In an interview with a German newspaper, Deutsche Bahn (DB) Chairman Rudiger Grube, has confirmed that the rail giant is looking at an increasing focus on driverless operation, potentially within five years. He told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (In German and translated by by us into English) that “… by 2021, 2022 or 2023 we will be able to run fully automatically in parts of our network. Autonomous driving on a complex rail system, with passenger trains and freight trains is more difficult than on a subway - but it is possible. The first pilot projects are already running, on a test field, we have built in the Erzgebirgsbahn."
He added that discussions with staff are already taking place about this potential transition and follows on from May’s announcement from DB that they are looking at a self-driving cars to solve the first-last mile challenge.
Grube is already in conversations with staff about these changes telling the F.A.Z.; “Even trade unions recognize that digitization is causing the world to change. If rail wants to be competitive in comparison with the road, but doesn’t engage with digitization. It will fall increasingly behind in productivity. But we want to inspire customers with modern technology."
He said the company has started preparing its drivers for the fact trains in the future will no longer need them to do purely drive, but instead take on other functions on the train; “The role of the train driver and the train controller will increasingly merge in the future.”
In conclusion he added that they plan to work with start-ups in creating new data focussed business models in a new part of DB, Digital Venture GmbH, with ideas ranging from digital mobility cards and e-commerce.
In May it was reported in Fortune magazine that DB is planning a fleet of autonomous vehicles, that could be ordered via an App (like Uber), and be collected from their homes and take them to train stations. And presumably pick them up on the return journey. Though details and timescales have not been confirmed.
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