Pilot with partly automated passenger train between Groningen and Zuidhorn a success

A pilot conducted last week by the Province of Groningen, ProRail, Arriva Nederland and Stadler between the cities of Groningen and Zuidhorn, shows that Automatic Train Operation (ATO) is suitable for passenger trains within the Dutch railway system.

ATO can be utilised a kind of cruise control, as such assisting train drivers to operate as well as stop trains more precisely. The first pilot results are quite promising, showing that the pilot has increased ATO’s potential contribution towards increasing train speed steadiness and punctuality. This was stated today by Fleur Gräper-van Koolwijk (Provincial Executive Member of the Province of Groningen), Dorothé Wennenkendonk (regional director of ProRail), Anne Hettinga (Chairman of the Arriva Nederland Management Board) and Alexandre Grêt (Member of the Stadler Executive Board).


Test runs at night
The ATO test runs were conducted for one week at night. They were quite successful and proved to be a great source of new data. Much has therefore been learnt from this first pilot, proving it to be a promising first step in the further development of ATO technology. So far, the first results are encouraging. ATO is expected to contribute to train speed steadiness and punctuality. The amount of time saved as well as to what extent train services can be extended (i.e. increasing capacity), depends on follow-up testing. The four involved parties have indicated to continue testing in the near future.

Increasing capacity
Due to the fact that at several points the Dutch railway network is reaching its capacity limits, the collaborating parties are researching whether innovative ATO technology can be applied in the near future to extend the capacity of the traveller’s railway network as well as to solve current bottlenecks without having to resort to major infra-structural investments. In addition, more research shall be done as regards to whether the ATO system contributes to sustainable and comfortable travelling, as it allows trains to run more efficiently, as well as more at steady speeds and on time.

Cruise control

ATO – applied at automation level 2 – is used by train drivers as a kind of cruise control or autopilot (Automatic Train Operation, level 2). The driver remains responsible for safely operating and driving the train though. ATO – at least in this form – can therefore be utilised by train operators as a means of assistance or as a support tool. The goal here is not to completely replace the driver.



Last year the collaborating partners had announced a future pilot period. ProRail had already conducted a pilot in December 2018 with a freight train on the Betuwe Line. The collaborating organisations shall be evaluating the gathered test results during the following period. Based on these evaluations, an action plan regarding the next steps shall be developed.


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