Self-driving trains?

Trains ought to be a lot easier to automate than cars, but afaik they still have engineers, brakemen, etc. Wyzat?

Driverless trains have been in operation since 1967, and you can see them mostly in subways around the world. Most inter-terminal trains in airports around the world are also driverless

Trains certainly require many fewer people than they once did. Nevertheless, trains carry a lot more passengers or cargo than a car does, so the cost of personnel is a smaller fraction thereof, so there is less incentive to economize the number of people involved.

Well, we still don’t have self-driving cars, without human drivers, in general use. And I’m not sure we will for a long time. And it’s for the same reason we don’t have engineerless trains. . . humans are better at dealing with totally unforeseen circumstances.

From what I understand, driverless cars still have trouble with 4-way stop intersections, traffic light malfunctions, manual traffic control officers, unforeseen construction or problems. I think we’re still a long way before people and our laws totally accept driverless transportation.

Remote-control locomotives are quite common in railroad switching operations in North America. See, e.g., this article from the 2003 Chicago Tribune.

Around my hometown of Topeka, Kansas, the Union Pacific has several driverless locomotives. See this Google Maps streetview of a railroad crossing on NW 17th St. in north Topeka (note the sign at far right of photo: "“Attention: Remote Control Locomotives Operate In This Area. Locomotive Cabs May be Unoccupied”).

The Grand-Central/Times-Square shuttle was fully automated between 1959 and 1964 but has been operated manually since. The Wiki article said some about a fire at Grand Central having destroyed the automated train.

The Montreal Metro is fully automatic over its entire trajectory. There is a driver sitting in the cab, but that is for emergencies only. The commuter train I use has shared track with heavy rail until a year ago, when it completly separated from the CP line it crossed and now no longer has to follow railroad rules.Under a new proposal, the route will be joined with others and extended to the airport and west island and completely automated.

It is no coincidence that train drivers have a strong union.

The Canarsie Line (L) of the NYC subway has been fully outfitted with computer-based train control (CBTC) and could in theory be completely automated. But it still has an operator and a conductor for reasons. (Ostensibly for safety, but in reality because it’s very difficult to eliminate these jobs.)

The JFK AirTrain system is entirely automated and has no drivers. It’s a lot easier when you’re building a closed system from scratch.

Trains still have engineers because we still have level crossings. People do stupid stuff near train tracks.

No grade crossings in the NYC Subway system. But there is no shortage of people doing stupid stuff. IMHO a fully-automated system necessarily includes a way to ensure that no unauthorized people can enter the tracks.

Most trains have only 1 operator/engineer now. Freight trains don’t have cabooses anymore. Even passenger trains can be operated by 1 person, though many still carry conductors to deal with passengers, make a judgment call about when to close the doors, etc.

I imagine the technology required for fully automated trains is not worth the benefit.

You need someone to deal with the unforeseen. In a self-driving car there will likely be someone who can take over operation, or if not a very small number of people will be delayed waiting for a tow truck.

Not to mention its the most cost effective way to move stuff over land at current staffing. Thus less downward cost pressure.

Train operators can’t deal with the unforseen. It’s not a matter of decision-making capability; it’s a matter of just being physically unable to do anything meaningful. Suppose someone is goofing around on the tracks: What do you do? Even if you slam on the brakes the instant the person comes into view, you’re probably still going to hit them.

I’m glad you brought this up.

And for Japanese bullet trains, stopping distance of 4000m (2.5 miles) is their design guideline. That’s from the operational top speed of 275 km/h (170 mph), and that’s also the reason the operational speed isn’t any faster.

Another factor is that trains are out in the open, and all the automation equipment would have to deal with the randomness of weather (rain, snow, sleet, etc), wear & tear (freeze/thaw cycles, dust & dirt) and vandalism/theft.

That’s why most of the automation mentioned here is in places where the tracks are protected from the environment and have limited access to people (subway tunnels & elevated tracks).

That may change as automation systems become more self-contained: a system using only cameras in the locomotive and wireless contact with the dispatching system will not depend nearly as much on trackside equipment that is subjected to all the above possible damage.

Isn’t the Vancouver Skytrain automated?

Yes it is. I think the BART system in the San Francisco Bay area is also automated
but has a driver on board to take over if something goes wrong.

The remote control systems that slash2k mentioned are not automated. The
engineer can be on the ground and drive the locomotive by remote control.

Some things no one can deal with, that does not mean there are no conditions an operator can deal with that an automatic system would have to be cost prohibitively complex to handle. Installing a system able to proceed with a slow speed and visual confirmation of track conditions in case of a signals failure would be one example. Many places have signalling systems that fail often enough for this to be an issue, but not so often it’s cost efficient to replace it all or equip the trains to drive automatically on visual.