ATO’s advanced functionalities performance lacks consistency, Dutch test results show

Last year’s trial runs by Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail to test specific functionalities of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) have demonstrated the potential of the current ATO system to also execute advanced functionalities under the Dutch train protection system ATBNG. However, the performance lacks consistency, a report released on Friday shows. 

In July and August 2021, ProRail carried out so-called Phase 2B tests along with partners Arriva and Stadler, as well as the northern Dutch province of Groningen. In total, 186 test runs were performed for a total distance of 3,800 kilometres under ATO.

Whereas previous test phases were meant to test the basic ATO functions, the 2B trials were introduced to evaluate the performance and potential of ATO for more specific functions, such as driving according to a timetable, coping with route changes and handling delays. ProRail als set out to study what ATO means for energy usage.

During the tests, the ATO system relied solely on ATBNG data for positioning and signal aspects. Previously, GPS was used for positioning. As a result, while the system was capable of carrying out the advanced functionalities, the results were “not consistent”, ProRail writes in its report. There is, however, enough potential for the ATO-system.

‘Significant development step is still necessary’

Some of the conclusions of the report are that the speed decent from 120 to 100 kilometres per hour was “not handled properly” and that “ATO has problems in obeying a very late track change”. ProRail also noticed that the system at times brakes too much when entering a lower speed section. The results for the research items ‘Stopping position’ and ‘Accurate driving’ show inconsistent performance.

As for the potential impact of ATO on energy usage, ProRail was able to establish a “clear drop in energy usage … between the different ATO driving modes”. However, the researchers cannot yet determine whether there will be actual energy savings, because similar data on manual operations is absent.

“It was difficult to tune the ATO-system with the ATBNG-system which resulted in signalling information and positioning sometimes being processed incorrectly”, ProRail concludes. “A significant development step is still necessary for a stable and reliable ATO-system using information from ATBNG.” The company expects that ATO over ETCS will be easier, this being a European standard.

The full report (in English) can be accessed here. Join our RailTech Europe 2022 conference for more information on ATO. 

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Author: Nick Augusteijn

Editor RailTech.com

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