A first push towards UTO

At 2016 Innotrans, automatic train operation (ATO) or even unmanned train operation (UTO) was one of the hot topics of discussion.

What currently is done in the automotive industry can be done as well in the railway world: vehicles run from the origin to the destination without a human person steering. This means that sensors are collecting information about the path and are acting upon these inputs.

Advantages of UTO

  • It is safer: it acts immediately after a signal or a moving block demands a stop – much faster than any person could ever do
  • It saves energy: the driving along the track can be optimized for energy consumption, avoiding e.g. stop and go due to red signals
  • It reduces operation costs by reducing the number of train drivers

Disadvantages of UTO

  • There is no trained person on board that could do easy fixes on the machinery
  • It is very costly to install: i.e. ETCS level 2 or similar measures have to be taken into consideration
  • Liabilities need to be clearly shared between the manufacturer, OEM and maintenance organization
  • It potentially increased operation costs in particular in maintenance and operation surveillance

Who is a potential supplier of UTO

Traditionally, we can expect that the signaling suppliers will develop and market UTO technology and sell their products. These include certainly:

  • Alstom Transportation, which has lots of experience with driverless metros
  • GE Transportation, which is focusing on driverless diesel locomotives
  • Bombardier Transportation, has also experience in driverless metros
  • Thales, a large signalling supplier
  • Siemens Mobility, has also experience in driverless closed systems and is pursuing several UTO mainline trials
  • Hitachi Rail, has through its subsidiary Ansaldo STS soon a trial in Australia running

However, I would not be surprised to see new companies soon on the list, even with more innovative approaches.

Where is UTO already in operation

In closed systems, such as metros or even light rail, we see UTO already in operation for decades. These example show that it can be implemented, although at a high cost. The first trials on ETCS2 equipped mainline are meanwhile ongoing and will most likely show their feasibility soon.


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