SNCF and its partners have run the first semi-autonomous train on the French national railway network.
The locomotive ran semi-autonomously under real operating conditions. The acceleration and braking operations were fully automatic. The trial was part of the Autonomous Train project.
In 2018 a consortium comprising Alstom, Altran, Apsys, Hitachi Rail, Railenium and SNCF started working on the prototype of an autonomous train. Two years later, a Prima BB 27000 locomotive ran on the French rail network between Longwy and Longuyon (eastern France). The line is equipped with ERTMS and the locomotive ran under driver supervision.
To make this project happen, the consortium had to deliver on the design, the description of the computer systems, the cabling and software programming.
“These first dynamic tests of an autonomous train, in GoA2 under ETCS on the national rail network, showcase two years of studies and partnerships based on the expertise of our engineering teams, the trustful relationship with SNCF and a common desire to innovate and promote safe, available and greener transport solutions. As part of this ambitious and innovative SNCF programme for the French and European rail sectors, Hitachi Rail is providing its technological components, its expertise and its experience commissioning the first autonomous train in Australia to contribute to the standardisation of a smart, sustainable railway world.”
The next major stage for the project will be circulation: at the end of 2021 a train with the same level of partial automation will run on a line equipped with lineside signalling without any alterations to the infrastructure. This step will allow the project partners to manage all the possibilities of partially autonomous operation, irrespective of the signalling system on the line.
At the same time, engineering work is underway to develop the functions needed for fully autonomous operations like obstacle detection and environment monitoring. 12 test sessions have been scheduled to date. These are designed to enable to gradual addition of functions to increase the level of autonomy.
The consortium’s final objective is to run a fully autonomous prototype in 2023.
Fully autonomous trains will increase capacity because trains can run closer together, which increases the hourly throughput. The traffic flow will be harmonised and speeds will be optimised because of the centralised control. This in turn also reduces energy consumption and will make trains even more environmentally friendly. Ideally, these benefits will also encourage a modal shift to rail for both passenger and freight traffic.
“Our shared project has just passed a key stage, in adherence to the schedule that was announced. It's a success. The research and tests conducted with our partners over these two years have allowed us to make rapid progress towards the autonomous train, and we are overcoming the technical obstacles one by one. Our work is aimed at making the rail mode more competitive and will contribute to developing a more environmentally-friendly mode of transport.”
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