SNCF to launch driverless mainline train by 2023

French railway operator SNCF is planning to introduce prototypes of driverless mainline trains for freight and passengers services by 2023. Soon after that, the trains will become operative as regular services, the company announced on Wednesday.

The French capital already has a partly autonomous metro system, which also hauls longer distances on its suburban network. But a mainline train without a driver is something of a novelty in the country, if not in Europe. “Railways are an open system, and the unexpected is the rule”, SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy said.

Improved service

“With autonomous trains, all the trains will run in a harmonised way and at the same speed”, Pepy said. “The train system will become more fluid.” The operator hopes that the new technology allows it to run more trains on France’s busiest mainlines and cut energy consumption.

The shift to driverless trains is to happen in stages, with the final goal to eliminate the driver onboard, explained Pierre Izard, who runs SNCF’s rail technologies division. SNCF will be partnering up with rolling stock specialists Alstom and Bombardier, who will each be heading up consortia for freight and passenger traffic, respectively. SNCF said it was talking to German operator Deutsche Bahn about promoting a European standard for driverless trains.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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