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Technology development in the field of the Internet of Things (IoT) and more specifically in Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs) has enabled a whole set of new applications in several fields of Intelligent Transportation Systems. Among all, smart-railways represents one of the most challenging scenarios, due to its wide geographical distribution and strict energy-awareness. This paper aims to provide an overview of the state-of-the-art in LPWAN, with a focus on intelligent transportation. This study is part of the RAILS (Roadmaps for Artificial Intelligence integration in the raiL Sector) research project, funded by the European Union under the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking. As a first step to meet its objectives, RAILS surveys the current state of development of technology enablers for smart-railways considering possible technology transfer from other sectors. To that aim, IoT and LPWAN technologies appear as very promising for cost-effective remote surveillance, monitoring and control over large geographical areas, by collecting data for several sensing applications (e.g., predictive condition-based maintenance, security early warning and situation awareness, etc.) even in situations where power supply is limited (e.g., where solar panels are employed) or absent (e.g., installation on-board freight cars).
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Low-Power Wide-Area Networks in Intelligent Transportation:
Review and Opportunities for Smart-Railways*
Ruth Dirnfeld1, Francesco Flammini1,2, Stefano Marrone3, Roberto Nardone4, Valeria Vittorini3
Abstract— Technology development in the field of the Internet
of Things (IoT) and more specifically in Low-Power Wide-Area
Networks (LPWANs) has enabled a whole set of new applica-
tions in several fields of Intelligent Transportation Systems.
Among all, smart-railways represents one of the most chal-
lenging scenarios, due to its wide geographical distribution and
strict energy-awareness. This paper aims to provide an overview
of the state-of-the-art in LPWAN, with a focus on intelligent
transportation. This study is part of the RAILS (Roadmaps for
Artificial Intelligence integration in the raiL Sector) research
project, funded by the European Union under the Shift2Rail
Joint Undertaking. As a first step to meet its objectives,
RAILS surveys the current state of development of technology
enablers for smart-railways considering possible technology
transfer from other sectors. To that aim, IoT and LPWAN
technologies appear as very promising for cost-effective remote
surveillance, monitoring and control over large geographical
areas, by collecting data for several sensing applications (e.g.,
predictive condition-based maintenance, security early warning
and situation awareness, etc.) even in situations where power
supply is limited (e.g., where solar panels are employed) or
absent (e.g., installation on-board freight cars).
I. INTRODUCTION
The Internet-of-Things paradigm embraces some of the
fastest-growing technologies today, with a huge expected
number of smart connected devices populating our homes,
cities and transportation systems in the next years.
According to CISCO, the term “Internet of Things” (IoT)
first appeared between the years 2008 and 2009 [1], however,
the term was first mentioned by Kevin Ashton in 1999 [2]
- meaning that many devices are connected to the Internet
and communicate each other. In general, IoT refers to the
networked interconnection of everyday objects, which are
often equipped with ubiquitous intelligence [3].
The connection between IoT and “intelligence” is not
obvious. However, it is a matter of fact that IoT devices
are increasingly “smart” and “autonomous” compared to
traditional devices (e.g., those used in sensor networks). Fur-
thermore, they allow to collect - by sensing and transmitting
- big amounts of data that can be processed both locally
(the so-called “edge computing”) and at different levels (e.g.,
“fog” level or “cloud” level) [4].
A “Thing” in the context of IoT, might be any object that
can be assigned an IP address with the ability to transfer data
*This work was supported by Shift2Rail JU under G.A. n. 881782
1R. Dirnfeld and F. Flammini are with Linnaeus University, V¨
axj¨
o,
Sweden rd222dv@student.lnu.se, francesco.flammini@lnu.se
2F. Flammini is also with M¨
alardalen University, V¨
aster˚
as, Sweden
3S. Marrone and V. Vittorini are with University of Naples Federico II,
Naples, Italy first.last@unina.it
4R. Nardone is with University Mediterranea of Reggio Calabria, Reggio
Calabria, Italy roberto.nardone@unirc.it
and interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure.
This paradigm is considered as the evolution of the Internet
which can change the way we live, work and travel [5].
The IoT leads towards positive business results, helps
with creating new revenue opportunities and minimizing
operational costs by managing the connected devices. The
IHS forecasts that the number of IoT devices on the IoT
market will grow from an installed base of 15.4 billion in
2015 to 30.7 billion in 2020, and 75.4 billion in 2025, with
a potential economic impact of around $11.1 trillion a year
[2], [6] (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Forecasting of the IoT market growth up to 2020 [6]
In such a context, any research initiative addressing in-
telligent data processing should also address the enabling
IoT technologies for data sensing and data transmission. The
study presented in this paper is part of the RAILS research
project funded by the European Union under the Shift2Rail
Joint Undertaking [7]. RAILS takes up the challenge of
developing roadmaps for fast uptake of Artificial Intelli-
gence (A.I.) in the railway sector by identifying effective
and suitable techniques and testing methods for A.I. and
assessing impacts towards improving the overall performance
of the railway system. RAILS addresses the research areas
of rail safety and automation, smart maintenance and defect
detection, traffic planning and management. For each of
them, the first step is to develop a comprehensive and up-to-
date overview of relevant innovative technologies and trends
applicable to smart railways considering possible technology
transfer from other sectors. In particular, RAILS has to com-
bine A.I. with the IoT, in order to leverage on the big amount
of data generated by smart sensors and applications. In fact,
the vast amount of data generated by networked monitoring
devices need to be collected and interpreted to generate
useful information and knowledge. More specifically, in the
field of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITSs), like smart-
railways, the focus should be on those IoT technologies
enabling long-range communication over large geographical
areas with low-power requirements allowing usage on track-
side remote sites with no connection to the power grid (e.g.,
railway track routes in desert areas) or unpowered vehicles,
like most rail freight cars [8].
This is the reason why among the many IoT technologies,
in this paper we focus on Low-Power Wide-Area Networks
(LPWANs) like LoRa [9]. LPWAN technologies appear
as very promising for cost-effective remote surveillance,
monitoring and control over large geographical areas, by
collecting data for several sensing applications (e.g., pre-
dictive condition-based maintenance, security early warning
and situation awareness, etc.) even in situations where power
supply is limited (e.g., where solar panels are employed)
or absent (e.g., installation on-board freight cars) [10]. In
details, this work studies the applications of LPWANs in
ITSs by performing a systematic literature review.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section II
introduces LoRa technology and provides an overview of its
implementation in ITS. Section III provides a more detailed
and systematic review of the related literature addressing
LPWAN applications in ITS. Section IV summarizes the
main outcomes of the review, briefly discussing research
trends and applications to smart railways. Finally, Section
V draws some conclusions and pointers to future work.
II. LORA TECHNOLOGY AND INTELLIGENT
TR AN SP ORTATION SYSTEMS
In the last years, the connectivity of smart devices has
been dominated by short-range technologies. However, it is
predicted that the importance of LPWAN technologies will
grow as the IoT market evolves. In particular, it is predicted
that by 2025, 25% of wireless industrial IoT connections
will be provided by LPWAN technologies, such as LoRa,
Sigfox, narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), and LTE-M [9]. LoRa is a
rising technology for the transfer of data when implementing
networks for sensor data collection and transmission from
end nodes to base stations [11]. One of the main advantages
of LoRa is its long-range capability. A single base station
enables transmissions over hundreds of square kilometres,
however, the actual coverage is highly dependent on the
obstructions and environment [12]. Other benefits are low
power and high robustness towards narrowband noise inter-
ference.
Due to all these reasons, LPWAN technologies such
as LoRa are a great option for building Wireless Sensor
Networks (WSN) for intelligent transportation systems like
smart-railways. They are seen as enablers for intelligent
transportation because they allow cost-effective long-range
communications at a low bit rate among connected objects,
such as sensors operated on a battery, which are common
in many practical applications. Intelligent transportation has
been extensively studied in recent years to enable users
and travellers to be more informed and make safer, more
coordinated, and smarter use of transport networks. For an
example of LoRa technology, and how it improves trans-
portation systems and makes travelling smarter and more
convenient, the reader can refer to the article by P. Guan
et al. A Real-Time Bus Positioning System Based on LoRa
Technology [13].
III. LPWAN REVIEW
As previously stated, the main objective of this work is
to perform a literature review on Low-Power Wide-Area
Network technologies for Intelligent Transportation Systems.
To that aim, the main research questions are:
Who has been working on this field, when and where?
What are the most relevant communication technolo-
gies?
What are the main implementations?
The search for related literature has followed the approach
known as systematic literature review (SLR) based on both
qualitative and quantitative analysis methods Article Collec-
tion, Data Collection, and Data Analysis [14] [15].
The article collection started by defining a search string
composed of the following search terms: “smart OR intel-
ligent”, “transport* OR transit”, “lora* OR lpwan”, with
the logical operator “AND” between them. Two reference
databases were used: the IEEE Xplore digital library and
the Scopus abstract and citation database1. Articles included
in the SLR have been selected when the mentioned search
terms appeared in their title, abstract, and keywords. We have
excluded articles which appeared multiple times in one or
both databases, those not written in English, those which
were not research articles, and finally, articles not focusing
on Low Power Wide Area Network Technologies relevant
for Intelligent Transportation Systems.
After the exclusion rounds, the full-texts of the remaining
articles were analyzed. The articles finally included in the
SLR had to satisfy at least one of the following criteria:
The article presented a review or a survey related
to LPWAN technologies for Intelligent Transportation
Systems.
The article aimed to solve a specific problem related
to LPWAN technologies for Intelligent Transportation
Systems - with theoretical propositions.
The article aimed to solve a specific problem related
to LPWAN technologies for Intelligent Transportation
Systems - with experimental solutions/laboratory exper-
iments.
The article aimed to solve a specific problem related
to LPWAN technologies for Intelligent Transportation
Systems - with practical solutions or implementations.
From the graph in Fig. 2, it is clear that - as intuitively
expected - there have been very few related publications
on the subjects of LPWAN and ITS before the year 2015
1The extracted searches and the filtered list of papers are
publicly available at: https://github.com/RobertoNardone/
Low-Power- Wide-Area- Networks-Review.
(approximately, one relevant paper per year). Then, in 2016
the trend started to change, with rapid growth in 2018.
The affiliations of the 47 included articles cover 21
countries in all continents and demonstrate the worldwide
growing interest in LPWAN applications to ITS. In particular,
researchers from the USA have authored most articles, and
more specifically the 14.6% of all included articles. However,
when considering how many articles were published per
continent, we found that Asia has published most articles,
29.2%, followed by Europe, where 25% of all included
articles were published. North America has the third place
in this ranking with 14.6%, followed by Africa, where 6.3%
articles were published and South America with 2.1% of all
included articles. It can be noted that the biggest growth
of deployed LoRaWAN networks happened in Asia-Pacific
and in European regions [16], which explains why the most
published articles come from researchers operating in these
continents.
The 47 included articles were published by 50 authors
from 37 different institutions.The institutions can be divided
into three main categories: 24 universities, which make 65%
of all institutions that published articles; the second category
consists in research centres, which make up 24%; and the
third category are corporate companies, which account for
the remaining 4 articles or 11% of all institutions.
Fig. 2. Publication years of the included articles
A. Communication technologies
A total of 68 communication technologies were collected
from the 47 included articles about Low-Power Wide-Area
Network technologies for Intelligent Transportation Systems.
As shown in Fig. 3, more than half of all communication
technologies, specifically 58%, appeared in only two or fewer
articles. The remaining 42% of technologies appeared in
three or more articles. Furthermore, in Fig. 3 the identified
technologies are reported together with the numbers of
included articles. These articles enumerate, compare, propose
improvements or discuss these communication technologies.
The communication technologies can be classified into the
following groups:
Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN): The main
technologies in this group are LoRa, LoRaWAN,
DASH7, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and Sigfox. These
are the main technologies which appear in 72% of
all included articles. More information on the different
technologies within the group of Low Power Wide-Area
Networks can be found in [17].
Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN): This group
includes the Wireless Sensor Network Technology
which appeared among the collection, namely ZigBee.
Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN): The most men-
tioned technologies within this group are Wi-Fi and
Bluetooth. When considering Bluetooth, the most men-
tioned technology was Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
and Bluetooth Low Energy Protocol.
Cellular Network: This group of technologies has the
advantage of wide coverage and suitable bandwidth,
especially the 5G. Widespread technologies for the Cel-
lular Network group are: 3G, 4G, Long Term Evolution
(LTE) and GSM-GPRS. More information on the fifth
generation of mobile communication (5G) can be read
in the work [18].
Satellite Network: The most relevant technology for
this group according to the collected literature is GPS,
although several other emerging technologies and posi-
tioning systems are expected in the next few years.
Messaging: The main messaging technology from all
included articles is the Message Queue Telemetry Trans-
port (MQTT), included in a total of 5 articles. The
advantage of MQTT is that it is a lightweight publish-
subscribe protocol and more on this topic can be found
in [19]. One article mentions also ALOHA [13], which
is a random-access protocol and operates at the datalink
layer.
Modulation Technology: Among the collected technolo-
gies, the most mentioned techniques used for transmis-
sion of data are Amplitude-shift keying (ASK) and the
narrowband BPSK modulation, which is the simplest
form of phase-shift keying (PSK).
Fig. 3. Main communication technologies
B. Implementations
An important purpose of this review on LPWAN for ITS
is to highlight research and experiments that have been
implemented in real-life environments. Most of the included
articles address implementation proposals, while only a mi-
nority actually addresses prototyping in real-world scenarios.
The following articles were found, which are explicitly
focused on LPWAN for ITS, and which not only suggest
improvements or implementations but actually perform ex-
periments with implementations in real-world environments:
A popular category addressing implementation is bus
tracking, monitoring, or localization systems using Lo-
RaWAN. Three articles [13] [20] [21] address spe-
cific implementations and perform experiments on this
subject. The first article [20] LoRaWAN based GPS
tracking of city-buses for smart public transport sys-
tem argues that making the available city-bus system
smarter by tracking, would make the public vehicles
more accessible. The paper details building a custom
gateway and server, which is beneficial since it provides
flexibility in designing the network parameters. The
authors of this paper built a prototype of their GPS
tracking system based on LoRa and performed tests with
it. The conclusion of the tests is that the tracking system
can be implemented in a real-life environment. The
second article [21] IoT-based Bus Location System Us-
ing LoRaWAN introduces a system that should improve
the service quality of the bus network. Furthermore,
the authors claim to improve the efficiency of the
operation management. In this paper, the authors also
built a prototype system and performed tests with it.
The results of the tests confirmed that the system can
be implemented in a real-life environment at a lower
cost than the existing bus location systems using cellular
networks such as 3G/LTE. In the third article, [13]
A Real-Time Bus Positioning System Based on LoRa
Technology, the authors build as well a real-time bus
locating system based on LoRa technology. The authors
here used for the implementation of communication
the ALOHA protocol, which solves packet conflict
problems. Furthermore, a prototype was built and tested
and results in reduced power consumption, a more
reliable hardware system, low loss rate and an overall
lower cost. In [22] the authors propose similarly an IoT-
based public vehicle tracking system using LoRa and
ITS services, experiments were designed and executed
to adjust the parameters of the LoRa technology. The
results conclude that an implementation is suitable for
intermediate cities. The authors also found that the
relevant technical aspects which need to be taken into
account are an adequate LoS between the gateway
and the devices in the vehicles. Thus, the number of
obstacles between the roads and the gateway should be
as small as possible.
A similar category as the previous one is the tracking,
monitoring and location systems for boats. One article
addressing this topic is [23]. Maritime communication
is challenging due to the lack of supporting long-range
connectivity with the land. The general solution for
communication in high seas are satellite links, which
is rather expensive. There are solutions for areas closer
to the shore, where monitoring systems have been
implemented with cellular communication or wireless
sensor networks. However, these solutions have certain
drawbacks, and thus Sanchez-Iborra et al. [23] present a
tracking and monitoring system based on LoRa. The tar-
get group here are small sailboats, recreational boats and
radio control ships. The monitoring in their work was
performed on real-training sessions of Optimist Class
sailboats. The works [13], [22], [23] were financially
supported and thus there is a higher probability to be
further supported and having a possible future in being
deployed.
IV. DISCUSSION
The previous Section reviewed the current literature on
LPWAN mainly focusing on communication and imple-
mentation issues. Here below all the analysed papers are
reported in Table I, with the aim of providing a quick sight
before discussing the review results, the research trends and
applications to smart railways. The paper is grouped into
sections according to their main scientific focus (architecture,
middleware, protocols and surveys), application domain (ITS
- general, rail transport, air transport, etc,).
A. Related Surveys
Among the reviewed papers, it is worth mentioning two
references that can be classified as literature or technology
review articles, i.e., the work in [17] entitled Internet of
Mobile Things: Overview of LoRaWAN, DASH7, and NB-
IoT in LPWANs Standards and Supported Mobility and the
work in [30] entitled Internet of Things (IoT) communication
protocols: Review, belongs to the category of reviews. In
particular the survey article [17] addresses the mobility of
the things, how it can be achieved when transmitting and
receiving data, and the connectivity in LoRaWAN, DASH7,
and NB-IoT. Furthermore, the authors provide a general
and technical comparison of the three mentioned standards
and show various application scenarios where the mobility
is required. The authors also illustrate how to select the
most suitable standard and discuss the research challenges
and perspectives. The review article [30] reviews the fol-
lowing IoT communication protocols: 6LoWPAN, ZigBee,
Bluetooth LE, RFID, NFC, Sigfox, Cellular and Z-Wave.
The authors detail the specifications and benefits of these
communication protocols and conclude that it is difficult to
define which one is the best. Therefore, the authors discuss
that it is important to ask the questions “which technology
is best suitable for a specific application”.
The two research articles focus on the Internet-of-Things
and mention Low Power Wide Area Networks. However,
in the present literature, it was found that there is a lack
of a formal and objective systematic review that is focused
specifically on LPWAN for ITS, while all references col-
lected in the present review address analyses from multiple
perspectives on this specific topic.
B. Research Trends
From this literature review, it is clear that there has been
an increasing attention on LPWAN for ITS from all over
LPWAN Revised Papers
Application Domain Architectures Middleware Protocols Survey
ITS - general [24]–[26] [27] [19], [28], [29] [11], [17], [30]
Rail Transport [31] [32] - -
Air Transport - [33], [34] - -
Road Transport [35]–[37] [13], [20]–[22], [38]–[45] [46], [47] -
Water Transport - [23], [48]–[50] - -
Smart Infrastructure [51]–[53] [54]–[56] [57], [58] -
Waste Management [59] - - -
Agricultural Industry [60] [61] [62] -
TABLE I
CATEG ORI ZATI ON OF T HE R EVI EW ED PAP ERS B ASE D ON T HE AP PL ICATI ON D OMA IN A ND ON T HE P ROPO SE D IDE A.
the world in the last few years. The interest comes from
not only universities and research centres but also from
companies as well as private research institutions in all
continents. Furthermore, Fig. 2 shows that there is a fast-
growing number of contributions and implementations in the
field of LPWAN for ITS. In the same Figure, it is also visible
that the number of articles grew by a factor of over 400%
after 2017.
The data analysis answering research question number 2 il-
lustrates the different communication technologies addressed
by the included articles. The research and experimentation on
different communication technologies are particularly impor-
tant. For example, in article [13] the authors use the ALOHA
protocol for the implementation of bus communications,
which solved packet conflict problems; however, the results
provided in that paper also indicate that if the transmission
distance was higher than 1.8km, the packet loss rate also
increased. Thus, in general, it is essential to find the most
appropriate trade-off considering the performance, reliability
and coverage requirements in the operating conditions of any
specific ITS application. That consideration offers space for
further research in these areas.
The data analysis for research question number 3 identified
only 5 articles, which account for approximately 10% of all
included articles, that present implementations and exper-
iments in a real-life environment. Moreover, all 5 articles
focus on tracking, monitoring, or localization systems using
LoRaWAN. Four articles, i.e., references [13] [20], [21]
and [22], suggest individual implementations and perform
experiments on tracking public transportation vehicles, such
as busses. The fifth article [23] monitors lightweight boats.
In all cases, the main focus area for the researchers who
implemented systems and performed related experiments was
LPWAN for ITS.
C. Applications to Smart-Railways
As mentioned, the literature review provided in this pa-
per represents a preliminary study for the RAILS research
project, focusing on AI applications in railways in the three
main areas of: driverless, autonomous and cooperative driv-
ing; smart-maintenance and defect detection; and advanced
traffic management [7]. It is rather intuitive that results
achieved in other transportation fields might be transferred
to railways wherever the operating conditions are similar. In
particular, the aforementioned ongoing experimentations in
public transportation (e.g., connected busses) and maritime
applications (e.g., connected boats) may prove useful for a
comparison of operating conditions, expected issues for long
distances, power requirements, etc. For instance, it should be
noted that the limitations emerged when monitoring buses
over distances longer than typical urban areas might affect
railways where distances are typically longer than a few
kilometres unless more gateways are installed along the
lines, as it happens nowadays with GSM-R base transceiver
stations used in ERTMS/ETCS (European Railway Traffic
Management System / European Train Control System) [63].
Although that cannot be considered a mature field based on
the results of this review, we expect a growth of research
and applications in the automotive field with the increasing
interest in connected cars. The results, in that case, might be
more easily transferred to railways considering the analogy
between highways and railways in terms of distances and
longitudinal distribution.
Regarding the most promising railway applications of LP-
WAN technologies, we already mentioned remote monitoring
and surveillance as the main application [64] [65]; however,
depending on performability, vehicle-to-vehicle (i.e., train-
to-train) communications might also be considered as a
promising field of experimentation for cooperative driving
and virtual coupling [66] [67] [68]. While LPWAN monitor-
ing applications in ITS are cross-domain to a certain extent,
there are some considerations that are domain dependant,
e.g., harsh environmental conditions requiring ruggedized
hardware, or possible presence of strong electromagnetic in-
terference in the proximity of high-voltage catenary contacts
in railways [69]. Furthermore, device and data security as-
pects are critical when transporting safety-critical signalling
information, that is important if LPWAN technologies are
used to support autonomous and cooperative driving in ap-
plications related to ATC (Automatic Train Control), which
is a combination of Automatic Train Protection (ATP) plus
Automatic Train Operation (ATO), ATS (Automatic Train
Supervision), CBTC (Communication Based Train Control),
as well as computer-based interlocking systems (IXL) [70].
However, it is worth mentioning that modern railway stan-
dards like ERTMS/ETCS already and successfully addressed
the issue of transmitting safety-critical data over possible
unreliable and insecure networks (i.e., open/wireless data
networks like the existing GSM-R) by means of specific pro-
tocols (e.g., Euroradio) ensuring data integrity and security
at the application level of the ISO/OSI protocol stack [63]
[71] [72] [73].
V. CONCLUSIONS
The objective of this paper was to provide a brief literature
review with a focus on Low Power Wide Area Network Tech-
nologies applicable to Intelligent Transportation Systems.
This work is to be considered within the scope of the RAILS
research project funded by the European Union through the
Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, considering that the IoT and in
particular LPWANs represent essential enabling technologies
for sensor data collection and distributed control over large
geographical areas in future generation smart-railways. We
believe that the preliminary literature review provided in
this paper constitutes a first step towards the analysis of
transferability and the definition of roadmaps for the imple-
mentation of intelligent railways. We plan to further extend
and update the present SLR as a result of the ongoing RAILS
project activities of state-of-the-art definition and technology
roadmapping planned for the next years.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This work has received funding from the Shift2Rail Joint
Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No 881782. The JU
receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020
research and innovation programme and the Shift2Rail JU
members other than the Union. The information and views
set out in this document are those of the authors and do
not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Shift2Rail Joint
Undertaking. The JU does not guarantee the accuracy of the
data included in this article. Neither the JU nor any person
acting on the JU’s behalf may be held responsible for the use
which may be made of the information contained therein.
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Preprint accepted for publication in the proceedings of "The 4th International Conference on Reliability, Safety and Security of Railway Systems" (RSSRail'22). Please cite as: Francesco Flammini, Lorenzo De Donato, Alessandro Fantechi, Valeria Vittorini. A Vision of Intelligent Train Control. Proc. 4th International Conference on Reliability, Safety and Security of Railway Systems (RSSRail’22).
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