PTC Seen as Springboard into Autonomous Trains

Think of autonomous railroad operation and what come to your mind is a train without a conductor or engineer operated instead by a computer.

That’s not quite, though, what one railroad CEO has in mind when he talks about automated trains.

Speaking to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers meeting in suburban Chicago this week, Kansas City Southern CEO Patrick Ottensmeyer said autonomous operation does not mean driverless trains.

Rather he views it as using “technology to dramatically improve and increase capacity.”

Ottensmeyer didn’t say what technology KCS is pursuing to create that capacity, but indicated that positive train control is part of it.

“Positive train control has provided a good springboard,” he said. “We all probably would have done it differently if it had been left up to us, but it is a good springboard to moving further down that path toward an autonomous rail network.”

Increased use of autonomous technology, he said, would improve consistency and reliability of service, while also increasing capacity.

“The old-fashioned way of spending billions of dollars on track and ties and ballast is not the right path,” Ottensmeyer said.

Ottensmeyer said KCS remains focused on meeting the PTC mandate for interoperability, which “is not going to be a layup by any stretch of the imagination.”

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