Germany wants to replace human-driven trains with autonomous railway cars, as part of a grand master plan to provide end-to-end public transport throughout Europe. In an interview with Germany’s WirstschaftsWoche, Deutsche Bahn’s CEO Rüdiger Grube called self-driving trains "a major project for the railway."
Deutsche Bahn is Germany’s historic national rail company, and it operates all kinds of systems, from trains to car-sharing to bike-sharing programs. The introduction of driverless trains would form a part of its strategy for taking over pretty much every kind of transport and fusing them into one giant, centrally-controlled network.
Flickr user Jim Killock
Grube says that the driverless railway cars would allow control of trains to be centralized. Within one or two decades, he says, all trains could be driven from an "operations center." That should make the system more efficient, as traffic could be routed to avoid congestion and other trouble.
Deutsche Bahn sees its future as a provider of door-to-door transport, not just in Germany but across the continent. This is detailed in a strategy document which outlines ambitions to improve interoperability between the rail networks of different countries and even a "Eurasian Land Bridge" for rail freight from Asia to Europe.
Grube also mentions the need to compete with companies like Uber, although right now its efforts are little more than a new ad campaign with the slogan "Diese Zeit gehört dir," or "This time belongs to you," presumably selling the fact that you won’t have to talk to an annoying cabbie if you take the subway instead.
We already have driverless metro systems and driverless buses, so why not driverless trains? After all, if Google can make its autonomous cars safe out on the unpredictable open road, a vehicle that runs on its own set of rails, to a strict schedule, should’t really need a human just to control its speed.