Rail operating giant Keolis UK’s chief executive Alistair Gordon has predicted a future of driverless trains, but not for decades to come.
Speaking at New Civil Engineer’s UK Rail conference, Gordon said he expected autonomous trains to eventually reshape the industry.
“When you’re trying to do the same thing to a precise time every single day, humans are not the best equipped to do it.
“And it’s not just about drivers and guards, but it’s also about interactions on the network.”
But he added that passengers’ safety concerns would postpone the rollout of robots.
“I don’t think we are there yet, I don’t think passengers are ready to get on to driverless trains. Maybe they will, in a few decades, when cars become driverless.
“Will it happen in our lifetime? I don’t know, but I predict it’s not through a lack of technology that stops it being done.”
Gordon also spoke to the conference on Network Rail’s Digital Railway project and which infrastructure enhancements will be necessary.
Research carried out by Network Rail and Keolis on a section of the main line into London Waterloo has shown that the project could deliver a 30% to 40% increase in passenger capacity, achieved primarily through digital signalling technology that allows trains to be run closer together.
But a question arose over how dwell times for passengers getting on and off trains, which is up to two minutes in some instances, would limit any capacity gains.
“It may mean we need more orbital routes, reducing the need for people to come into city centres,” Gordon said.
Gordon added that operators may also need to look into the way to move people around when coming off the train.
“On metro systems, if you look at a well-run automated system, you almost have the passengers educated and prepared before they get off. In heavy rail we don’t have that,” he said.