driverless train

Driverless Thameslink train crosses London for the first time

Image credit: pa

The UK’s first self-driving mainline train has completed its first journey across London, as Thameslink looks to ramp up the frequency of its inner-city services.

The Thameslink service used an automated system to accelerate and brake as it travelled north to south through central London.

The technology allows trains to run at a higher frequency than in manual operation by optimising their speed.

The Thameslink trains will in future use the technology, developed by Siemens and operating on Network Rail’s new digital signalling system, to run between London St Pancras and London Blackfriars at a rate of a train every two to three minutes – a frequency never before achieved on Britain’s railways.

Under automatic train operation, a driver remains in the cab to carry out safety checks and close the doors at stations.

man sitting in driverless train

Image credit: pa

Monday’s 9:46am train from Peterborough to Horsham was a demonstration of the technology being put into use as part of the £7bn Thameslink Programme to transform journeys on what is currently one of the country’s most congested sections of railway.

The number of services between London St Pancras and London Blackfriars will gradually increase to 24 trains per hour in each direction by December next year.

This means there will be a train every two to three minutes, which is a frequency never previously achieved on Britain’s railways.

Gerry McFadden, engineering director at Thameslink’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London, a 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.”

“We’ll always need a driver in the cab, but this technology allows us to run more trains, more frequently than we could by driving the trains manually. For passengers, the trip will be as smooth as ever.”

The technology was developed by Siemens and operates on Network Rail’s digital signalling system, which enables trains to travel closer together.

Its use on the Class 700 Thameslink trains will help create capacity for up to 60,000 more passengers at peak times.

Alstom, the French rail transport giant, is to begin trialling automated freight trains on a track in the Netherlands this year. 

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