SWITZERLAND: A pilot project to develop automatic train operation was unveiled by Südostbahn AG on June 15. The ultimate intention is to achieve Grade of Automation 3, full automatic train operation with no driver but retaining staff on board for customer service and to take control when necessary.

SOB has applied to the Federal Office of Transport for financial support to tender for a partner to assist with developing the technology. SOB’s head of infrastructure Markus Barth anticipated that tenders would be called by the end of this year and the winning company selected by mid-2018. This would enable the start of test running without passengers in 2020, using the Toggenburg line between Mogelsberg, Wattwil and Nesslau-Neu St Johann as a pilot route. If all goes well, he believes commercial operations could be launched between 2023 and 2025.

Emphasising the magnitude of the project, Barth stressed the need for ‘evolution step by step’. SOB feels that ATO should already be possible with little modification to its existing infrastructure and rolling stock. The company envisages that automation would provide significant increases in capacity, better punctuality and improved efficiency across the entire network, while reducing the risk of signalling errors.

SOB plans to set up an employee working group to look at the likely impact of automation on its staff and the need for training in different skills.