Driver Temporarily Relegated to Doorman Role as First Self-Driving Train Launches

By Gary Cutlack on at

The UK's first "driverless" overground/mainline train has performed some semi-autonomous duties out there on the live lines, with Thameslink letting a train use an automated system to accelerate and brake while traversing the clogged arteries of the London rail network.

It's not really driverless as there is a driver -- isn't there always? -- but the poor driver is basically stuck sitting there holding a handle and opening and closing doors for part of the journey now, with the network saying this automatic speeding and slowing should let the trains of the near future run closer together. It's made possible by a new digital signalling system that's been activated on a relatively short bit of track that links London St Pancras and Blackfriars, with all Thameslink trains set to run on autopilot for this section by the end of next year, boosting frequency in the congested urban bit.

Thameslink engineering boss Gerry McFadden said: "We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London, an historical bottleneck that has held back rail expansion across the south of the country. Self-drive technology also has great potential for the rest of the country’s rail network, particularly on congested routes, and could in future reduce the need for costly infrastructure projects." [Thameslink via B&H]