Netherlands: PhD Multi-agent & Game-theoretic Approaches for Railway Contracting at Delft University of Technology

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Job description

Safe and efficient operation of a railway network requires highly coordinated and harmonised actions by all involved parties. Currently, railway maintenance operations are tendered for 5-year periods to contractors. This potentially leaves contractors with no incentive for long-term investment. From a whole system perspective, (maintenance) investments in tracks and trains should be jointly determined, as the ultimate goal is to achieve maximum service at minimum cost. However, these decisions are made independently by the railway manager (in our case, ProRail), the railway transportation companies, and their contractors. Therefore, it is important to develop new management methodologies that can deal with multiple involved parties so as to guarantee ProRail’s long-term objectives for maintaining traffic safety and network availability in a cost-effective way. This includes new methods for service contracting aimed at aligning the contractors’ objectives and their way of operating with ProRail’s long-term objectives. The goal of this project is to develop new approaches to allow ProRail to optimise the servicing activities at the whole system level. These methods will be based on a multiplayer game that can be defined in many possible settings. One setting that will be investigated is that of leader-follower reverse Stackelberg games, where the leader (ProRail) has an objective he wants to optimise, knowing that the followers (service contractors) also have their own objectives. In a reverse Stackelberg game. the leader announces a policy (e.g., contract conditions) that describes how he will react to the actions of the followers. The objective here is to design that policy so that the followers – when optimising their own performance – also contribute to the optimisation of the leader’s performance.
This project will be done in cooperation with the Railway Engineering group of Delft University of Technology, with the Department of Operations of the University of Groningen, and with ProRail.


We are looking for a candidate with an MSc degree in systems and control, applied mathematics, or operations research, and with a strong background or interest in control, railway operations, game theory, and/or optimisation. The candidate is expected to work on the boundary of several research domains. A good command of the English language is required.

Conditions of employment

TU Delft offers an attractive benefits package, including a flexible work week, free high-speed Internet access from home (with contracts of two years or longer), and the option of assembling a customized compensation and benefits package (the ‘IKA’). Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities.
As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment; an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor; and a Doctoral Education Programme aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills. Please for more information.

For more information about this position, please contact Prof. Bart De Schutter, phone: +31 (0)15-2785113, e-mail: To apply, please e-mail a detailed CV along with a letter of application, a motivation why the proposed research topic interests you, a list of publications (if applicable), the abstract and/or summary of your MSc thesis, your BSc and MSc course program and the corresponding marks, names and addresses of two to three reference persons to B.E. van Someren-Rijneveld,
When applying for this position, please refer to vacancy number 3ME13-31.

Contract type: Temporary, 4 years


Delft University of Technology

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) is a multifaceted institution offering education and carrying out research in the technical sciences at an internationally recognised level. Education, research and design are strongly oriented towards applicability. TU Delft develops technologies for future generations, focusing on sustainability, safety and economic vitality. At TU Delft you will work in an environment where technical sciences and society converge. TU Delft comprises eight faculties, unique laboratories, research institutes and schools.


Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering

The Delft Center for Systems and Control (DCSC) coordinates the education and research activities in systems and control at Delft University of Technology. DCSC’s research mission is to conduct fundamental research in systems dynamics and control, involving dynamic modelling, advanced control theory, optimisation and signal analysis. The research is motivated by advanced technology development in, for example, physical imaging systems, robotics and transportation systems. The group actively participates in the Dutch Institute of Systems and Control (DISC).

Additional information

Bart de Schutter
+31 (0)15-2785113
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