France to introduce self-driving trains

Fully automated and driverless service will be launched within five years

What might sound like a bitter response towards the endless strikes at French railways could also “put France at the forefront of innovation in the rail sector”.

French trains soon won't need human drivers — ostill / Shutterstock France to introduce self-driving trains autonomous trains SNCF
French trains soon won’t need human drivers – ostill / Shutterstock

The French national trains operator, SNCF, has announced its plans to replace human drivers with self-driving technology meaning that in the near future, French railways will be operated by fully automated and driverless trains.

By 2020 the operator wants to launch a semi-autonomous service and within five years, the rails of France will be home to fully automated trains.

SNCF plans to use driverless freight trains by 2021 and passenger trains running on the RER network through Paris by 2023. These trains should be reaching speeds of up to 120 kph.

The automated services should contribute to an increase in capacity, more fluid and punctual operation, and should be far more environment-friendly.

By 2025, the implementation of automated high-speed trains should lead to an increase in service from 13 to 16 trains per hour.

The relationship between SNCF and the unions has been cold recently — Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock France to introduce self-driving trains autonomous trains SNCF
The relationship between SNCF and unions has recently been cold – Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

SNCF has identified various ways how to implement driverless technologies, including commuter and high-speed trains as well as freight. The operator has been cooperating with the IRT Railenium research institute, national rail safety authority EPSF and the information security agency ANSSI.

The operator has been already running tests at a circuit in northern France where a locomotive is “driven” by a “téléconducteur” at the control centre in Lyon.

The total cost of the project is now set to $66 million. Railways and the state will both pay a little less than a third of the cost, and the rest will be paid by private industrial partners.

The unions representing employees of SNCF have reacted to the fact that a huge number of drivers may be replaced in near future. Relations between the operator and unions have been frosty because the unions organised a series of rolling strikes for three months that ended in June.