Two and a half years after a consortium was launched to develop the prototype of an autonomous regional train in France, SNCF and its partners Alstom, Bosch, Spirops, Thales, and the Railenium Technology Research Institute are putting their test train into operation.
At the start of the year, a Regio 2N regional train was modified and equipped for the purpose of the trials by the Alstom site in Crespin. Various sensors, cameras, radars and lidars (laser detection) were fitted to collect essential data for the project.
The first trials took place over one week, in the beginning of March, between Aulnoye and Busigny and between Busigny and Calais (in the North of France). The Regio 2N regional train prototype ran on a commercial track, with the project's engineers and technicians on board.
The trials included tests of:
- The perception and recognition systems for the signals located along the track;
- The geolocation system, particularly by satellite, which provides the precise position of the train.
During this first phase of trials, the sensors and equipment of these new systems specially fitted on the train were activated for the purpose of observing how they work but did not interfere with the movement of the train. The Regio 2N regional train prototype was driven by an SNCF driver specialized in operating under test conditions.
At the end of this week of trials, tests were conducted at the CEF railway test centre in Petite-Forêt to test the train's autonomous operation system, which makes it possible to automate the acceleration and braking of the train.
A second trial phase
From May 17 to 21, following the tests carried out at the CEF railway test centre, a second series of trials were scheduled to fine-tune the operating system of the train prototype.
These new trials took place on the national railway network at Busigny (in the North of France) and will lead, in the coming months, to semi-autonomous operation in the trial phase. Semi-autonomous operation makes it possible to automate the acceleration and braking of the train, supervised by a driver.
These trials are a key step towards achieving the consortium's ultimate objective: achieving full autonomy by 2023.
Prototype usage for commercial service, trials
Over the next two years, this Regio 2N regional train will be used as a prototype of the autonomous passenger train. The train will be tested on the track between Aulnoye and Busigny.
Outside the research and test periods, the Regio 2N regional train, an activity of SNCF Voyageurs, will be in regular commercial service transporting passengers. During these commercial trips, in conventional driving mode, it will record data that will improve the performance of the signal recognition algorithms by detecting, for example, the color of the traffic lights and the surrounding environment of the train.
At the same time, laboratory work is being carried out on trial simulators at the sites of all the consortium partners to fine-tune the itineraries of the test train and further develop the automated system.
Autonomy could provide rail transport with new perspectives: more flexible organization, with the possibility of rapidly changing the number of trains in line with changing needs. These benefits will encourage a modal shift from road to rail, thereby contributing to a more environmental-friendly mode of transport.
"The trials conducted over the last few months represent a significant step towards our goal, that of inventing the transport of the future with the autonomous train,” said Eric Tregoat, CEO of Railenium.
"We are pleased to see the realization of this innovative programme after two and a half years of work by the consortium,” added Heiko Carrie, president of Robert Bosch France. “The success of these trials confirms the pertinence of autonomous vehicle technologies when applied to the railway sector.”