Autonomous train vision gathers pace

Intelligent driverless trains that communicate with each other, allowing services to run closer together, have been proposed this week by rail company bosses.

The Rail Delivery Group says that so called ‘self regulating’ trains would avoid conflicts at junctions and allow more frequent services to run on the network.

Such a development would make use of a £450M trial of new signalling technology, promised by the Chancellor in the last Autumn Statement.

Under the plans convoys of trains would be led by a lead vehicle, reducing the headways between the different services. Another development announced this week by the group is the possible future use of biometric technology such as fingerprint or iris scanning to allow passengers to be identified and for their travel accounts to be charged.

This initiative may follow on from a trial of a mobile app using Bluetooth technology, allowing passengers to pass through ticket barriers more quickly and with less fuss. Such a trial will be taking place this year by Chiltern Railways on the route between Oxford Parkway and London Marylebone.

Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said: “Our railway is increasingly full and while the industry is taking action to address the challenges of today, we also need to be looking at the solutions of tomorrow.

“A 21st Century railway offers opportunities for businesses to grow by bringing more technology to the railway more quickly.”

But rail drivers’ union Aslef rejected the notion of autonomous trains. “Trains have to be driven, they don’t drive themselves,” a spokesman said. “Even with increased automation we will still want, and need, a trained driver at the pointy end of the train.”