Close search

The future of rail – technological advancements

Today, technology advancements are progressing in the rail industry and are bridging the gap for some of the latest software innovations. This means a passenger’s journey could become near to totally digital. The hot topic on industry folks’ minds is autonomous driving, better known by railway experts as ATO (automatic train operation). ATO is effectively used to help automate the operation of trains, safely and efficiently. The main advantages of ATO consist of a reduction in cost and energy consumption, whilst increasing capacity and greener mobility.


The level of automation in which a train is operational will is determined by a grading system, ranging from GoA0 to GoA4:

  • GoA 0 (Train Operation: On-sight)
  • GoA 1 (Train Operation: Manual)
  • GoA 2 (Train Operation: Semi-automatic (STO)
  • GoA 3 (Train Operation: Driverless (DTO)
  • GoA 4 (Train Operation: Unattended train operation (UTO)

The end goal of any rail operator trying to achieve ATO is GoA 4 which is the equivalent to the train service being fully automatic without any onboard staff, including starting and stopping, opening and closing doors and any emergency procedures. To put this into perspective, GoA 1 is when the train driver controls the measures described for GoA 4 above. GoA 3 describes a fully autonomous train journey, but with an attendant who can intervene in the operation in case of an emergency. Can you imagine boarding a train without onboard staff?

train tracks crossing over

GoA 4 testing

Alstom has announced breakthrough developments in testing mainline and freight.

The first project is a planned test project based in Germany to implement Automatic Train Operation (ATO) in daily passenger operation of regional trains. Alstom has long been a world-leader in ATO for metro systems, but this test will be a world-first for regional passenger trains. The equipment installed will enable the trains to operate automatically, testing different grades of automation (GoA): GoA3 in regular passenger operation and GoA4 during shunting.

Alstom said

“In the future, automated trains will optimise regional rail operations, reduce energy consumption, and increase ride comfort. In this way, highly automated driving will make a decisive contribution to climate protection and contribute to the development of a modern, attractive railway system”.

The second project involves tests which will target the highest grade of automation (GoA4) in a shunting yard. The objective is to demonstrate how the use of fully automated trains can optimise rail operation to ensure cost-effective and sustainable mobility in the face of growing demand in shunting operations.

Alstom will equip a diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotive with automatic control technology, intelligent obstacle detection and environment recognition. Classic tasks, such as starting and stopping, pushing wagons, controlling traction and brakes and the handling of emergencies, will be fully automated, train staff remaining aboard to ensure safety protocol during the tests.

On Train Data Centre

Alstom said…

“This project is paving the way for the fully digitalised railway. These tests will help the European rail system benefit from an increase in capacity, reduced energy consumption and cost while offering higher operational flexibility and improved punctuality. This test is fully in line with Alstom’s strategy to bring added value to its customers for smart and green mobility”.

This information was taken from the Alstom website.

Digital enablement of the first and last mile

As train operators stride to provide a digitally autonomous service which does not require onboard staff, we take a detailed look at how Nomad Digital’s solutions will play a part. First and foremost, Nomad envisions the digital enablement of the first and last mile and how you can use technology to provide a seamless solution. But, how would Nomad play a part in delivering enhanced digital train service?

Nomad technologies benefit both the passenger by enhancing passenger experience and the operator by opening new revenue streams. Relevant information can be pushed to passengers through an onboard portal, such as multi-modal information (from a variety of modes of transport, e.g. buses and trams) is becoming something more for the present time than the future. This opens opportunities such as car sharing, Uber integration, underground/overground connections, cycle hire, onward journey and disruption updates. It means the passenger can order food to their seat digitally, plan a commuting transport service upon arrival or learn about disruptions and delays. Transport operators could see the number of passengers on their service; this data can be used to present to advertisers when negotiating new advertising deals within the fleet or service.

Additionally, The Onboard Data Centre provides a virtualised platform which allows applications to run on the same hardware, equipped with remote management, monitoring and reporting services. It will enable applications to work in harmony. The reporting service can be used to increase revenue by analysing how many people advertisers reach on your platform. It allows true digital enablement by predicting failures, highlighting hidden problems and issuing real-time alerts when failures happen. By using the information in a more structured, controlled and repeatable way to plan corrective maintenance, engineers can move towards a condition-based maintenance regime, helping to maximise equipment life, increase availability, reliability and reduce costs. The key is to identify potential failure warning signs before a failure occurs, as the repair cost is usually typically far lower to handle pro-actively as opposed to after the failure has occurred. This data can be used to keep the autonomous train in service. All of our solutions are designed to help address the daily real-time monitoring, reporting and analysis challenges experienced across the transport industry, now and for the future.

Whatever solution provided – Nomad technology will add value, everything will soon be digital.