There are already several fully autonomous “trains” in operation but they are using dedicated rails, like in the case of metro/underground services. However, so far autonomous. self driving trains operating on the railway network were not existent.
This is going to change in December 2021 as Deutsche Bahn will start operating an S-Bahn service in Hamburg. The train has been designed and manufactured by Siemens. In the first period an operator will be on board in the driver’s compartment as a safety precaution but if all goes as expected the presence of the driver will no longer be required.
According to Deutsche Bahn and Siemens the autonomous train will be more energy efficient since a computer will take care of acceleration and braking. The expected saving is around 30%, not bad at all!
This deployment is part of a larger plan to modernise the service, using the existing tracks. Autonomous trains can operate with shorter separation thus increasing the transport capacity (here again a 30% gain is expected).
It is interesting to see how artificial intelligence and autonomous systems can fit into an existing environment and increase the overall performance with no need to change what is already in place. This is a huge advantage, particularly in the context of city where you can make the city smarter through a better orchestration of what is existing and deploying autonomous systems that can self-orchestrate their behaviour/operation in the environment. Indeed, the area of self-integrated application / self-orchestration has been listed among the most important emerging technologies in the 2021 Gartner Hype-Cycle.