WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Every mode of transportation is going autonomous, and the railways will be no different.
The French national railway company, SNCF, has announced that it has begun working on semi-autonomous high speed trains that will top out at 300km/h, and it hopes to have a working prototype by 2019, and then a final production version in operation by 2023.
The company, which was founded in 1938 and owned by the French government, was also quick to state that there will be still be actual people manning the trains.
“On the high speed routes, we are aiming for automation in the sense of automatic steering as in aircraft. In aircraft, you always have a driver, fortunately, but you have an automatic steering system,” says Matthieu Chabanel who’s running the project.
Do you think we should tell him that Boeing is looking at taking that final pilot out of the cockpit or let him find out when he reads about it on this blog? It seems a shame to burst his bubble, or buble as they say in France…
Anyway… the goal of the new program is to improve the regularity and consistency of SNCF’s trains, especially in the crowded Paris region, and as any commuter familiar with rail travel can tell you even the slightest delay can have a big impact on a rail operators service – something that I find ironic as I’m sitting on the floor next to the toilet of an over crowded South East Rail train after leaving London today.
“We are going to go from 180 seconds to 108 seconds between two trains,” says Alain Krakovitch, the director of the SNCF Transilien network, “up to 25 percent more trains can travel on a line with autonomous trains with the help of autonomous braking and acceleration. A human driver will still deal with unexpected situations, the type that can lead to crashes.”
While the SNCF might be the first railway in the world to incorporate automation, Chanbanel wants to throw water on the idea that the company is cutting edge or experimental. Do I hear the marketing department on the phone there? Ha.
“The goal,” he says, “is to have something that corresponds to the clients need. It is not to make dreams of engineers.”