From 2024, for the first time worldwide, two autonomous trains will be on the road in Lower Saxony’s regional transport system. Alstom is involved in the pilot project ARTE (Automated Regional Trains in Lower Saxony) as the rail vehicle manufacturer, the German Aerospace Center and the Technical University of Berlin as development partners, and the LNVG (Regional Transport Authority of Lower Saxony), which is providing two trains for tests. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Economics and Transport is supporting the project with 5.5 million euros from the “Digitization” special fund.
“We expect that we will be able to increase the efficiency of rail traffic through automated driving,” said Müslüm Yakisan, President of the DACH region at Alstom, at a signing ceremony of the project partners involved this Friday in Hanover. In this way, an autonomously controlled train can be up to 30 percent more energy-efficient. In addition, the trains could keep their timetables more punctually. This would allow planners to schedule trains more closely and thus make better use of the routes.
Signal detection even without AI
Technically, the new autonomous trains are to be adapted to the European train control system ETCS (European Train Control System). The routes involved in the project should at least be equipped with so-called balises if they have not yet been completely converted to the ETCS standard. These are special local beacons in the railway track that support highly accurate localization of the train. With this data, the camera technology used should then look out for railway signals, identify them even without artificial intelligence and interpret their signals.
The head of the Department of Railway Operations and Infrastructure at the TU Berlin pointed out that the project partners have to convince both the passengers and the railway employees of the new system. The passengers must gain confidence in the new technology and should benefit from high reliability. The employees, on the other hand, would have to grow into new work roles, because the goal is not to let trains run without any staff.
The project partners symbolically gave the starting signal with their signatures (from left): Carmen Schwabl (LNVG), Müslüm Yakisan (Alstom), Birgit Milius (TU Berlin), Bernd Althusmann (Lower Saxony Minister for Economic Affairs) and Bärbel Jäger (DLR).
Autonomous trains are already operating in closed metro systems, for example in the Nuremberg subway network since 2008. ARTE, on the other hand, is an open system in regional train traffic, which also includes road crossings, for example, and thus new demands on the technology and their certification. (egr)
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