Photo credit (banner): Sébastien Godefroy

Driverless trains: On track for a rail revolution

SNCF and its partners in industry are already working to put new driverless train prototypes on the French rail network by 2023. Learn more about our Autonomous Trains Project.

SNCF et ses partenaires annoncent des trains autonomes d'ici 2023

More trains, more on-time departures, more energy efficiency

Driverless trains promise better on-time performance, smoother traffic, lower energy consumption, higher network capacity and more. To deliver these benefits, we teamed up with the Railenium Test and Research Centre and partners in industry1 in 2018, forming two consortiums to develop models for autonomous trains:

  • one for Fret SNCF’s freight operations, with Alstom, Altran, Hitachi and Apsys, and
  • another for TER regional passenger rail, with Bombardier, Bosch, SpirOps and Thales

Our aim? To have fully automated prototypes running by 2023, with scale-up starting in 2025.

57

million euros budgeted for the first phase of the project²

TER Hauts-de-France kicks off first trials of driverless passenger train

The first prototype has already been tested in the northern region of Hauts-de-France. At Alstom’s plant in Crespin (formerly part of Bombardier), technicians modified a TER Regio 2N trainset and equipped it with a “driverless train” module. This was trialled for a week in early March 2021, running on commercial track linking Aulnoye to Busigny and Busigny to Calais, with engineers and technicians on board.

This phase focused on testing:

  • the train’s ability to detect and recognize signals along the track
  • the geolocation system pinpointing the train’s position

In May, a second series of trials began fine-tuning the prototype’s semi-autonomous driving system, which handles acceleration and braking under a driver’s supervision. Technicians fitted a modified Regio 2N trainset with thermal imaging cameras, lidar (laser scanners) and radar sensors to gather data as they tested automated acceleration and braking on a storage track in Busigny. Over the course of a day, the prototype made 30 journeys on a 700m route, reaching top speeds of 25km/h.

The specially trained test drivers assigned to this project aim to reach full automation by 2023.

New skills, new jobs

In addition to pushing the bounds of innovation, driverless train research and testing are creating new job categories, including:

  • supervisors to monitor train operations
  • remote drivers
  • remote repair specialists

As the technology improves, we want to begin operating trains at each new grade of automation as quickly as possible.

Luc Laroche, head of SNCF’s Autonomous Trains Project

New skills, new jobs

In addition to pushing the bounds of innovation, driverless train research and testing are creating new job categories, including:

  • supervisors to monitor train operations
  • remote drivers
  • remote repair specialists

First semi-automated train hits the tracks

On 29 October 2020, a Prima BB 27000 locomotive ran in semi-automated mode between the French towns of Longwy and Longuyon, near the Luxembourg border. As test drivers monitored its performance, the train ran under actual operating conditions, with fully automated acceleration and braking. It was a first for France and a milestone for our driverless train project.

Le 1er train autonome circule sur le réseau ferré national

What driverless trains can do for you

Driverless trains will deliver many benefits for rail users:

  • increased network capacity—with more trains running, we can carry more passengers and freight
  • smoother, more reliable service—optimized timetables and train speeds mean more operational efficiency and less disruption
  • greener transport—driverless trains are more energy-efficient and will encourage people to shift from road transport to rail

Remote driving sets course for autonomous trains

In April 2019, the first remotely driven train ran for 4 km between the Paris suburbs of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and Juvisy, with operators working from an experimental remote driving centre in nearby Vigneux-sur-Seine. The successful trial was the result of 18 months of research and testing with our partners Railenium, Actia Telecom, Thales and the French space agency CNES.

Striking the right balance between people and automation

At SNCF, we want to strike the right balance between people and automation. So as we roll out driverless trains, we’ll be supporting our employees every step of the way. Our goal is to prepare for the changes this new technology will bring, designing the jobs of tomorrow, developing training programmes, and helping everyone adapt.

Luc Laroche, head of SNCF’s Autonomous Trains Project

1 For the Autonomous Trains Project, SNCF’s industrial partners are the Railenium Test and Research Centre, Alstom, Bombardier, Bosch, SpirOps, Thales, Altran, Apsys and Hitachi.

2 SNCF provided 30% of the funding for the project, with another 30% from the French State (through Railenium) and 40% from the other partners.