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Leveraging Semantic Technologies for Digital Interoperability in the European Railway Domain

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNISA,volume 12922)


The European Union Agency for Railways is an European authority, tasked with the provision of a legal and technical framework to support harmonized and safe cross-border railway operations throughout the EU. So far, the agency relied on traditional application-centric approaches to support the data exchange among multiple actors interacting within the railway domain. This lead however, to isolated digital environments that consequently added barriers to digital interoperability while increasing the cost of maintenance and innovation. In this work, we show how Semantic Web technologies are leveraged to create a semantic layer for data integration across the base registries maintained by the agency. We validate the usefulness of this approach by supporting route compatibility checks, a highly demanded use case in this domain, which was not available over the agency’s registries before. Our contributions include (i) an official ontology for the railway infrastructure and authorized vehicle types, including 28 reference datasets; (ii) a reusable Knowledge Graph describing the European railway infrastructure; (iii) a cost-efficient system architecture that enables high-flexibility for use case development; and (iv) an open source and RDF native Web application to support route compatibility checks. This work demonstrates how data-centric system design, powered by Semantic Web technologies and Linked Data principles, provides a framework to achieve data interoperability and unlock new and innovative use cases and applications. Based on the results obtained during this work, ERA officially decided to make Semantic Web and Linked Data-based approaches, the default setting for any future development of the data, registers and specifications under the agency’s remit for data exchange mandated by the EU legal framework. The next steps, which are already underway, include further developing and bringing these solutions to a production-ready state.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-88361-4_38
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  1. 1.

    ERA is the European authority for cross-border rail traffic in Europe:

  2. 2.

    An Infrastructure Manager is defined as any body or firm responsible in particular for establishing, managing and maintaining railway infrastructure, including traffic management, control-command and signalling.

  3. 3.

    A Railway Undertaking is defined as any public or private licensed undertaking, the principal business of which is to provide services for the transport of goods and/or passengers by rail with a requirement that the undertaking ensure traction.

  4. 4.

    “A base registry is a trusted and authoritative source of information which can and should be digitally reused by others, where one organisation is responsible and accountable for the collection, use, updating and preservation of information.” [24].

  5. 5.

    Principles of Linked Data:

  6. 6.

    Base registries of ERA:

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  10. 10.

    ERA’s roadmap for Linked Data mainstreaming:

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  12. 12.

  13. 13.

  14. 14.

  15. 15.

  16. 16.

  17. 17.

  18. 18.

    See Sect. 1.6 of [22] for a description of railway vie levels.

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The authors would like to extend their gratitude to ProRail, SNCF, BANE NOR, EIM, UIP, CEDEX, RailML, EULYNX, the Publications Office of the EU and the ELISE action team for providing us with their invaluable data, expertise and feedback to make this work possible.

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Correspondence to Julián Andrés Rojas , Dylan Van Assche , Pieter Colpaert or Ruben Verborgh .

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Rojas, J.A. et al. (2021). Leveraging Semantic Technologies for Digital Interoperability in the European Railway Domain. In: , et al. The Semantic Web – ISWC 2021. ISWC 2021. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 12922. Springer, Cham.

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