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Online railway delay management: Hardness, simulation and computation

Berger, André; Hoffmann, Ralf; Lorenz, Ulf; Stiller, Sebastian

Delays in a railway network are a common problem that railway companies face in their daily operations. When a train is delayed, it may either be beneficial to let a connecting train wait so that passengers in the delayed train do not miss their connection, or it may be beneficial to let the connecting train depart on time to avoid further delays. These decisions naturally depend on the global structure of the network, on the schedule, on the passenger routes and on the imposed delays. The railway delay management (RDM) problem (in a broad sense) is to decide which trains have to wait for connecting trains and which trains have to depart on time. The offline version (i.e. when all delays are known in advance) is already NP-hard for very special networks. In this paper we show that the online railway delay management (ORDM) problem is PSPACE-hard. This result justifies the need for a simulation approach to evaluate wait policies for ORDM. For this purpose we present TOPSU—RDM, a simulation platform for evaluating and comparing different heuristics for the ORDM problem with stochastic delays. Our novel approach is to separate the actual simulation and the program that implements the decision-making policy, thus enabling implementations of different heuristics to ‘‘compete’’ on the same instances and delay distributions. We also report on computational results indicating the worthiness of developing intelligent wait policies. For RDM and other logistic planning processes, it is our goal to bridge the gap between theoretical models, which are accessible to theoretical analysis, but are often too far away from practice, and the methods which are used in practice today, whose performance is almost impossible to measure.
Published in: Simulation : transactions of The Society for Modeling and Simulation International, 10.1177/0037549710373571, SAGE Publications
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  • This publication is with permission of the rights owner freely accessible due to an Alliance licence and a national licence (funded by the DFG, German Research Foundation) respectively.