Technology Focus series: How will driverless cars impact rail in the future?

Driverless cars are vehicles which can navigate roads and reach destinations using computers instead of a human driver. The core components of a driverless car are its sensors, software and communications systems. The sensors identify the environment of the car, giving awareness of its surroundings and any potential risks. The software integrates and processes all the data obtained from the sensors to accurately map out the environment around the vehicle, which then independently manoeuvres through it. The sensors ensure that cars are aware of impeding obstacles and maintain interaction between other cars on the road.

Image author: Steve Jurvetson, via Wikimedia Commons.

Driverless cars could be a direct competitor to the rail industry. An analysis carried out by BCG on travel patterns in the Netherlands has revealed that a ride shared driverless car would cost less per passenger per kilometre than a train journey. Driverless cars would offer point-to-point travel whereas trains offer station-to-station travel.
On the other hand, from an intermodal perspective, driverless cars may potentially increase use of the rail by acting as a complementary service, making it cheaper and more convenient to reach railway stations. Cities such as Singapore are considering options to implement driverless car technology as a first and last mile service, taking passengers to and from homes, local metro stations or nearby amenities.
The transfer of driverless car technology from the automotive to the rail industry could contribute in delivering key capabilities of the RTS such as running trains closer together by minimising headways and the ability for trains to be more aware of their surroundings.


Banner image author: Kennymatic, via Wikimedia Comons
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