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UK's first-ever self-drive mainline train runs on Thameslink route

Thameslink passengers have this week been given a ride on the first self-drive train journey on the UK mainline network.

The technology will be used in the future along with Network Rail’s new digital signalling system to run a train between London St Pancras and London Blackfriars every 2-3 minutes.

The self-drive technology has been developed by Siemens, and will boost capacity by 60,000 passengers across 80 stations on 12 different routes in 2019.

Automation is at the heart of making the Thameslink north-south connection across London a crucial route for passengers in the capital.

These steps forward have been enabled by the £7bn Thamelink programme, which also includes a brand new fleet of Class 700 trains and a £1bn upgrade of London Bridge station.

A driver will still remain on the train to close the doors and ensure safety at stations, but the digital signalling system and the self-driving trains will allow trains to run together closer together safely and quickly.

Automatic Train OperationATR button in a GTR Thameslink Class 700 train

Achievement a ‘world first’ for technology being used

“Govia Thameslink Railway is blazing a trail with self-drive trains which can run at higher frequency than manual operations,” said GTR engineering director Gerry McFadden. “We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London, an historical bottleneck that has held back rail expansion across the south of the country.

“Self-drive technology also has great potential for the rest of the country’s rail network, particularly on congested routes, and could in future reduce the need for costly infrastructure projects.

“This is a world-first in terms of the technology being used and a UK-first for self-drive trains. It’s a fantastic achievement and a vital part of our RailPlan 20/20 plans to modernise Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express on the busiest part of the UK rail network.”

Overall, 12 different routes will pass through the central section from as far as Peterborough and Cambridge, right through to Brighton and Maidstone.

Martin Chatfield, Network Rail project director for High Capacity Infrastructure, added: “Seeing the first UK mainline train running in ATO for passenger services is a truly momentous day for the Thameslink Programme High Capacity Infrastructure Team, and the wider industry teams that have been involved.

“It not only proves the digital railway technology within the heavy rail environment, but it also demonstrates that an industry approach is the way to solving railway capacity issues in the future.”

Mark Ferrer, operations director Digital Rail for Siemens also said that this milestone was “the culmination of years spent testing in labs, on various test tracks and on the actual Thameslink Core with the new Class 700 Desiro City trains.”


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