Two new ATO research projects launched in Germany

The German Centre for Rail Traffic Research starts two new Automatic Train Operation (ATO) projects this year. The performance of a train driver will be compared with ATO, and the risk acceptance will be examined. The aim is to define the criteria needed for approving fully automated regional and mainline rail service. The two projects will be funded with 1.7 million euros and are scheduled to run for 30 months until May 2023.

The two German studies will focus on the highest levels of automation. These are Grade of Automation (GoA) level 3 where the driver does not need to sit in the seat and can perform other tasks, and GoA level 4, which does not require any personnel on board. In order to be able to manufacture, operate and, last but not least, permit ATO systems with an increasing degree of automation in the future, the sector needs reliable principles for checking, testing and evaluating the systems.

The project results should make an essential contribution to this, according to the Research Centre. In addition to actual safety, social acceptance is also decisive for the success of ATO traffic. Safety and risk assessments therefore always take into account the social ideas and expectations of the technologies. An advisory group with members from industry, administration and science will follow the projects and actively influence them to ensure that the results can be of benefit to the entire sector.

Comparing human performance

The aim of the first project is to determine an approach for comparing human performance and the expected errors, and defining the requirements for a technical ATO system. In this project, amongst other things it should be defined which human senses are used for driving a train, how quickly people derive the right decision and react, which misjudgments can be expected and what role attention and fatigue effects play. The project partner is the TU Berlin in cooperation with space and aeronautics research centre DLR Braunschweig, Siemens Mobility and Deutsche Bahn Systemtechnik.

Risk acceptance criteria

The second project is about determining the risk acceptance for automated and autonomous driving in the rail sector. The project partner for his investigation is Siemens Mobility in cooperation with the TU Berlin and TÜV Rheinland. It is intended to define which error rate can be granted to the automated systems for which extent of the potential damage. It is to be expected that the further development of ATO can improve the security of train operation.

In order to be able to develop ATO technology, the first step is to define the minimum requirements for an acceptable level of security. In the second step, a balance has to be found between security and openness to innovation. Too high of a risk acceptance leads to unacceptable risks, by which the technology will not be accepted. If there is little room to innovate, the intended functions could not be fulfilled and there would not be any security gains.

Reference projects

According to Siemens Mobility, experience from reference projects with ATO in Hamburg and London will contribute to the research project. In Hamburg, the company is conducting a pilot project for highly automated driving on the S-Bahn, which is scheduled to begin passenger service in 2021 for the ITS World Congress. In London, Siemens Mobility combined for the first time ATO with the European Train Control System (ETCS) on the Thameslink line.

Gerhard Greiter, CEO of Northeastern Europe at Siemens Mobility: “We are counting on the advantages rail automation offers to passengers and operators alike. Whether it’s about punctuality, safety or energy efficiency – self-driving trains bring mobility to a new level.”

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Author: Esther Geerts

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