A driver less train was tested for the first time on the 25 km Erzgebirgische Aussichtsbahn line between Annaberg-Buchholz and Schwarzenberg in Sachsen. The train was controlled remotely by a driver sitting in a cabin in front of two screens which relayed the images from the train using cameras over a 5G network. The delay between the images taken by the camera and those seen by the remote driver was just 10 millisecond.

The control and safety systems for the test were developed by Thales and installed onboard railcar ‘Lucy’, this included the installation of the test environment and sensors, along with a remote control system for the train in cooperation with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and Railergy. The 5G network was provided by Vodafone. The data was exchanged at a rate of 500 mbps for the experiment. Vodafone installed a special 5G station and used cutting edge technology called Network Slicing which involves different virtual networks sharing a physical network structure. This technology ensured optimal mobile radio capacity for train control even when multiple users are browsing the network.

Alexander Saul, Managing Director of Vodafone Business in Germany, said, “We are putting 5G on the tracks for the first time, and with our industry partners we are investigating new applications for 5G, if the network is functioning in real time, this means that in future a home office for train drivers could be a reality”.

Dr Yves Joannic, Managing Director of Thales Deutschland, said, “This next generation of mobile radio technology will form the basis for the digital transformation of B2B and will become the backbone in the widest sense of industrial operations, from which the railway sector in particular will benefit”.

Vodafone believes that this technology can be used for controlling freight trains in the future. The experiment was organised by the Smart Rail Connectivity-Campus. It is a consortium of companies and organisations led by the city of Annaberg-Buchholz and the Technical University of Chemnitz. Funding for the project has been provided by the German federal government’s ‘Change through Innovation’ WIR! regional development programme. Vodafone believes that this technology can be used for controlling freight trains in the future.