Finland introduces new train driver assistance

Starting this spring, Finnish operator VR introduces a Driver Assistance System (DAS) that assists the locomotive drivers in passenger and freight trains. Using machine learning, the DAS helps to optimise train driving, increase energy efficiency, and improve punctuality. The system is developed together with Fintraffic, which is responsible for rail traffic control in Finland. It is scheduled to be operational for commuter traffic in the Helsinki metropolitan area in the summer.

The Driver Assistance System provides the driver with proactive information on the track and terrain shapes, among other things. The DAS is based on machine learning: during the test runs, the system read through passenger and freight routes and learned where to accelerate and decelerate. While driving, the DAS guides the driver and suggests an optimal speed profile to improve driving energy efficiency and punctuality. It is especially useful in situations where the driver is driving a more unfamiliar route or when the track has changed speed limits.

“Even small improvements to make train traffic even more climate-friendly can have a big impact when we drive more than 1,000 trains a day”, says Nina Mähönen, VR’s Traffic Director. “Artificial intelligence is able to optimise the energy efficiency of the speed setting and supports the driver in speed planning. Thanks to DAS, we can reduce emissions by up to 3,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.”

Intelligent driver support

The DAS is part of the applications used by train drivers in their work. It does not replace the professionalism, punctuality and responsiveness of a locomotive driver in traffic, but has been developed to support and complement it. VR’s locomotive drivers have participated in the development of the system and been involved in planning training.

Up-to-date information on the rail network plays a key role in the DAS and development work has been carried out in close cooperation with Fintraffic, which is responsible for rail traffic control. Fintraffic has built a driver terminal application (BUBBLE) that serves the information needs of locomotive drivers and has created an interface that transmits the information needed for the DAS system, such as track profiles and speed limits.

“The information on the network is constantly changing as a result of various works on the network”, says Product Manager Jari-Pekka Kitinoja from Fintraffic. “The developed interface provides the DAS with up-to-date information to ensure the correct operation of the system. The project faced various challenges, but through persistent and determined cooperation between different actors, the challenges have been solved, and the system is now ready to use on a large scale”.

Offsetting emissions

“95 percent of our passenger trains run on electricity produced from purely renewable hydropower”, says Mähönen. By making the train driving more efficient, VR wants to further reduce emissions. “The remaining 5 percent of the CO2 emissions that will inevitably result from operating on non-electrified sections of track will be fully offset.” According to VR, all train journeys will thus be carbon neutral.

“In the new High-Speed Line contract period from the summer, punctuality and energy efficiency will play an increasingly important role and will also be measured more accurately”, says Anu Punola, Director of Local Transport . “DAS is one of our ways to achieve smoother and more climate-friendly transport, which benefits both our customers and the environment”.

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Author: Esther Geerts

Editor of RailTech.com

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