Almost all car companies try to develop and overachieve each other with better autonomous car driving systems. In planes there are auto pilots for years already, which can fly - human independently - complex routes.

What are the reasons that this doesn't seem to be such a big topic regarding to trains, even though train systems are run in a very closed, homogeneous and controlled environment, compared to cars on streets or planes in the air?

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    I didnt know on which SE network I should have posted this. There are just so many networks .. – Robin Mar 5 '18 at 7:13
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    I think the premises for your question are wrong. Autonomous trains have been around for decades. Several, in particular suburban rail networks or lines are operating autonomously and it is a huge topic in rail research and development. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Mar 5 '18 at 8:40
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    "autopilot" for aircraft is simply an assistance feature. (the name may be confusing.) it's inconceivable a passenger airliners could travel >with no pilots< !! in contrast, there >are< trains (say, those airport shuttles) which operate with absolutely no pilots or crew. – Fattie Mar 5 '18 at 10:57
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    Please commit to the Area51 Railways and Railroads proposal. If this site goes ahead (40% commitment at the moment) this will be an excellent question! – gerrit Mar 5 '18 at 11:47
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    Pity to see it put on hold. While not the sort of question the site usually has, it is a "question about … public transport" which is specifically on-topic. – Mark Perryman Mar 5 '18 at 13:40

"Very closed, homogeneous and controlled" while true when you're comparing against planes or cars, is not true in absolute terms.

In a 200 km radius from where I live I have:

  • Automated brand-new metro lines. Platforms are separated from tracks with doors that sync with trains' doors.
  • Automated but supervised rail and metro network, equipped with ATO and other safety systems. Still with humans on the very first row to look for obstacles, such as cars, malfunctioning junctions, suicidals, etc.
  • Non-automated rail network but with automated, supervised signal control.
  • Non-automated rail network with manual signalling.

In essence, what it prevents from automatizing all network is:

  • Required investment: To eliminate level crossings and other risks like that, to build a reliable signalling infrastructure, and to adapt the rolling stock to it.
  • The human factor: Many people don't trust automated machines, specially if their life depend on it.
  • Jobs: Many people would lose their job, and this usually means less votes for the ruling party. It's easier to build new automated lines than adapt existing ones.
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There are indeed quite a number of fully automated train lines.

And very many others with highly sophisticated automatic signaling that stops short of full automation.

The main reason for not going further is that the cost is considerable to modify an entire network to enable full automation, while the benefits are minimal:

  • Driver's salaries are not so considerable as to make much potential savings.
  • The potential safety improvements have largely already been made without full automation.
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  • The modification-of-existing cost is an excellent point: all the automated trains that come to my mind (ie, the DLR) have been new-build (so they've been able to avoid at-grade crossings, amongst many other important automation-friendly features). – MadHatter Mar 5 '18 at 8:46
  • @MadHatter the exception is the Paris Metro line 1 (and soon line 4) which has been converted from manual to fully-automatic in place. Being a metro line it was already exempt of grade crossings, but the operation involved the addition of platform doors to prevent people falling on the tracks. – jcaron Mar 5 '18 at 13:17
  • @jcaron I went from Cambridge to Bordeaux by train late last year, and the new LGV from Paris is amazing. The French, God bless them, do know how to do trains, so it doesn't surprise me that if anyone could convert a metro line in situ, RATP could. – MadHatter Mar 6 '18 at 10:40

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