Knorr-Bremse has reached a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Thales to develop automatic train operation (ATO) solutions for locomotive-hauled freight and passenger trains.

Both entities will focus on the development of automated features for the digital freight train (DFT) by combining their expertise in the area of automatic train operation (ATO).

ATO is designed to help train drivers plan their daily work and address staff shortages in the rail freight industry.

The rail freight sector is expected to have multiple benefits from deploying ATO, including efficiency and capacity improvements, energy savings, performance improvements, and better punctuality.

Train punctuality is said to depend on smooth and consistent train driving based on factors including track characteristics, topography, and surrounding, as well as train-specific parameters such as load.

New features can deliver intelligent insights to train drivers and devise optimal driving strategies using sensor-based and real-time data.

Thales Germany ground transportation systems managing director and main line signalling vice-president Yves Joannic said: “Full autonomy is still a work in progress, although the necessary technologies are maturing rapidly. ATO is one of them, as a necessary step toward achieving fully autonomous driving.

“Thales has a clear vision for autonomy and is pleased to partner with Knorr-Bremse, a leading company in braking systems and other mission-critical train systems, with the aim of accelerating the development of automated train functions in the freight market.”

Last month, Thales won a contract to provide technology for Spain’s Seville – Malaga – Granada high-speed train line.