Maschen – Europe’s most ingenious marble run


Maschen Marshaling Yard near Hamburg is a real Eldorado for railway fans. So many tracks, so many freight cars – and, even though hardly anyone can be seen, everything seems to be in a state of constant movement. A full-scale panoramic view opens up from a narrow bridge spanning almost the entire width of the yard. There is a broad south-north corridor carrying all traffic bound for the cargo ships at the port of Hamburg and a north-south corridor on which cars are composed for their onward journey throughout Germany.

At Maschen Yard, the trains coming from the port which are several hundred meters in length have to be composed into new trains for nationwide transportation. In the setting sun, the entire marshaling yard takes on a metallic sheen. 300 kilometers of track cover a surface area of 2.8 km². Although shunting locomotives are also in operation here, the majority of marshaling work is carried out by the yard’s gradient, the weight of the cars and Siemens’ signaling technology in both the yard and the hump control computer.

maschen illustration

From the arrival zone, the already decoupled cars are moved to the highest point in the yard and this is where the magic begins: each car has a target, a track which it has to reach over a distance of several hundred meters and across several sets of points, moving merely by the force of gravity. Once it has arrived at the target, the car has to come to a stop behind the other already stabled cars as close as possible and without colliding with them.

Because cars can be neither accelerated nor braked of their own accord, the entire control process involves interaction between Siemens’ trackside technology, called Trackguard Cargo MSR32, and a Siemens computer in the interlocking. This is where the terminal planning system is located which knows the relevant sets of points for each car’s target. But the system has to know and calculate many more parameters in order to guide the driverless cars safely through the huge yard.

Wheel detectors measure the specific rolling properties and the speed of cars in different track sections. A trackside weighbridge measures not only the overall weight but also the type of load and even detects sloshing liquids in tank cars. This is important in order to decide whether the car has to be retarded on its first or second axle by the large-sized clasp retarders along its route.

All these calculations have to be performed in real time and the interval between the cars along the line is hardly longer than the 0.7 seconds which the points need for being thrown. Every day, a total of 4000 freight cars are composed into new trains at Maschen Marshaling Yard. Within a period of 24 hours, about 150 trains leave the yard on their onward journey.

julia holze siemensThe digital world is my home: With more than 15 years of experience as Marketing Professional am I currently driving the Digital Transformation of Siemens Mobility Management by implementing agile work and digital marketing tools.

In case I’m not exploring the various solar systems of mobility, I ask for the ‘why’ in our life and love to experience the world from different perspectives – to be inspired by the things I see, hear, smell, taste and feel around me and cross their streams.

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