France Takes Step Closer to Fully Autonomous Train Travel

Two and a half years after a consortium was launched to develop the prototype of an autonomous regional train in France, SNCF and partners Alstom, Bosch, Spirops, Thales and the Railenium Technology Research Institute are putting their test train into operation.

This is a key step towards achieving the consortium’s ultimate objective of achieving full autonomy by 2023.

The Regio 2N regional train prototype
The Regio 2N regional train prototype

At the start of the year, Alstom modified a Regio 2N regional train at its site in Crespin, France, fitting various sensors, cameras, radars and lidars to collect data.

The first trials took place over a week in early March, between Aulnoye and Busigny, and Busigny and Calais in the north of France. The prototype ran on a commercial track, with the project’s engineers and technicians on board.

This first phase tested the geolocation system, and the prototype’s ability to see and recognise signals along the track. Driven by a specialist SNCF driver, the new equipment was activated in order to observe how it worked, but did not interfere with the movement of the train.

Tests then took place at the CEF railway test centre in Petite-Forêt on the train’s autonomous operation system, which makes it possible to automate acceleration and braking.

Pierre Izard, Director of Technology, Innovation and Group Projects, SNCF Group, said:

“Our project just passed a significant milestone with great success. Another step has been taken towards achieving autonomy in rail. The mobilisation of the SNCF teams and of our partners allows us to explore all the issues, both human and technological. With our research work and trials, we're making progress in the rail sector and preparing for its future development.”

A second series of trials is currently underway to fine-tune the prototype’s operating system. Taking place on the national railway network at Busigny, this will lead to semi-autonomous operation in the coming months.

The trials, authorised by the French National Railway Safety Authority (EPSF), will help to substantiate the safety demonstration required for the train’s future authorisation to operate.

As an observer in the project, EPSF will be in a position to assess the understanding of the technologies developed and their impact on the railway system, as well as any possible regulatory changes needing to be made for this new type of operation.

Over the next two years, the modified Regio 2N regional train will continue being tested on the track between Aulnoye and Busigny during school holidays.

Outside of research and test periods it will be in regular commercial service, transporting passengers. During these commercial trips, in conventional driving mode, it will record data that will improve the performance of the signal recognition algorithms, for example by detecting the colour of the traffic lights and the surrounding environment of the train.

At the same time, lab work is being carried out on trial simulators at the sites of all the consortium partners to fine-tune the itineraries of the test train and further develop the automated system.

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