France's state-run train service, the SNFC, seeks to put drone trains on the tracks within two year's time.
Driverless Drone Trains
France is looking to automate part of its high-speed rail service by using self-driving trains to transport cargo. The first prototypes are expected to be ready by 2019 and would begin by transporting cargo before transitioning to passenger service in 2023.
These trains, which can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, would not be completely automated. Instead, they would be remotely controlled in the same way that drones are controlled via remote operators. In addition, the trains would still rely on conductors to take over in the event of an emergency. Given some of the accidents involving driverless cars, it is probably for the best that humans remain on hand for emergencies.
Will Drone Trains Take Human Jobs
It should be noted that these so-called drone trains will not render human operators obsolete. Instead, it will help eliminate human error and improve the safety of passengers and crew members. SNCF Deputy Managing Director Matthieu Chabanel compared the technology the way airplanes are currently operated.
"In aircraft, you always have a driver, fortunately, but you have an automatic steering system," said Chabanel.
As is the case with driverless cars, these drone trains will be equipped various sensors to detect obstructions, traffic, and other safety hazards. However, Chabanel insists that such technology isn't sufficient for France's rail service. Unlike a subway, which normally remains underground and doesn't cross paths with traffic, France's train system must account for people, animals, and other environmental hazards that will require a human operator.
While humans are still necessary to ensure the safety of passengers and crewmembers alike, Chabanel is hopeful that these conductorless trains will reduce congestion and delays at the Paris train station. Unlike in the United States, many people in Europe rely solely on public transit so a delay in train service can have an impact on the economy and tourism. According to Chabanel, these automated trains will increase productivity by about 25 percent allowing more people to make use of France's sophisticated rail system.
France isn't the first country that has attempted to automate parts of its train service, but it is one of the first to attempt to apply this technology to high-speed rail. Other European nations are working the same thing, but France appears to be ahead of the curve.