Driverless Trains: Past, Present and Future

All Aboard the Future: Navigating the Past, Present, and Future of Driverless Trains

Future, Technology, Trains

In Australia’s Pilbara desert, you will see the world’s heaviest robot. The vast desert mining area extends to the west coast of Australia. The robot is actually a two kilometer long freight train.

This driverless train autonomously travels from the mine to the port. The train is driven using multiple cameras and machine learning algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.

The train uses artificial intelligence to decide whether to change the speed of the train if there is a kangaroo or other wildlife on the way, if there is a level crossing, or when passing through a sloped area.

As surprising as it may sound, driverless trains, also known as autonomous or automated trains, have become quite popular in the world today. The technology, pioneered in Australia by Hitachi Rail and Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest metals and mining company, is now seen in metros and trams across cities.

How automated rail transport system came about, its current status and future prospects are covered in this article.

Automated train journey

Future, Technology, Trains

By 1830, steam-powered trains had become an important part of people’s lives, and railway services were in operation in many parts of the world. Back then, train drivers were expected to have knowledge of how train components worked or how to fix train breakdowns in remote areas. So they were called engineers instead of train drivers. The name still remains in the United States and Canada.

Later when rail travel became popular everywhere, train driving and train engineering split into two separate specialized fields. The drivers only had to take care of the technical aspects of running the train, understanding the signaling and maintaining the train schedule. This division of labor continues to this day. So a modern train driver needs to learn how a microprocessor works in train control. If something goes wrong, railway engineers are responsible for fixing it.

As many responsibilities are reduced, train drivers have to focus more on certain tasks. But waiting for a long time to get an automatic train. Surprisingly, after airplanes became popular in 1903, autopilots or automatic aircraft systems began to appear in the 1930s. On the other hand, hundreds of years after the invention of the train, automatic train systems have not yet been introduced.

In 1968 London Underground train service started under the name of Victoria Line. This underground rail system was the first fully automatic train in England’s capital in 50 years. However, in this train a driver was always present in his cabin. Because there was some manual work to control in an emergency, i.e. man-directed work was required. Although the main job of the train driver was to open and close the doors. which often could not be controlled safely from a distance.

We can say that the world got the first fully autonomous mass railway when the Port Liner arrived in Kobe, Japan in 1981. A few years later another similar system was started in Lille in northern France. Autonomous rail systems are quite popular among light public transport systems in the world today. Even inter-city and high-speed heavy trains are now seeing automation. However, like an airplane, there is a pilot or engineer who has various controls. He also takes full responsibility for the management of the train, much like the captain of a ship.

Different stages of automatic trains

Future, Technology, Trains

While driverless autonomous vehicles are technically entirely possible, there are currently very few such trains in the world. New trains with driver’s seating (cabin) are still being designed and built. However, trains that do not have any sort of automatic system are no longer manufactured. The industry has a scale called Grades of Automation, based on which trains are classified into categories GoA0 to GoA4.

GoA0: No automatic system. Driving a train depends entirely on humans.

GoA2: Trains are somewhat automated. However, the driver remains in his seat, so that he can perform the duties himself instead of automation if necessary. Like making sure passengers have cleared the platform before starting the journey.

GoA3: Such a train can move by itself. But at all times at least one person stays inside to control the train. In this case the driver may not be in his seat. He is responsible for checking tickets, making announcements or opening and closing doors.

GoA4: Fully autonomous. The vehicle does not require any staff or driver. Passenger safety and train operation are all controlled automatically.

Why do trains have to be automated?

Future, Technology, Trains
  • Are automated trains safer?

Earlier ensuring security in automation was the most difficult task. Currently, safety is seen as the biggest argument for automating trains. Automation, remote monitoring, on-board sensors, seamless computer programming, automated vehicles and road networks are making rail journeys safer today.

  • Speed and capacity

Understanding the causes of rail accidents and responding to accidents requires being within a few hundred meters of most trains or high-speed trams. Automation takes no more time to react and make decisions as there is an automatic accident management system. As a result, trains can run closer and stop faster in an emergency.

  • Skills

Humans may operate diesel or electric trains efficiently now, but automation can make control systems just as efficient. Computers can calculate whether a train is running at its maximum capacity, its acceleration (acceleration) and whether energy is being saved during braking.

Companies operating trains using computers understand how to reduce maintenance costs. Again, the computer can also figure out if the whole system is suffering from excessive pressure on a valuable component.

  • Better experience for passengers

Multiple unit cabins for the driver at the front and rear of the train apart from numerous square driver’s cabins would have wasted a lot of space inside the train for handling the train. If not, this space can be used to store more passengers, luggage, goods.

The future of driverless trains

With the GoA4 train, we can see the future right now. This new technology is also being rapidly adopted in the railway industry.

So henceforth whenever new rail infrastructure is planned and built, it must be designed with automated trains in mind. Goods are being transported using driverless vehicles including trains in factories, ports, warehouses in different parts of the world.

A misunderstanding is often created among passengers about the safety of full automation. Maybe this will be resolved after more experience. When the steam engine took off, many thought that 30 miles per hour would be dangerous for humans. But later when it is seen that rail travel is not dangerous at all, they get it wrong.

However, one of the biggest problems in the way of expanding the automated train system is that its full implementation will require radical changes in the current railway system. Platforms, railway lines, control rooms, maintenance centers require huge investment to improve the quality of everything. The problem is that many countries are not ready for such a large investment.

Again, running conventional trains and driverless trains simultaneously on the same rail line can become problematic. Due to these reasons, the task of radical transformation of the railway system is more complicated. On the other hand, when automated railways start, many railway workers will lose their jobs.

Even so, when planning and building new rail infrastructure, automation should be kept in mind. Honolulu Rail Transit is an example of such a future driverless train, as is being developed this way. It will be the first fully autonomous rail system in the United States. And since this project has been started from scratch, there is no risk of job losses being reported.

Hitachi Rail Authority has launched a driverless metro system in the city of Copenhagen. Many believe that this safe, fast and comfortable metro system will play a pioneering role in driving driverless transport systems forward.

Now the next step is to start using GoA4 technology in high speed passenger trains. In the meantime, however, various short-term experimental projects are working on it. The technology is there, but the real challenge is to adapt the vast new rail network to this technology. It remains to be seen which will come first, the first unmanned plane to cross the Atlantic or the first unmanned train from Tokyo to Osaka.

Future, technology, trains, driverlesstrains, autonomousrail, transportation, futureofmobility, technology, innovation, publictransport, metrolines, safety, efficiency, sustainability,

Leave a Comment