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Autonomous transport

Autonomous transport on the rails

It is getting busier on the railway. And that means that more trains will have to run on the existing track in the coming years. Automated driving (Automatic Train Operations: ATO) can be a smart and innovative solution for this.

Machinist Arriva in trein.

The ATO system accelerates on its own and brakes and stops at the right location. In addition, it is expected that ATO will have a positive effect on sustainability and punctuality.

Unique: test drives with travelers

The province of Groningen, ProRail, Stadler and Arriva have been jointly conducting various tests with automatically controlled trains since September 2018. After a number of phases of overnight testing without travelers, the ATO system was ready to drive with test travelers.

Test results and follow-up

The tests carried out show that Automatic Train Operation (ATO) allows more trains to run on the existing track. This is because these automatically controlled trains run more punctually. Travelers also only experience a small difference. Read more about the research results here.

Further research is needed to gain more insight into the benefits. The organizations want to further improve the basic functions and gain more insight into timetabled driving and energy consumption.

Grade of Automation

The tests are performed at GoA level 2 (Grade of Automation). You can compare this level with a kind of ‘automatic pilot’, where the train basically drives itself, but the driver has and retains responsibility for the train.

Testing automatic train shunting in Groningen

In 2023, NS started the first phase of experiments with automatic shunting of trains between Groningen and Groningen de Vork. NS is investigating what automatic shunting can mean in the shunting process, for example when presenting and shunting trains and remotely combining and splitting trains without passengers.

NS is conducting the experiments with automatic shunting in collaboration with ProRail and the province of Groningen. The train, manned by a test driver, is controlled remotely from Zwolle where a so-called remote center has been set up. NS consciously conducts the experiments together with drivers to gain insight into the interplay between technology and drivers and how they can reinforce each other. The tests take place without passengers on the train.

Questions being investigated at the shunting yard in Groningen include, for example, what automated shunting can mean for the speed of the shunting process, the time spent by employees, operational processes, safety and sustainability.

Together with European partners

The tests that NS is currently carrying out with automatic shunting anticipate a comparable series of experiments that NS and ProRail will carry out together with European partners. Since 2022, NS has been participating in the Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (ERJU) program as a joint founding member with ProRail and 24 other European partners. In this program, experiments with ATO RD (Remote Driving) will continue from 2024. The ERJU program will continue until 2031.

About the five field labs for autonomous transport

Road, air, rail, water and tube (‘hyperloop’): in the Northern Netherlands, all modalities will have their own field lab for autonomous transport. The region will therefore become the first real hub for autonomous transport in Europe. Autonomous transport must, among other things, ensure better accessibility and quality of life in both urban and rural areas and reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

The aim of the field labs is to work towards both certification and broad use of autonomous transport in daily practice through testing and scaling up. Training and research are also linked to the field labs to sustainably safeguard and pass on knowledge and to develop sufficient talent.

The field labs are practice-oriented test locations, where different parties (governments, companies and knowledge institutions) develop, exchange knowledge and test together. In any case, there will be field labs at the new Hive Mobility Center on the Zernike Campus in Groningen (road, air and general matters), at Groningen Airport Eelde (air), the Eemshaven (water) and the rail route between Buitenpost and the De Vork stabling area (track). The European Hyperloop Center (tube) will later be added as a field lab. There is also exchange between the field labs and the modalities can also be tested and developed in each other’s field lab. For example, we have already driven on the airport airstrip and flown with drones at Zernike and Eemshaven.

The use of an NPG subsidy has made these various field labs possible.