Articles, Level 5 Autonomous Driving, Smart Mobility

Train Automation is emerging

Currently, autonomous driving mainly involves the automation of road vehicles - from trucks to passenger cars. But the rail transport is also a lucrative area.
In some sectors the concept of autonomous rail travel has already been implemented. Take for example mine operator Rio Tinto and its autonomous trains and trucks transport mining materials. But also commuter trains, metros and trams in cities are looking towards an automated future.
Today we count 40 cities around the world providing autonomous trains. As early as 1983, a automated subway was introduced in the French city of Lille. In Germany, an autonomous subway has been running through (or better said below) Nuremberg for several years. Similar projects can be found in London, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome or Budapest.
Just recently, supplier Continental announced to make its autonomous vehicle technology available for rail transport. This involves the automation of trams. The concepts will be presented at the InnoTrans this September. The measure shall also pay into the progress of Vision Zero, an initiative that aims on eliminating road deaths. After all, rail traffic in cities is also associated with accidents - especially at intersections. Railways could be equipped with sensors and computing capacity to ensure greater safety and avoid accidents.
South Korean capital Seoul also started testing an automated suburban railway line to improve safety and save costs above all. The investments are expected to pay off within twelve years. However there are fierce protests by the labour union because many employees would lose their job in the course of train automation. The plan is reduce the personell to just one engineer who is monitoring the train.
German City Hamburg has just announced that it wants to automate its suburban train network. The first line should be ready by 2021. It is one of the projects on the occasion of the ITS World Congress, which will take place in Hamburg in the same year. Trains will run on a 23-kilometer route, but without passenger transport for the moment. The three cooperation partners - City of Hamburg, Deutsche Bahn and Siemens - will share the costs of 60 million euros. If the pilot is successful, the entire railway network will be automated.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: