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Government Plans For Autonomous Trains Criticised Over Safety Concerns

Posted: 13/04/2017

Driverless cars are a hot topic at the moment and it surely won’t be long before they become commonplace on roads around the world – but what are your thoughts on autonomous trains?

There’s a new Rail Capability Plan that’s been brought out, supported by independent safety body RSSB and the government, that details the capabilities required to enable the rail networks to provide better transport opportunities for both freight and passengers. It’s also intended to offer opportunities for industrial growth by expanding the range of technologies that are available to make the concept of a future railway a reality.

A key part of this plan is the idea of intelligent trains, which are aware of both themselves and their surroundings, so they know where they need to be and by when, and will be able to adjust journeys automatically in order to meet demand.

It’s thought that this new development will do much to reduce the reliance on expensive and complicated rail infrastructure and control systems, while allowing railway staff to transition their roles from direct control and operation to one of supervision instead.

The network of automated trains will be self-regulating, operate under remote supervision, and be capable of negotiating vehicle to vehicle so that possible conflicts at junctions can be resolved.

However, rail union RMT has (March 21st) voiced concerns about the plans, which would see thousands of jobs across the rail industry axed, with safety compromised and trains run on the cheap.

General-Secretary of the Union, Mick Cash, commented: “The rail capability plan sounds innocuous enough but is, in fact, a blueprint for automation with the long-term objective of a faceless railway where passengers are left to fend for themselves without any human contact whatsoever. It is scandalous that this whole drive towards the faceless railway is being smuggled through without any serious scrutiny whatsoever.”

The Department for Transport has now launched a new innovation competition, with £9 million in funding available, to offer support to UK businesses to help them develop railway-related technological solutions.

Mr Cash went on to say that the RMT will continue in its endeavours to ensure that the railway is properly staffed and resourced, and that public safety is always put above private profit.

However, RSSB has also just announced that state-of-the-art risk monitoring technology could soon be brought in to pinpoint targeted, faster improvements to railway safety and reliability. Cues could be taken from the oil and nuclear industries to give the safety managers of tomorrow real-time intelligence about infrastructure, incidents and rolling stock faults, with quick tactical analysis provided.

The first step towards this has already been taken with a new Safety Management Intelligence System now up and running, and already being used by train operating companies and Network Rail.

For help with your own disaster preparedness & response plans, contact us at HFR Solutions CIC for a quick call today.