Driverless mainline trains on the way

Computer systems to enable mainline trains to drive themselves and detect and recognise objects ahead are being developed.

Computer systems to enable mainline trains to drive themselves and detect and recognise objects ahead are being developed by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Transport and Infrastructure Systems in Dresden.

With the increasing demand for rail transport, trains must be made capable of transporting passengers and goods in greater volume in safety.

Advantages of automated trains include being able to put additional trains in service at peak hours more rapidly and readily. The problem of drivers passing red signals is also an issue the technology can resolve.

Automated trains have been introduced on metro lines such as London Underground’s Jubilee Line and the Docklands Light Railway, but not on conventional trains running on more complex cross country networks.

On such lines obstacles on the track are a significant problem. The researchers are developing an automatic obstacle recognition system, using video cameras to monitor the track ahead.

Computers process the data to generate a three-dimensional image, allowing obstacles to be pinpointed.

If a car has stalled on the line or someone is trying to cross the track on foot, an alarm is immediately sent to the computer, which triggers a loud signal with the horn and applies the brakes.

Researchers aim to have the first prototypes of the safetysystems completed within the next two years.

The project is jointly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research, and the Institute is collaborating with German Rail (Deutsche Bahn), Alcatel SEL, DaimlerChrysler, Vitronic, and the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg.