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Autonomous passenger train tests in France

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An autonomous train has been tested on the French national railway network before undergoing further trials on a dedicated test track.

Two and a half years after a consortium was launched to develop the prototype of an autonomous regional train in France, SNCF and its partners Alstom, Bosch, Spirops, Thales and the Railenium Technology Research Institute have put their test train into operation.

A Regio 2N regional train was modified and equipped for the purpose of the trials by Alstom at the former Bombardier site in Crespin. Sensors and cameras, as well as radar and LiDAR (laser) detectors were fitted to collect essential data for the project.

The first trials took place over one week, in the beginning of March, between Aulnoye and Busigny and between Busigny and Calais (in the North of France). The Regio 2N regional train prototype ran on a commercial track, with the project’s engineers and technicians on board.

The trials included tests of the perception and recognition systems for the signals located along the track as well as the satellite geolocation system that provides the precise position of the train.

During this first phase of trials, the train’s new sensors were activated, so their function could be checked, but they did not control the movement of the train., which was driven by an SNCF driver who specialises in operating under test conditions.

At the end of this week of trials, tests were conducted at the CEF railway test centre in Petite-Forêt, near Valenciennes, to test the operation of the train’s autonomous systems that control the acceleration and braking of the train.

Following these tests at the CEF railway test centre, a second series of trials was scheduled to fine-tune the operating system of the prototype train. These new trials took place from 17 to 21 May place on the national railway network at Busigny (in the North of France) and will lead, in the coming months, to semi-autonomous operation, with the acceleration and braking of the train automated but supervised by a driver.

The trials, authorised by the French National Railway Safety Authority (EPSF), are a key step towards achieving the consortium’s ultimate objective: achieving full autonomy by 2023. As an observer in the project, EPSF will be in a position to assess the understanding of the technologies developed and their impact on the railway system, as well as any possible regulatory changes needing to be made for this new type of operation.

Pierre Izard, SNCF Group.

To counter any cybersecurity issues, the project partners are working closely with ANSSI (Agence Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d’Information), the French national cybersecurity authority.

Pierre Izard, director of technology, innovation and group projects at SNCF, commented: “Our project has just passed a significant milestone with great success. Another step has been taken towards achieving autonomy in rail.

“The mobilisation of the SNCF teams and of our partners allows us to explore all the issues, both human and technological. With our research work and trials, we are making progress in the rail sector and preparing for its future development.”

Eric Tregoat, Railenium.

Eric Tregoat, CEO of Railenium, added: “The trials conducted over the last few months represent a significant step towards our goal, that of inventing the transport of the future with the autonomous train.

“By providing its expertise in the domains of artificial intelligence, BIM (digital mock-up), digital modelling and operating safety, Railenium, the Technological Research Institute for the rail industry, is delighted with the work of the multi-partner teams, who are taking up the technological and scientific challenges of this pioneering project!”

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