INTERNATIONAL: Knorr-Bremse and Thales announced on November 2 that they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to co-operate on the development of Automatic Train Operation for locomotive-hauled freight and passenger trains.

The partners believe that ATO offers multiple benefits for rail freight in particular. These include anticipated gains in efficiency and capacity, energy savings, performance enhancements and better punctuality. The latter depends on smooth, consistent train driving based on factors such as track characteristics, topography and surrounding traffic, as well as train-specific parameters such as load, which influences traction and braking performance.

While many of these criteria are still monitored manually, the two companies suggested that digital and automated functions would significantly improve how they are tracked and utilised. By using sensor-based real-time data, for example, new systems would be able to deliver intelligent insights to train drivers and devise optimal driving strategies.

The partnership has a specific focus on existing fleets and operators, where ATO could support drivers in their daily work. Among other advantages, the technology would help to counter looming staff shortages in the rail freight business.

‘In our industry, ATO is a key lever for making rail freight more efficient and more available, increasing transportation capacity, and further optimising life-cycle costs for operators’, said Dr Nicolas Lange, Chairman of the Management Board of Knorr-Bremse Rail Vehicle Systems. ‘Our partnership agreement with Thales has enormous potential for bringing about the innovations required to enable safe and smooth ATO and thus improve, for example, energy efficiency and punctuality.’

‘Full autonomy is still a work in progress, although the necessary technologies are maturing rapidly’, added Dr Yves Joannic, Vice President for Main Line Signalling and Managing Director of Ground Transportation Systems at Thales Germany. ‘ATO is one of them, as a necessary step toward achieving fully autonomous driving. Thales has a clear vision for autonomy and is pleased to partner with Knorr-Bremse, a leading company in braking systems and other mission-critical train systems, with the aim of accelerating the development of automated train functions in the freight market.’