A lot of the talk is around self-driving cars, but driverless trains are moving ahead and could overtake them.
While Silicon Valley tech companies and other car manufacturers compete to develop driverless cars, advances in driverless trains continue to evolve unhailed.
The trains that can operate without a supervising driver are able to regulate their own starting and stopping mechanisms and speed. Newer models are even fitted with advanced on-board computers and rechargeable batteries, and some don’t even require rails to run.
However, you cannot ignore the drawbacks. As a form of transportation, driverless trains are not versatile. They cannot navigate roads and are limited to elevated and unobstructed tracks.
Yet self-driving trains may become more and more relevant as municipalities look for greener transportation for last-mile routes between a main transport interchange, such as an airport, and a destination, like a city’s downtown area.
2getthere, a Dutch tech firm, is among the companies trying to evolve versions of driverless trains. Known as automated people movers, 2getthere is working to make these metros more accessible to commuters outside of downtown areas and more attractive to municipalities.
With driverless cars starting to interest urban dwellers, 2getthere saw an opportunity to attract people to its own automated vehicle technology.
“You have to convince people to leave their cars at home,” says Robbert Lohmann, chief operations officer at 2getthere and one of the company’s co-founders.
“The automated transportation system has to provide an added value to the passenger. Whether it’s a quicker trip time, a lower cost, or a combination of both, preferably,” he added.
In April this year, 2getthere announced a project with Dubai, where the world’s largest fleet of non-rail-guided automated people movers will be employed.
The people movers will connect Dubai’s inner-city metro system to one of the city’s planned waterfront developments, Bluewaters.
Each of the 25 automated people movers will carry as many as 24 passengers to complete the 2.5km journey in 4.5 minutes.
The people movers will not operate on a rail track, but rather on an elevated, bi-directional line. The vehicles will also have the ability to navigate public roads, however, this has not yet been specified in the project.
“The Bluewaters application demonstrates the capability of 2getthere’s systems to provide significant capacities, making them a financially attractive alternative for the expensive, traditional rail-guided APM systems at airports and campuses,” says 2getthere CEO and co-founder Carel van Helsdingen.
The line is set to run parallel to a road bridge, competing with ground transportation for traffic. Lohmann says the large fleet size and a new type of rechargeable battery will keep the automated system almost always accessible to its commuters.
The batteries of each vehicle will operate for 1.5 hours between charges, and recharging will only take 10 minutes, maximizing the system’s operating on-time. Additionally, the batteries will help decrease the vehicles’ strain on Dubai’s urban power grid.
If a success, the Bluewaters project may serve as an example to other cities to follow on how automation will bring value to their transportation grids.
“Cities and authorities at this time are still very much trying to come to grips with what automation and automated transit can mean for them,” Lohmann says. “Cities are actively working on getting experience to be able to answer that question better and quicker.”
Capelle aan den Ijssel, a town in Netherlands, already has an automated people mover system in place from 2getthere.
But next year, 2getthere is looking to build a new loop into the city’s line where 2getthere’s automated vehicles will drive alongside road vehicles, sharing public roads with other traffic.
If this trend continues to gain moment, it may overtake driverless cars.
Image credit: 2getthere