How to move more goods through America’s packed infrastructure?Robot trains – Texas News


Anyone who has ever sent a chew around a tree on Christmas morning knows that the main danger of a train is that toys wander the railroad tracks and change at high speeds. Both are also the main dangers of a real train. So how difficult is it for you to make a train completely autonomous?

Or you may be wondering why you need to worry about trains and how they operate (whether this is the 1800s). Let’s back up a little. If you think the United States relies solely on trucks to carry cargo, you may be struggling with the vision of a tunnel. Trains make up one-third of ton miles. Year. It’s almost the same as being carried by truck. The United States has the widest rail network on a few miles of railroad tracks on the planet, and yes, it is even larger than China. Today, like all other parts of the US supply chain, we are facing grunts and congestion. Unprecedented activity at the port and record demand at several rail hubs.

Trains may look like a mature technology with little room for improvement or expansion, as adding new rail lines is exorbitantly expensive, as the conflict over the cost of expanding Amtrak’s services shows. Maybe. However, researchers studying this issue have found that being completely autonomous improves safety and makes more efficient use of the American rail network, which significantly increases the amount of cargo that can be transported. It states that it can be increased.

Energy consumption per mile is four to five times higher than trucks as the United States suffers from a shortage of truck drivers and companies are wondering how to reach their goal of reducing carbon emissions. One train may be a technology two centuries ago. That time has come again.

I wrote about the limits that hinder the grand ambitions of self-driving cars. However, trains have the property of avoiding those problems. Most importantly, the train is on the railroad tracks. This means artificial intelligence train engineers don’t have to worry about issues affecting car and truck drivers. There are no tailgates, lane changes, or left turns for traffic.

“I think trains reach full autonomy faster than vehicles,” said Maxim A. Dulebenets, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Florida A & M University, who recently published an extensive review of the literature on autonomous trains. One of the reasons is that hundreds of passenger trains are already operating autonomously around the world as part of the city’s subway system.

Passengers arrive at Taizicheng Station on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway in Hebei Province, China. In January 2020, China started operating a fully autonomous “Shinkansen”.

Li Xin / Xinhua News Agency / Zuma Press

The first fully autonomous subway train debuted in Kobe, Japan in 1981, and since then technology has spread from Paris to New Delhi and from Sao Paulo to Vancouver. The world’s first fully autonomous freight train across Australia’s hinterland was regularly operated by mining company Rio Tinto in 2019. In January 2020, China began operating a fully autonomous “bullet” train between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Many other tests of autonomous trains, both passenger and freight, are underway. Testing of German and Dutch autonomous freight trains servicing the Port of Rotterdam began this month. The French state railway company is currently testing trains that can start carrying passengers as early as 2023. In the United States, an autonomous freight train system built by the New York Air Brake was tested in the Colorado Desert in 2019.

Narinjain, group president of Wabtec’s digital electronics, said the future of autonomous trains could mean putting more freight into America’s existing rail network without adding new lines. increase.,

A train manufacturer based in Pittsburgh, its roots date back more than 150 years. Existing and future technologies allow trains to be longer, the distance between trains shorter, and more efficient disassembly and reconstruction at ports and rail yard.

A BNSF freight train with 76 container cars and a FedEx freight trailer will pass Montana in August. Trains have grown longer in recent years as technology advances, and may grow even longer.

William Campbell / Getty Images

According to a European Union-funded survey released in 2020, migrating to a new system for managing trains could increase the capacity of existing rail networks by up to 44%. According to an internal study by Wabtec, the rate of increase is even higher in the United States, which can be up to 50%. Its increase in tonmiles carried by the American rail network is equivalent to moving about one million full Boeing 747-10 passenger planes from coast to coast each year.

Despite the gathering of steam technicians, automatic train drivers aren’t ready to deploy everywhere, Dr. Dulebenets warns. Most autonomous trains are built on new, dedicated tracks that do not need to be shared with other human-controlled trains. These new systems tend to be free of dangers, such as highway intersections, where the majority of train and car-related accidents occur each year in the United States.

Jean-François Beaudoin, president of digital and integrated systems at French locomotive maker Alstom, said creating autonomous trains operating on a shared open rail network is far more than achieving the same with a closed metro rail system. It says it’s difficult...

To do this, we need to give these trains “eyes and ears.” This is, as he calls it, a sensor that can look ahead to tracks for unexpected obstacles.

The complexity of the US rail network, where many lines are shared among multiple private railway companies, means that system automation can be difficult. This process “can take decades,” says Dr. Dulebenets. Coordinating self-driving cars with human-driven trains is similar to the challenges of partially self-driving technology. This technology needs to be meshed so that neither humans nor AI are confused.

From a safety standpoint, we are far more demanding on machines than on humans. Because we are far more considerate of the people who make mistakes than the machines that make mistakes. “The automated metro system must be designed to make one mistake for every million people made by human engineers,” he adds.

Another potentially big issue is cybersecurity. Since trains weigh between 4,000 and 20,000 tons, can carry dangerous goods and can take several miles to stop, allowing remote control of trains is a complete system for guiding trains. If it is not safe, it means that you are at risk of being hijacked by a hacker. ..

Yet another challenge to autonomous trains is legal — who will inevitably be responsible in the event of an accident? As with self-driving cars, the challenge here is that even if an automated system is safer than a human-driven system, it can change the person responsible for the accident if it breaks down. Once AI has full control over trains, the long-standing hypothesis of decision-making ethics philosophy, the so-called trolley problem, can become too literal.

Challenges aside, in some respects, American trains are already surprisingly automated, said Eric Gebhardt, Wabtec’s chief technology officer. Federal law requires all US trains to be equipped with a positive train control system as of December 2020. It’s like an automatic emergency braking system for a car. This system prevents trains from colliding with other trains, going too fast on curves, or blowing off misconfigured railroad switches.

Inside the locomotive cab, semi-automatic train-driving features, such as the federal-mandated positive train control system, are displayed on the screen.

Ed Leaker / Wabtec

The transition to autonomous systems for trains is consistent with other upgrades, as has happened with other types of transportation infrastructure such as ports. Logic: If you buy a new train or upgrade your rail system significantly, you can also do all the available and cost-effective upgrades at once.

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The next step in train automation is to move away from the current “fixed block” system used to maintain a safe distance between trains. In this system, the track is divided into fixed length blocks and only one train can exist at a time. Gebhart says. In a “moving block” system, on the other hand, the safety buffers in front of and behind the train move together, allowing the trains to approach and follow each other. However, switching to a moving block system requires maintaining constant communication between the train and the central dispatch system. Some customers have already tested such systems, Gebhardt adds.

Assuming that these trains use a moving block system with the train’s on-board computer, according to an EU study, applying new technology could cut the capacity of the rail network in half. Such a system communicates with the train ahead, knowing its weight, weather, what it is doing, and when to brake. However, one of the advantages of rail networks is that they are already lacking in signals and sensors. This allows you to incorporate some of the “intelligence” needed to control a train into the track itself, place it along the track itself, or determine the speed of the train. By remote system.

Rio Tinto’s remote operations center in Perth for autonomous freight trains in the Pilbara region of Australia.

Rio tinto

According to a Rio Tinto spokesman, Australia’s world’s first and only full-time autonomous freight train incorporates both in-vehicle sensors and system-wide sensors and processing. The train itself has cameras,…


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