Autonomous train initiative entering test phase in Finland

An autonomous train development project in Finland is moving on to its test phase. The aim of the initiative is to create new railway transportation services and to double the amount of railway transport. The initiative, led by Finnish Proxion in conjunction with around 20 other tech organisations, focuses on a low-emission transportation concept for large industrial enterprises. In the future, aim is to also bring autonomous passenger traffic to the rails.

Autonomy in transportation is a global trend, and its execution is being innovated constantly. While the development is well under way on roads, in the air and in maritime transport, the progress on railways has been slower.

Planning

The Finnish initiative, led by the railway transport, logistics and infrastructure expert company Proxion, has received a funding decision in June and is moving on towards the pilot phase where the software and equipment of the autonomous train will be tested, simulated and test-driven. The piloting of Proxion’s autonomous train will begin already later this year. The autonomous train is expected to be operational in 2023.

Environment

The autonomous train unit in development is intended to be a low-emission and more cost-effective solution for short-distance industrial transport, that is currently handled mainly by road transport.  

“The strict environmental targets set by the EU are in favour 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,” says Reijo Viinonen, the Project Manager of Proxion’s autonomous train initiative.

Safety

An increasingly important feature of the train is safety. Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT, the innovation partner of the development project, is involved in enabling safe automation on the rails. “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.

Applications of autonomous trains.

Pilot

The first step of Proxion’s ambitious project is to pilot automatic railway traffic for freight transport in Finland that can be commercialized and is in high demand internationally.

The objective of the pilot is at first to improve the operating conditions of the metal and wood processing industries that are important to Finland. The project has collaborated with the steel company Outokumpu’s unit in Tornio and the forest industry company Stora Enso’s unit in Imatra. Later on, the focus will be aimed more broadly on rail transport, where both goods and people are transported.

Data utilization

“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,” says Janne Hauta, Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications Ministerial Advisor specialized in rail automation.

Parties involved

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 for the project 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.

Written by: editors Smart City Hub

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