Information published on 18 September 2018 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 614.

SNCF and its partners to launch driverless trains by 2023

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SNCF, together with the Railenium Technology Research Institute (IRT), Alstom, Altran, Ansaldo, Apsys, Bombardier, Bosch, Spirops and Thales, announces the creation of two consortia with the aim of developing prototypes of driverless trains within five years.

A Railway Revolution

The French public railway group is working on this innovative project to develop the railway system of the future. With its aim of becoming the first operator to use driverless trains for both passenger and freight transport in the next five years, SNCF and its partners are positioning France as a pioneer of innovation in the sector.

Pooling their technical and industrial expertise, two consortia were created in January and are being piloted by SNCF and IRT Railenium for a five-year period.

One of the consortia is working to develop a prototype of a driverless freight train. The members of the consortium are Alstom, Altran, Ansaldo and Apsys.

A second consortium dedicated to passenger transport will create a prototype of a driverless TER (regional) train. The consortium comprises Bombardier, Bosch, Spirops and Thales.

The overall budget for this phase of the project is €57 million. 30% is financed by SNCF, 30% by the French state and 40% by the project partners.

Open innovation: Combined expertise

These partnerships bring together major manufacturers from the railway, automotive, aviation and systems intelligence sectors, as well as players in engineering and artificial intelligence. They enjoy strong support from the public authorities via the French National Research Agency (ANR).

The French Railway Safety Authority (EPSF) and the National Cybersecurity Agency of France (ANSSI) are working with both groups so that full account is taken at the earliest possible stage of the challenges involved in railway safety and cybersecurity.

All of this expertise will help to advance the driverless train project in key areas such as obstacle detection, signal reading, geolocation, monitoring of the train’s environment and hazard management.

“The human and technological challenges are immense. We are leveraging the collective intelligence, experience, skills and know-how of partners from a wide range of industries”, explained Luc Laroche, director of the “Driverless Train” project. “These partnerships are a world first in terms of the ambition, approach and expertise they represent”, he added.

Benefits for passengers and for freight transport

Driverless trains offer tangible benefits for both passengers and freight transport customers:

  • Increased capacity: the ability to run more trains, transporting larger numbers of people and greater volumes of goods (video)
  • Greater fluidity and adherence to schedule thanks to harmonised circulation and optimised speed, which in turn mean being able to react to unforeseen circumstances (video)
  • Environmental benefits due to reduced energy consumption (video)

“Thanks to digital transformation of the network and signalling, we will be able to run better trains and more of them. This is crucial to the development of driverless trains. Digital transformation will make us champions of the digital industry”, says Patrick Jeantet, Chairman of SNCF Réseau.

“Driverless trains will make it possible to transport more people and more freight, with better service, more efficient energy use and even better levels of safety. With driverless trains, all trains will be able to run in a harmonised manner, making railway operations more fluid. Greater fluidity means greater ability to keep to schedule and more punctual trains. It’s a major challenge for SNCF, which runs 17,000 trains and transports four million passengers a day”, said Guillaume Pepy, SNCF Chairman. “Together with our partners, we are fully committed to shaping the train of the future...and the future of the train”.

The objective of the “Driverless Train” project is to put semi-autonomous trains into circulation by 2020, and to have entirely driverless trains running by 2023.

(Source: SNCF)