The Swiss train system is not throwing its engineers off the train (yet), but is experimenting with how to make their job simpler, while improving efficiency without compromising safety.
Aircraft have long used a proven autopilot system that helps them fly efficiently, mostly hands-off, conserving fuel while minimizing travel time.
Now CFF/BSS/FFS is testing similar automation, which they estimate may improve travel efficiency by 30 percent, according to a report in 20 Minutes.
How? By using computer systems developed by the widely used European Train Control System. The ETCS system uses streaming data on current local traffic and conditions to permit a train to move at maximum safe speeds, accelerating and braking automatically, but always monitored by the train’s engineer, who can immediately step in and take control, if needed.
The automatic system was tested the night of Dec. 4 – 5 on the line between Olten and Bern, and all went well, without the engineer having to manually intervene.
If the system is approved and adopted, the improved efficiency should result in more trains being put into service, and perhaps – believe it or not – even lower fares.
This is definitely not a system for driverless trains, say CFF/SSB/FFS officials, so engineers need not worry about their job security (yet).
By Bill Harby