We signed a contract with them in 2020,” says Zaitsev. “Hexagon provides a platform for the development of the Geographic Information System (GIS). Within the contract, they are constantly developing and maintaining the system. 

“We have big plans with Hexagon, because the GIS is a part of our Global Asset Management strategy. The goal is to integrate the asset management register with GIS to represent the exact location of all assets on the map so that all our field workers, technicians, and contractors can get all necessary information and attributes of assets just by choosing it on the map. Also, we actively use GIS in construction planning.

“Hexagon also offers a wide range of capabilities beyond geospatial data management – from sensor management to reality capturing – multidimensional visualisation, and all necessary technologies – from sensors for data acquisition to AI for converting data into information – with a solid geospatial background and knowledge suitable for the transportation sector. 

“So, we see that, in the future, Hexagon could play a role in the strategic alignment with Estonian Railways to increase operational excellence.”


Siemens CCS

In the Major CCS (Command-Control Systems) Project, Estonian Railways’ infrastructure lines 1-5 (which are still equipped with old relay interlockings) will be replaced with dual microprocessor-based SIL 4 interlockings. Siemens designs, supplies, installs, tests, and commissions the interlocking system’s turnkey solution, with interfaces to neighbouring lines. 

The Scope of Supply includes the interlocking of software and hardware together with a CTC/LOP system. Siemens also supplies all needed hardware for main and shunting signals, including LED units for signals. 

The contract was signed with the Siemens-GRK consortium in 2020, with a final deadline for the last station planned for 2025. However, due to the new requirements, the deadline has now been agreed for the year 2027. As such, the first station that will be commissioned is Tapa in early 2024, and the first line – from Tapa to Tartu – by the end of 2024. 



The project goal is to develop a TTCMS covering the whole Estonian railway infrastructure. This means having all necessary interfaces for data transmission between required data sources to ensure full-scale functionality for the system. The contractor must design, supply, install, test, and deliver the required system. 

The goal of the project is to develop a solution that includes at least the following elements:  

  • Integrated long-term and short-term digital timetable planning (the timetabling system).  
  • Train traffic incident management system with performed timetable functionality (the Traffic Management System (TMS)).  
  • Integration to existing third-party interlocking through the interface provided by the Contracting Authority.  
  • Performed timetable analysis and statistical reports.

The scope of the work covers design, development, supply, procurement, implementation, and testing alongside the handover of timetabling, traffic control and management, and a top-level CTC system, in accordance with the minimal requirements as stated for this technical specification. 

The project started in 2019 with procurement preparatory tasks (Requests for Information and the composition of the Technical Specification). On June 30th, 2020, the contract was signed, with actual works commencing following a brief mobilisation phase in September 2020. 

Today, the very first stage of the contract – the design stage – is over, and the contractor is developing and testing the functionalities and integrations of the system. The works have been split into 4 consecutive releases to be implemented until the end of the contract, in June 2027. Each release will provide an agreed amount of the system’s functionalities, accompanied by integrations to existing and upcoming CTC and auxiliary systems (power grid SCADA, Hot-Box detectors, etc). The system will be a single source of truth for train traffic accuracy and traffic forecast data – and this information will be available for both internal and external stakeholders and users. 

Outlook for the future... 

Orienting to the future, Zaitsev says that, due to the fact that Estonian Railways has initiated large-scale renovation projects that will last 5-8 years, in 12-18 months, they will only just be moving to the next – yet still early – stages of these projects.

“For example, in terms of the TTCMS project,” he says, “in the following 12-18 months we expect to start using the system within 60% of its functional capacity on lines with the most intensive passenger train traffic.

“By the end of the contract in 2027, the system must cover all remaining track sections of ER with 100% functionality. By the end of 2028, most of our ongoing projects should be finished and hopefully we can achieve our main strategic goal to become one of the most innovative infrastructure owners in our region.

“Then, by that time, we will have also fulfilled all prerequisites to manage our processes digitally, while also striving to help with government-set environmental goals in reducing our carbon footprint by completely electrifying the infrastructure.” 

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