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Automatic train operation system intended for conventional lines that contribute to solution of social challenges

There is growing interest in automatic train operation in the railway industry both in Japan and overseas due to social factors such as threats to the maintenance of railway infrastructure due to a declining birthrate and aging population and the acceleration of population decline. Taking advantage of the safety and reliability technology that we have accumulated over many years, we are taking on the challenge of developing a new automatic train operation system that will support the railways of the future.

Social challenges in the future

  • ・ Decrease in labor population engaged in railway service
  • ・ Population decrease in areas along railway lines
  • ・ Maintenance of railway network including many deficit-ridden local lines

Automatic operation based on ATS

Realizing driverless operation that can ensure safety by unqualified staff without large infrastructure investment

We are aiming to ensure safe train operation by staff who do not possess train operator licenses.

Levels of automatic operation systems for trains are defined according to the GoA (Grades of Automation) standards . Nippon Signal is working on the development of an automatic train operation system with the Kyushu Railway Company (hereinafter “JR Kyushu”) with the goal of achieving a GoA level of 2.5. Unlike a new transportation system running on elevated tracks and allowing for easy introduction of complete driverless operation (GoA level 4), an automatic operation system at GoA level 2.5, in which cars can enter crossings and ordinary people can enter tracks, is expected to be introduced for conventional lines.
This automatic train operation system with GoA level 2.5 will serve as a cushion against the shortage of train operators because it will enable trains to be operated by staff without train operator licenses. In addition, since the system based on the existing ATS (Automatic Train Stop) developed by Nippon Signal does not require the installation of ATC (Automatic Train Control), it can be introduced with minimal infrastructure investment.

Utilizing our accumulated knowledge and market share in the ATS field, we will contribute to the automatization of train operation on lines with ATS, which account for approximately 90% of the railway lines in Japan.

The system developed by Nippon Signal realizes automatic train operation by linking the high-performance ATS-DK with an independently-developed automatic operation calculation unit that is capable of performing advanced train control and can carry out information processing comparable to that of ATC.

Development began in 2018, and in October 2019, the safety function of the system was confirmed on the JR Kyushu Kashii Line. In subsequent test runs starting in December 2019, further efforts were made to improve stopping accuracy, travel time accuracy and ride quality, and finally we achieved automatic operation equivalent to that of licensed train operators. In December 2020, we developed an automatic train operation device (high-performance ATO (FS-ATO)) (*2) based on ATS-DK (*1) and started to conduct demonstration operations on JR Kyushu’s commercial lines.

This was the first time that automatic train operation had been introduced on conventional lines (ATS sections with railroad crossings). The advantage of ATS-based automatic operation is that it can realize an automatic operation system without a large initial investment. Promoting the automatization and mechanization of work is expected to solve social challenges such as the decrease in the working population engaged in railway services. We will aim to realize an automatic operation system that can deliver safe and stable transportation by leveraging knowledge of automatic train operation on the ATS sections of the conventional lines accumulated in the demonstration operations.

*1 ATS-DK: JR Kyushu’s signal protective system. This system controls trains by means of continuous speed checks.
*2 FS-ATO: High-performance automatic train operation device with reliability and fail-safe performance equivalent to a protective device.


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