Driverless trains - why limited progress on the national rail network?

Discussion in 'Traction & Rolling Stock' started by deltic, 6 Jan 2017.

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  1. mickulty

    mickulty Member

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    No, it doesn't. Google's cars, despite their engineering might and insane amount of training miles racked up, are very inclined to stop when in doubt (for example because someone skateboarding the other way on the other side of the road trips their "idiot detector", or because it sees a cyclist doing a track-stand and assumes they're moving because their feet are off the ground).

    The google cars are 100% safe, polite drivers but in order to be safe have to err on the side of caution and stop when in doubt, this would create unacceptable delays on a railway. As well as the luxury of stopping when in doubt, they also don't have any of the secondary responsibilities outlined by lineclear in post #91. And for those thinking we're on the cusp of technology to comprehensively address object detection, there is no technology in existence that allows a computer to apply logical reasoning to an unforseen situation. Neural networks can recognise the familiar very well, although doing so requires colossal amounts of training data, but can't really do anything with the unfamiliar.

    A way of introducing automation without causing delays from excessive caution would be to have a fully attentive human driver backing up the AI. At that point there isn't a huge amount the AI could be expected to add, maybe enabling perfect power and braking if the conditions are perfectly known.

    Someone mentioned AIs that work with doctors to help with diagnosis and it's true that they sometimes flag things that would otherwise have been missed and are therefore helpful, but they also miss plenty of things a human would spot and raise plenty of false positives. Again the key to their effective use is that they work with a human, not instead of.
     
  2. paulweaver

    paulweaver Established Member

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    This is a societal problem, and it's nothing new. Even tiny stations used to have a staff of half a dozen, steam trains had 2 or 3 people driving it, cars used to have a man with a red flag in front. Insurance assessors, iphone assemblers, even doctors, are having jobs replaced by machines. 3d printers can assemble houses far faster and more efficently then the fleet of builders needed today. Why is the railway so special?

    True, the government has no money. The government could however tax those owners.

    Imagine a world where every job is automated. Wouldn't that be better? Wouldn't it be better to not have to drive a train than to drive a train?

    Factors bringing it down
    1) Depreciation per mile lower as more miles per hour, a car will be end of life within the first year, you're not going to have to treat rust for example.
    2) Smoother driving
    3) No costs for parking
    4) Right car for the right job, use a smaller car for short journeys that's more efficent, a larger car for longer journeys that's more comfortable. Currently the larger car is used for both.

    Factors pushing it up
    1) Less care of the car interior/Higher standards being demanded (I have a pile of old receipts in the side pocket of my car, and the floor has many crumbs on it. That's fine as it's my car, I wouldn't be happy with a hire car like that.)
    2) More complex sensors to maintain

    There's also a whole issue about child seats - which are a massive pain if you're getting a taxi (or taking a train long distance then hiring a car at the far end)

    Or rather it would be very good news. If something comes along that's cheaper, faster, more convienient, that's good news.
     
  3. najaB

    najaB Veteran Member

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    Indeed. I just wanted to point out that similarly, being IP based doesn't automatically mean exposed to the Internet.
     
  4. notverydeep

    notverydeep Member

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    Yes absolutely for passengers! I was imagining it would be less good for the members of this forum who are either employed in the industry or rail enthusiasts or those like me who are both...

    But our industry has no particular right to exist. As you observe, our passengers travel only because they want to be somewhere else and for that journey rail is the best combination of price and convenience available.

    Outside of the intense commuter routes in London and the South East and the key high speed intercity corridors, rail's market is surprisingly dependent on a few particular market segments, several of which are exactly the groups who would gain most from Autonomous Road Vehicles. ARVs aren't there yet, but I wonder whether even in the next few years, some rail investment plans will suffer as the DfT becomes convinced that substantial road automation will occur during the life of the assets being bought.
     
  5. najaB

    najaB Veteran Member

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    The solution was posted earlier in the thread - the if TOCs invest in fleets of ARVs they can offer door to door service with the train doing the 'heavy lifting' in the middle.
     
  6. Tim M

    Tim M Member

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    Thanks for the response, having been involved in applying the Central Line and Victoria Line systems elsewhere it is interesting to compare different suppliers products. BTW the Central and Victoria Lines both feature distributed trackside systems, although the the track to trains comms is by radio on the Vic rather than track based. The use of RM is probably similar on both lines.

    Seems like my former colleagues always knew what they were doing and considered the Operator in the system architecture.
     
  7. Western Lord

    Western Lord Member

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    If anybody is worried about the new world of computerised automation, rest easy, it clearly didn't last because in the 23rd century the Starship Enterprise needs a crew of 500.
     
  8. ComUtoR

    ComUtoR Established Member

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    The crew didn't run the ship. They ran the multitude of systems and sub sections. Security (mostly cannon fodder), Medical (treat the crew not the ship) etc. But the engineering department was pretty huge.

    However, you do raise an interesting point.

    How many "crew" are required to run an automated train ? Establishing that we already need a Driver/Captain are any additional "crew members" required ? Does it reduce the number of Signallers, PWay, Maintenence, Trainers, Guards, PIS/CIS, dispatchers etc etc.

    Will ATO require more staff to manage the trains and the system or will it reduce the staffing requirements across the board ?
     
    Last edited: 12 Jan 2017
  9. JohnFM

    JohnFM Member

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    http://news.sky.com/story/driverless-trains-could-solve-growing-rail-demand-10759195

    Yes, yes, yes, there is always that age old, historical, argument that "it is not safe". What is safe?

    There are already well documented examples of driverless rail systems, Vancouver Sky Train, Copenhaga, Barcelona, Turin, Paris and some portions of the Victoria line as well as a large array of American services, many of which do not have a standby driver to look for hazards and perform door closing duties. These prove that the system is possible even now.

    Given the nature of modern technology advances, with collision avoidance and spatial awareness tech used by driverless cars around Milton Keynes as an example, could driverless trains over the entire network actually work?
     
  10. tsr

    tsr Established Member

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    Just a quick fact check. The Victoria Line is not driverless. The trains usually control their own movement between stations, but with mandatory full-time driver supervision and dispatch. The driver is not on "standby" at all.
     
  11. najaB

    najaB Veteran Member

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    There was quite an extensive discussion of this topic over in the Traction & Rolling Stock sub-forum a little while back. You might want to take a read of the thread.
     
  12. TheDavibob

    TheDavibob Member

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    It's quite a jump to driverless trains from what's proposed. The best bet is to look at the ETCS thread , which is focused on firstly the removal of conventional lineside signalling, and then onto moving block signalling.

    Driverless trains, at least in the sense that you're dicussing, will nominally come into use on the Thameslink Core from next year. Where there is the massive capacity issues, making trains drive themselves makes a degree of sense. There are many threads on this topic though, and I'm no expert, so I'll defer to those who are.
     
  13. mickulty

    mickulty Member

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    The metros you mention (at least the genuinely driverless) benefit from being grade separated which makes it a lot easier. Its been possible in that context for decades.

    Cars have a much shorter stopping distance and slamming on the brakes if something that isn't actually a cause for concern spooks the AI is far more acceptable on the roads.

    It's also worth remembering the unfortunate reality that these systems do suffer deaths that could have been avoided by a driver. For example in 2015 someone suffered an epileptic fit and fell onto the tracks at Stratford DLR station - 12 seconds later they were under a train. Not long enough for members of the public to find an emergency button but plenty of time for an alert, trained driver to act.

    The "rail chiefs" of the RDG briefing in favour of full automation are made up of businesspeople who stand to increase their profits at the cost of a few deaths here and there if they can convince the public they shouldn't have to employ drivers. Take their proclamations with a pinch of salt.
     
  14. Deepgreen

    Deepgreen Established Member

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    London's DLR is driver-less under normal operating conditions.
     
  15. najaB

    najaB Veteran Member

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    The major differences between the DLR and mainline railway were covered in the related thread I linked to earlier.
     
  16. Dave1987

    Dave1987 Established Member

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    Without going into the same arguments detailed in other threads the short answer is no. There are plenty of arguments why not detailed on those other threads so I see no reason to go through them all again in this thread.
     
  17. al78

    al78 Member

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    The question is not whether driverless trains are flawless in terms of safety, but rather would they they better than humans?

    If no new system ever got unrolled because there is a chance it wasn't perfect, very little would ever get done.

    https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/134/Nirvana-Fallacy
     
  18. Flying_Turtle

    Flying_Turtle Member

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    Don t forget that the distance from adapting driverless cars to driverless trains ain t that great. You will even be able to have them on a conventionally signalled railway just with communications improvements...
     
  19. Dolive21

    Dolive21 Member

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    The last time I heard someone say the DLR was driverless, the PSA (who was driving manually from the front the entire journey) accosted us at Bank and set him straight (as I had tried to do during the journey).
     
  20. GB

    GB Established Member

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    Here we go again....
     
  21. Clip

    Clip Established Member

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    Well the PSA was quite wrong. Its very very VERY rare for them to ever be driven with passengers on. When they sit there they are not driving but just doing what they do by the doors but are there due to one reason or another and can happen in peaks due to crowding on platforms.
     
  22. WelshBluebird

    WelshBluebird Established Member

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    Of course it is possible. Not right now, not anytime soon, but certainly at some point in the next 50-100 years it has to be. The real question is will there ever be the will to spend the money that will be required to make it possible, or will some other transport method take over before that.
     
  23. Domh245

    Domh245 Established Member

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    Driverless trains are really the last step in eking out capacity. Before you go to full ATO operation to eliminate the time lost by a driver compared to the theoretical time that a route can be covered in there are plenty of other (cheaper) steps - a number of which are precursors - such as fitting ETCS, using moving block signalling, better performing and higher capacity trains, etc.
     
  24. R4_GRN

    R4_GRN Member

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    As a mere passenger I would rather travel behind a qualified driver whose experience and knowledge would be better than a microprocessor, I have just bought a new PC with 'orrible windows 10 so perhaps I am a bit biased against computers!
     
  25. JDi

    JDi Member

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    As a passenger, i'd have a lot more peace of mind known that a driver was on board.
     
  26. ComUtoR

    ComUtoR Established Member

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    'On board' or 'at the controls' ?
     
  27. Chris M

    Chris M Member

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    I haven't read the other thread yet, so apologies if this is covered there but these debates usually conflate several different questions.
    Is it possible?
    Is it safe?
    Is it practical?
    Is it cost effective?

    Some answers, at a very very basic level:
    Is it possible?
    If you ignore the other questions, yes. If you aren't worried about the cost, safety or practicality you could have a fully driverless railway as quickly as you could manufacture and install all the necessary equipment. The DLR could be driverless tomorrow if there are sufficient controllers (I have no idea) to take remote control of the trains. If you are prepared to accept some trap-and-drag incidents and possibly some trespassers getting hit you could even have completely unattended operation.
    Until one broke down or became non-communicative for some reason that is (although in some cases another unit may be able to remotely assist if unattended coupling is possible.

    Is it safe?
    Yes and no. It depends entirely on how safe is safe enough. If the criteria is no deaths that would not have happened if a human was driving, then no. If the criteria is no more deaths than would have happened if a human was driving, probably yes. This is because some people will be killed by a human that wouldn't have been by a computer (Southall would almost certainly not have happened had a computer been driving for example), but also vice versa (e.g. the person at Stratford DLR cited above).

    Is it practical?
    Yes and no. It depends how much money you want to spend and on what. How many trains do you want fitted? How long do you want signalling sections to be? How fast do you want trains going? What headway do you want? Etc, etc.

    Is it cost effective?
    Only in some circumstances. Assuming you want a practical, safe enough railway, then it is going to cost an awful lot. Given that the most significant benefits to automatic running are a reduced headway and more consistent timings through a section, it is only where you have already reached the throughput obtainable by conventional driving of long trains and still need more capacity that it can (currently) be cost effective. Major urban metros and key sections like Thameslink core are currently the only places it makes sense, as significant parts of the cost are proportional to route length.
    The benefits of automation are largely irrelevant or non existent (at present) when headway is more than 5-10 minutes.
     
  28. mickulty

    mickulty Member

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    The problem is they aren't competing with unassisted humans, they're competing with shared autonomy (which is already universal in some forms). You can have a fully driverless train, or you can have a safety trained driver with their hand on a dead mans switch while the system reaps all the safety benefits of automation.

    If we are to descend to the lowest form of debate: https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/94/False-Dilemma
     
  29. fowler9

    fowler9 Established Member

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    There aren't enough call centre jobs going for all the driverless train drivers to go to. Once everyone is automated out of work who is going to use the driverless trains?
     
  30. Clip

    Clip Established Member

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    You keep trotting this out but until there are robots who can fix other robots then no one will be out of work.
     
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