Russian Automated Train Trials

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Fylsie

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In 2019, the Russian Railways (RZD) expressed its ambition to include the first GoA3 autonomous passenger trains in the regular timetable this year. Pavel Popov, responsible for this project at the state-owned company, will come to RailTech Europe to tell how he will achieve this ambitious goal.


In the Moscow region, state-owned company RZD is currently testing two different passenger trains, and a third for GoA4 is under design. The first two are suitable for Grade of Automation 3 (GoA3). These trains, therefore, run completely autonomously, but there is still a driver on board to intervene in an emergency. The third test train will be a GoA4 version. The train does everything itself, including operating the doors.

Four Seasons​

“We expect that certification of our passenger train GoA3 will be ready at the end of this year. From that moment on, we will use this train in the regular timetable,” says Popov. “The first year we want to have a driver on every train. That way, we can test the system under all circumstances with a minimal safety risk for our passengers. By testing for a year, we can see what the effects are of the different seasons. Especially the snow in winter will present challenges.”

All RZD self-driving trains are monitored from a central control center and can be controlled remotely if necessary. The remote driver also assesses whether a train that detects an obstacle and makes an emergency stop can continue or should really stop. Each carriage is equipped with cameras that allow the driver to see what is happening among the passengers. For the time being, the control center is housed in RZD’s interlocking building in Moscow and has only a few workplaces, but by 2023 there should be a brand new building where up to twenty drivers can simultaneously monitor the trains. Each driver will follow four to ten trains simultaneously.



Machine learning​

The train itself is equipped with eight cameras, an infrared camera for good visibility even in bad weather conditions, and two Lidars. The localization is based on satellite navigation, IMU, SLAM, odometers, HD maps and algorithms that combine all data in the high-precision result. are built using machine learning. “We use some approaches from the automotive industry, among other things. The right datasets are the cornerstone for machine learning. ”

The biggest challenge, according to Popov, is to have an answer to all weather and traffic conditions. “We have very good simulation systems, but you can only be sure whether something will work properly if the practice tests also go well. For this, we let develop dummies that function as moving pedestrians or cyclists, for example. In the automotive industry, they work with moving dummies to test autonomous driving systems. Developing a variant suitable for crossing the track turned out to be a lot more difficult than making a dummy that moves on a flat road. They should be ready within a few months, but we are dependent on another institute for this. ”

Balance​

We are also still working hard on the procedures for boarding and disembarking passengers on the platform. Here, too, the combination of cameras and lidars plays a leading role. With these aids, the passengers and their behavior must be registered and processed by the platform’s systems and in the train. “When getting in and out, many problems can arise, and the safety risks are great. The process must be fast enough but safe. Finding a good balance here is difficult.”

Pavel Popov will give a presentation on the ATO project of the Russian Railways during RailTech Europe on March 31. Check the event website for more information and registration.


All sounds rather interesting as i have heard the for and against arguments about this from other sources but will be interesting to see how they go
 
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JonathanP

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Thanks, that's very interesting. Up until recently I was working on prototypes of this kind of system.

The localization(where am I?) is mostly a solved problem and their approach sounds pretty standard.

The bigger problem is the obstacle detection. Automotive use cases only need to look 80m ahead, but on the railway you need to look much further(hundreds of metres) but still be able to tell the difference between a catenary mast and an obstacle. This needs specially developed sensor hardware, here the cost has to be borne by the Rail Industry alone. To my knowledge this hardware does not exist yet on the open market in a mature enough state for reliable use.

So I am little sceptical here. I recall that Russia declared themselves to have approved their Covid-19 vaccine before any other country, but in fact it was only an approval for widespread trials. I have the feeling the same kind of sleight of hand is at work here, and these will be test runs carefully monitored by technicians, but with passengers on board.
 

ainsworth74

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From the reading the article it sounds a bit more Victoria Line style (train drives itself but there's still a driver in the cab babysitting) rather than DLR style (train drives itself with no human presence required at 'the sharp end') at least for the time being.

Though this is quite a fascinating idea:

All RZD self-driving trains are monitored from a central control center and can be controlled remotely if necessary. The remote driver also assesses whether a train that detects an obstacle and makes an emergency stop can continue or should really stop. Each carriage is equipped with cameras that allow the driver to see what is happening among the passengers. For the time being, the control center is housed in RZD’s interlocking building in Moscow and has only a few workplaces, but by 2023 there should be a brand new building where up to twenty drivers can simultaneously monitor the trains. Each driver will follow four to ten trains simultaneously.
 

Fylsie

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Oops sorry for posting in the wrong place - its an interesting development for sure and one we should be keeping an eye i think
 
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