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Alstom to test fully driverless trains in Germany

Rolling stock manufacturer Alstom is to trial what could be described as “fully driverless trains” in Germany. 

The company has going ahead with a test project to implement Automatic Train Operation technology in the daily passenger operation of regional trains.

The project will begin in 2021 in partnership with the Regional Association of the greater area of Braunschweig, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin).

Meanwhile, the German Federal Ministry of Economics has presented Alstom with the “Innovation Prize for Regulatory Sandboxes” for the project.

After evaluation of the selected tracks and the equipment necessary for automated operation, the testing will be carried out with two Coradia Continental regional trains owned by the Regionalbahnfahrzeuge Großraum Braunschweig GmbH.

Alstom claims to be a long-time world-leader in ATO for metro systems, and says this test will be “a world-first for regional passenger trains”.

Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria, says: “In the future, automated trains will optimize regional rail operations, reduce energy consumption, and increase ride comfort.

“In this way, highly automated driving will make a decisive contribution to climate protection and contribute to the development of a modern, attractive railway system.

“Following the development and successful testing of the world’s first hydrogen train Coradia iLint, Alstom is once again the innovative driver in rail transport with the pilot for regional trains in automated operation.”

For this project, two trains based on Alstom’s successful Coradia Continental platform will be equipped with a European Train Control System (ETCS) and additional Automatic Train Operation (ATO) equipment.

The equipment will enable the trains to operate automatically, testing different grades of automation (GoA): GoA3 in regular passenger operation and GoA4 during shunting.

GoA3 describes a fully autonomous train journey, but with an attendant who can intervene in the operation in case of emergency. GoA4 denotes unattended operation with no staff aboard, but with the possibility of remote control.

Dr Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economics and Transportation, says: “After the successful operation of the fuel cell train in the Elbe-Weser Triangle, the Alstom site in Salzgitter is once again setting standards for tomorrow’s local transportation with this project.

“The fact that we in Lower Saxony are now able to drive forward the testing and further development of automatic train operation in addition to the test field for automated and networked mobility on the road is a decisive step for the future of passenger transport by rail.

“The new model project promises a high degree of innovation, which we need for climate-friendly and efficient mobility services. Of course, I am particularly pleased that with Alstom, another company from Lower Saxony underlines our reputation as an important source of innovation.”

Birgit Milius, head of the department of railway operations and infrastructure at TU Berlin, says: “ATO, or Automatic Train Operation, is one of the most exciting challenges in the railway industry.

“It gives us the opportunity to shape and significantly change the operational management of the future. But a lot of research is still needed before this is the case, and I am very pleased to be working with Alstom on this project.”

In the project applied for, she will investigate various aspects, including the integration of humans into the technical system.

Fritz Rössig, head of the transport department of the regional association and managing director of Regionalbahnfahrzeuge Großraum Braunschweig GmbH, says: “Artificial intelligence is an important technology for making the local rail passenger transport of the future even more efficient and economical.

“Against this background, the Regional Association of Greater Braunschweig supports this innovative research project and will make its ‘ENNO vehicles’ available for this purpose.”

Jörn Groos, group leader in the technology field of data acquisition and information retrieval at the Institute of Transportation Systems Technology at the German Aerospace Center DLR, says: “Tests under real conditions are indispensable for the development of practical AI approaches for the optimization of the railway system.”

The findings from this important project will contribute decisively to the further development of the legal and regulatory framework that will oversee Automatic Train Operation. Lower Saxony will be at the leading edge and is confident that automatic regional trains equipped with GoA3 will soon be ready for series production.

In executing the regulatory sandbox, Alstom can rely on its extensive know-how in automated metros and various other ATO projects. The company is leading the European ATO project in Shift2Rail and is involved in SNCF’s automated freight train.

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