Information published on 4 July 2017 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 555.

France: What do we mean by self-driving trains?

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When developing trains for the future, SNCF is guided by two objectives: continuing to augment services in the most densely populated zones and increasing operational flexibility while ensuring complete safety.

Both in France and internationally, the SNCF Group is known above all for the TGV. Today, introducing self-driving trains represents a similarly impressive technological leap.

To meet this challenge, SNCF and its industrial partners are looking for innovative solutions to automate certain observation and train environment management functions, as well as speed control and traffic management.

For example, as part of a partnership with Alstom and the Institute for Technological Research SystemX, SNCF is developing a perception system that relies on a combination of sensors, cameras and radars to detect obstacles and signalling.
Completely automated driving “cannot exist for the railway”. As Mathieu Chabanel, Deputy Director General of SNCF Réseau, explains, trains do not run on closed tracks, unlike automated subway trains. The technology that needs to be developed is thus far more complex. A human presence is required to adjust driving behaviour in the event of incursion on the track or difficult weather conditions, for example.

“The first challenge is to increase line capacity – not to dispense with drivers. Automation will be used to optimise train running speeds. Consider the motorway: when everyone is travelling at the perfect speed, the flow of traffic is much smoother. Self-driving trains thus guarantee greater line capacity, allowing us to put our existing infrastructure to better use and eliminating the need for costly investment”, explains Guillaume Pepy, SNCF Executive Board Chairman.

A long-term programme

The first experiments will start in 2019 with a remote-controlled freight train. In 2021, the movements of freight trains and TERs will be partially automated on their way to and from maintenance centres. In 2022, the extension of the RER E, Eole, to the west of Paris will be put into service and will be semi-automated between Nanterre and Rosa-Parks (19th arrondissement of Paris). “This will be the first automated system permitted on the national rail network”, explains Alain Krakovitch, Managing Director of SNCF Transilien.

In 2023, the first semi-automated TGVs will run on dedicated tracks to improve the frequency of train services. In particular, these will increase the number of trains on the Paris-Lyon line by 25%.

(Source: SNCF)