UK rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has introduced first self-driving train to a busy London commuter route.

The Thameslink train ran under automatic train operation (ATO) between St Pancras International and London Blackfriars while travelling from Peterborough to Horsham.

The introduction of autonomous trains is expected to increase train frequency on the route to one every two or three minutes.

GTR Engineering Director Gerry McFadden said: “Govia Thameslink Railway is blazing a trail with self-drive trains, which can run at higher frequency than manual operations.

“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.

“We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London.”

“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.”

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By GlobalData

A driver will continue to remain in the cabs of these Class 700 Thameslink trains to ensure safe operations, check platforms at stations, and close the train doors at appropriate times.

The train driver can activate ATO by pressing a button, at which point the system will take over to accelerate and brake automatically before halting in the next station.

ATO functions using the new ‘European Train Control System’, a signalling system, and uses optimum acceleration and brake rates to enable the operator to run up to 24 trains every hour.

Automatic train operation is expected to be expanded to 12 routes serving more than 80 stations. It will help to increase the capacity of the network by 60,000 passengers by December 2019.

The project has been delivered under the government-funded £7bn Thameslink Programme, which includes renovating stations, building rail infrastructure and providing new trains.