Drones in Railways

Exploring Current Applications and Future Scenarios Based on Action Research


  • Omid Maghazei ETH Zurich
  • Matthias Steinmann Swiss Federal Railways (SBB)




Evidence shows that the applications of drones are increasing quickly in many industries. Railways are no exception. Due to fast advances in technology, drones are on the verge of breakthroughs that will affect future applications, implementations, and their consequences. Looking ahead, we elaborate on the potential for drones in railways. We use scenario planning and combine it with the findings of an action research project, which we conducted with Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). First, we explore the applications and future trends of drone use in railway operations. Second, based on seven identified factors that may affect the future of drones in railways by 2030, we develop three future scenarios: pessimistic, realistic, and optimistic. The study results help practitioners make informed decisions regarding future drone programs in railways. We also contribute theoretical insights into how high-potential technologies can unleash new capabilities in railway operations.


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Author Biography

Matthias Steinmann, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB)

Department of Production Engineering

Infrastructure Maintenance

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB)

Bern, Switzerland




How to Cite

Maghazei, O., & Steinmann, M. (2020). Drones in Railways: Exploring Current Applications and Future Scenarios Based on Action Research. European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, 20(3), 87–102. https://doi.org/10.18757/ejtir.2020.20.3.4612