Autonomous transport by rail
The railways in the Northern Netherlands have been equipped with the new generation ATB safety system. With regard to automated brake-safety systems, the Netherlands is leading the way. Only the latest versions of the ERTMS safety system (levels 2 and 3) are better. Railway tracks are eminently suitable for autonomous transport, because the vehicles are already following fixed routes on the tracks. In the Northern Netherlands, the railways are not too crowded yet, so that, if a pilot is conducted, it will be easy to arrange an alternative means of transport in the form of buses or coaches. Moreover, the railways around the city of Groningen show all the hallmarks of a pilot that could later be projected onto other regions in the country and abroad. It has a busy staging area, single-track sections with capacity problems during the rush hour, and some so-called bottlenecks.
Still, the railway sector does not lead the way with regard to this innovation. The Docklands (GB) is one of the few places where autonomously driven trains are used, even though this technology opens up great opportunities for railway tracks. In the underground (metro) sector, it is already applied more frequently.
The benefits of the so-called ‘ATO technology’ (Automatic Train Operation) are:
- Higher capacity (trains can run closer together);
- Higher punctuality (reliability) and more flexibility of the timetables;
- Lower energy consumption;
- Better travelling convenience and more seats for passengers;
- Greater safety;
- Lower operating costs.
The Northern Netherlands is well suited for a pilot with autonomously driven trains, among other things, because of the ATB system (new generation) already in use here and the layout of the tracks. The first test will probably be conducted between Groningen and Zuidhorn in the autumn of 2018.