First test results automatically operated trains positive

Automatic Train Operation (ATO) allows more trains to run on existing railway lines. This is due to the fact that automatically operated trains run more punctually as is confirmed by ATO studies in Groningen. Another focus point of these studies was how travellers experience automatically operated train travelling. It appears travellers say there only is a slight difference.

The final report regarding ATO exploration has been completed. This study (2019 – 2020) consisted of live testing, simulation research and a travellers study. The experiences of the train drivers have also been included. The tests were conducted on behalf of ProRail and the Province of Groningen, together with transport company Arriva and supplying company Stadler.

Basic system functions
The results show that ATO allows trains to run better on time. ATO is capable of performing basic train functions such as accelerating, braking, stopping at stations, keeping speed limits and processing route changes.

Traveller experiences
A unique aspect of this study was the fact that for the first time travellers were allowed to actually travel by an automatically operated train. Research focussed on how travellers experience travelling under ATO. For instance, how do travellers exactly experience acceleration and braking of an automatically operated train? And do they notice a difference with a regular train ride? In general both ATO as well as regular train travelling received equally good ratings, though travellers did – albeit ever so slightly – appear to prefer regular train rides over ATO train rides. The ATO system is still in full development, this result shows the system’s great potential.

Follow-up studies are necessary in order to get a better understanding of the benefits. We aim to further improve the basic functions and gain more insights on timetable travelling and energy use. This mainly involves testing the system, so no travellers will be riding along. The date for this follow-up study is not known yet.

Why ATO?
Railway lines are getting busier and busier. Expansion by for instance doubling time tables is expensive and quite time consuming. For this reason, we are testing new solutions such as ATO, thus allowing more trains to ride existing railway network over the coming years. ATO could be a smart solution to this challenge, due to the fact that automatic trains driving allows trains to ride safely at a smaller distance to each other. Thus more train travelling is possible. Yet there are more advantages: (partly) automatically operated trains also ride more consistently. This saves energy and thus increases their level of sustainability. And due to the fact that computer systems are capable of monitoring trains, train rides become more predictable and reliant, thus allowing automatically operated trains to run more punctual.

Train driver remains responsible
The degree of automation regarding ATO is indicated by the Grade of Automation (GoA). ProRail is currently testing ATO in Groningen at GoA level 2. Therefor the train driver remains fully responsible during train rides.

Download the full report here:

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