Alstom to trial fully autonomous shunting in the Netherlands

French rail manufacturer Alstom has signed an agreement with Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail to test automatic shunting locomotives in 2021.

The tests aspire to a level 4 grade of automation (GoA4) where the trains will be fully automated, a first for shunting trains in the Netherlands.

Alstom will fit the automatic train operation (ATO) technology to diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives owned by Lineas, the largest private rail freight operator in Europe. This technology will include automatic control technology, intelligence obstacle detection, and environment detection.

During the tests, train staff will remain aboard to ensure safety, however regular tasts such as starting and stopping, pushing wagons, controlling traction and brakes, and handling emergencies will be fully automated.

Bernard Belvaux, Alstom managing director for Benelux said that the trial would improve the operation of railways.

“This project is paving the way for fully digitalised railway. These tests will help the European rail system benefit from an increase in capacity, reduced energy consumption and cost while offering higher operational flexibility and improved punctuality. This test is fully in line with Alstom’s strategy to bring added value to our customers for smart and green mobility.”

Alstom has previously delivered ATO for metros around the world, including on the Sydney Metro, where the system also runs at a GoA4 level. This experience has enabled Alstom to demonstrate the benefits of an automated railway. By reducing headways and operating uniformly, automated trains can increase capacity, cut costs, and save energy.

ProRail has previously carried out tests with freight locomotives at GoA level 2, where a driver remains in control of doors and in the event of a disruption, with Alstom on a freight locomotive on the Betuweroute, a freight railway running from Rotterdam to Germany.

In May, Alstom announced that it would be trialling ATO on regional passenger trains in Germany in 2021.

ATO on regional passenger trains trial to go ahead in 2021

A world-first test of automatic train operation (ATO) on a regional train line has received a prestigious award from the German government.

The German Federal Ministry of Economics awarded Alstom with the Innovation Prize for Regulatory Sandboxes for its planned trial of ATO in daily operation of regional passenger trains in Braunschweig.

The test is planned for 2021 and will be conducted by Alstom in partnership with the Regional Association of the greater area of Braunschweig, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin).

Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria, said the prize recognised Alstom’s focus on innovation.

“In the future, automated trains will optimize regional rail operations, reduce energy consumption, and increase ride comfort. In this way, highly automated driving will make a decisive contribution to climate protection and contribute to the development of a modern, attractive railway system. Following the development and successful testing of the world’s first hydrogen train Coradia iLint, Alstom is once again the innovative driver in rail transport with the pilot for regional trains in automated operation,” he said.

The trial will be conducted with two Coradia Continental regional trains, owned by the regional rail operator for greater Braunschweig. The trains will be equipped with an European Train Control System (ETCS) and ATO equipment to enable the trains to travel automatically.

The trial will involve two different grades of automation (GoA). In regular passenger operation the trains will operate at GoA3, meaning the trains will be fully autonomous but with an attendant who can step in if there is an emergency. In shunting the trains will be operated fully remotely, at GoA4.

Birgit Milius, head of the Department of Railway Operations and Infrastructure at TU Berlin said that the trail would be an indication of how rail will operate in the future.

“ATO, or Automatic Train Operation, is one of the most exciting challenges in the railway industry. It gives us the opportunity to shape and significantly change the operational management of the future. But a lot of research is still needed before this is the case, and I am very pleased to be working with Alstom on this project,” she said.

Findings from the tests will inform the legal and regulatory framework for ATO. Alstom will use its expertise in ATO for metro trains and research into autonomous freight trains to guide the project.