This article appeared in Evaluation Engineering and has been published here with permission.
An autonomous train development project in Finland is entering its test phase, with the intent to create advanced railway transportation services, eventually doubling the amount of rail traffic. Led by Finnish Proxion along with other tech organizations, the initiative developed a functional low-emission scalable transport concept, with the long-term goal of integrating passengers as well. The project is entering the pilot phase, where software and hardware will be tested, simulated, and test-driven.
“The strict environmental targets set by the EU are in favor of developing the electric modes of transport, and railway transport is the most energy efficient way to transport goods by land. The innovative development of rail transport is therefore in key position, as the goals are to develop transportation that is lower in emissions and to achieve better rail utilization,” according to Reijo Viinonen, the Project Manager of Proxion’s autonomous train initiative.
The piloting of Proxion’s autonomous train will begin later this year, and is expected to be operational by 2023. The autonomous train unit in development is intended to be a low-emission and more cost-effective solution for short-distance industrial transport, with train safety an important goal. Another innovation partner, Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT, is involved in enabling safe automation.
“It is important to ensure that the autonomous train operates reliably in all conditions and on a wide range of track connections. It is a leap towards safer railway transport. For example, sensor interpretation technology for the train unit is being developed as is combining a thermal camera and radar observations in order to be able to react correctly and in time to any obstacles or situations ahead,” says Pertti Peussa, Principal Scientist at VTT.
The first step of Proxion’s ambitious project is to pilot automatic railway traffic for freight transport in Finland, with an initial objective of improving operating conditions of the metal and wood processing industries. The project has collaborated with steel company Outokumpu and forest industry company Stora Enso. The project will eventually expand to broader rail transport, transporting both goods and people.
“The development of railway automation and ecosystems is currently a national interest for several European countries. All transportation will require AI-based data utilization solutions, that are also at the heart of the autonomous train project. The whole project represents a bold, innovative pilot that creates cost-effective, dynamic new services that support business needs,” says Janne Hauta, Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications Ministerial Advisor specialized in rail automation.
The co-innovation development project of the autonomous train is funded by Business Finland and the companies Proxion, VTT, Teräspyörä Oy, and Electric Power Finland Oy. Proxion coordinates and is responsible for the project and the information systems. VTT produces the sensor technology and software needed to observe the environment, Teräspyörä Oy is responsible for fleet development, and Electric Power Finland Oy for the digitization of rail equipment.