TGV, high speed train, SNCF

SNCF to introduce driverless trains by 2023

French railway operator SNCF is planning to introduce prototypes of driverless mainline trains for freight and passengers services by 2023. Soon after that, the trains will become operative as regular services, the company announced on Wednesday.

The French capital already has a driverless metro, which also hauls longer distances on its suburban network. But a mainline train without a driver is something of a novelty in the country, if not in Europe. “Railways are an open system, and the unexpected is the rule”, SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy said.

Improved service

“With autonomous trains, all the trains will run in a harmonised way and at the same speed”, Pepy said. “The train system will become more fluid.” The operator hopes that the new technology allows it to run more trains on France’s busiest mainlines and cut energy consumption. Currently, the French railway operator has 17,000 trains circulating and transports 4 million passengers a day.

The shift to driverless trains is to happen in stages, with the final goal to eliminate the driver onboard, explained Pierre Izard, who runs SNCF’s rail technologies division. SNCF will be partnering up with rolling stock specialists Alstom and Bombardier, who will each be heading up consortia for freight and passenger traffic, respectively.  They are hoping to develop two prototypes within the next five years. SNCF said it was talking to German operator Deutsche Bahn about promoting a European standard for driverless trains.

57 million Euros

SNCF has been working on the project for two years and wants to launch semi-autonomous freight trains by 2020. The total budget for the project is 57 million Euros, 30 per cent of which is financed by SNCF, 30 per cent by the French government and the remaining 40 per cent by the joining parties.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is is editor of and, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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