Germany: Alstom’s autonomous vehicle project enters the next phase

The pilot project of Alstom’s autonomous crossings in Germany is entering the next phase. The system responsible for autonomous driving “in practice” will soon be tested.

The research project “Automated regional trains in Lower Saxony, Germany” is entering the next phase. Together with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the TU Berlin, Alstom is developing technical solutions that enable the gradual digitalization of rail passenger transport in Germany. The project investigates the possibilities of automation in regional transport via the European Train Control System (ETCS).

Automated driving is being tested on routes in northern Germany. The Federal Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection (BMWK) is supporting a research project on Alstom’s automation. However, the project has been realized thanks to the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Lower Saxony, which has allocated the necessary financing of 5.5 million euros. In addition, the Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LNVG) is supporting the project and is making two trains available for testing.

Two phases of the project

In the first phase of the project, new IT systems for driverless driving are being developed. This includes signal recognition that allows the machine to see and interpret indicators. In addition, the train must be able to recognize obstacles. In the event of a breakdown, the train is remotely controlled or controlled by train personnel.

In the second, upcoming phase, automated driving should take place in the “living laboratory”. The new systems will be installed in two LNVG trainsets pre-fitted with ETCS and tested in service. Lessons learned from the development of the system and the operation of the autonomous train will help prepare for the later adoption of fully automated trains and further automation of regional transport.

Alstom’s experience is to help achieve zero emissions

The project will determine whether the existing legal framework for Automatic Train Operation (ATO) can be adjusted. After that, a practical test phase takes place and the results are needed to confirm that the system will meet the safety standards.

One of the reasons for supporting the project, which was underlined by the Transport Minister of Lower Saxony, Dr. Bernd Althusmann, the environmental friendliness of this solution is:

The future of rail transport is climate neutral and digital – we know that very well, especially in Lower Saxony. After deploying the world’s first emission-free hydrogen trains here since 2018, we are now testing how we can achieve even higher quality in local transport with autonomously driving trains.

Michael Kellner, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the Federal Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection, emphasizes that solutions from Lower Saxony will be transferred to the rest of the country, including for economic reasons:

Automating rail, especially in regional transport, offers many opportunities. Decreasing operating costs make it easier for regional operators to enter the market or expand their range of services. Routes that have become unprofitable can be automated and profitable again. In this way, the commute by road can also be reduced: lower CO2 emissions and a more relaxing journey for commuters.

To introduce automated rail operations in the regional sector, the DLR will define both the operational requirements for the technology to be applied in the future and the necessary adaptations for the current “hand-operated” vehicles. In addition, the operational and economic knowledge gained will be used to investigate how automation solutions can be transferred to other lines.

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