Autonomous trams on the lines and in the depot

Autonomous trams on the lines and in the depot

A tram with no driver? That recognizes obstacles and handles complex situations correctly? That responds to traffic signals and people and vehicles crossing its path? And not in a closed transportation system like a subway with completely isolated rail lines, but in an open infrastructure involving other road users. Potsdamers were flabbergasted to see self-driving trams on the line network of their local transportation company (ViP) in 2018. At the time, Siemens Mobility was testing the technological challenges of autonomous driving under real operating conditions. It was so successful that the first commercially usable development stage has already begun in the form of AStriD (from the German for “Autonomous Tramway in Depot”).

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Real-life prototype testing for autonomous trams

Riding the autonomous tram

Here it goes: On multiple test runs covering more than 10,000 kilometers, the Combino that Siemens made available to Verkehrsbetrieb Potsdam GmbH has proven that it can safely handle even complex situations.

Life isn‘t programmable. The future of autonomous trams is.

Pedestrians, crossing vehicles, right of way: Trams have to react quickly and correctly to many challenges. The research prototype of a smart and autonomous tram has been successfully tested in real road traffic on what’s grown to be a 13-kilometer section of Potsdam's tramway network. It uses a system developed specifically for trialing autonomous driving and obstacle recognition. A number of cameras on the front and sides of the autonomous trams, for example, can recognize previously acquired objects – people in all kinds of positions in addition to signals and signal status. Information from the cameras is supplemented by data from radar detectors and lidar scanners. 

The lidar scanners capture the environment of the autonomous tram and calculate a three-dimensional representation of it with exact positioning of all objects. All sensor information is combined to create a highly accurate representation of the environment in which all road users are captured with their exact position and movement trajectory. On this basis, complex algorithms interpret and assess the current driving situation, prognosticate the further progression of events, and trigger the necessary reaction by the automated tram.

We’ll show you four typical scenarios to illustrate how the autonomous tram system works in practice.

Learn more about “Teaching trams to drive”

Autonomous tram brochure (PDF)

Automation of depots

Autonomous tram for smooth operations

A next step now involves automating a depot with the autonomous tram. Marshaling and servicing processes, which have previously been time-intensive, are being automated to take the load off employees and ensure a high level of vehicle availability.

Autonomous tram - Ready for the depot of the future?

There are many stations along the way to the smart and autonomous tram. The first logical development is depot automation and the driverless trams. In addition to equipping the vehicles themselves for autonomous driving, it’s essential to install a higher-level depot management system. The system plans upcoming depot processes and controls the linked systems to make it all happen: in other words, operating the vehicles and stationary assets like the washing system and depot doors.

One precondition is that it must know the positions of all the autonomous trams, the actual status of the infrastructure, and the positions of the signals and points. Because all the system elements are digitally networked, they communicate with each other and their location can be precisely identified – which means the depot management system is the foundation for end-to-end depot automation. This increase vehicle availability, make better use of available capacities, and ensure greater transparency.

This is what the automation of depots looks in practice

As a result of the end-to-end depot automation, the vehicle can autonomously drive to the parking area after finishing on the line or pass through the sanding and washing facility, visit the workshop as needed, and then park and shut down by itself. The automated tram starts up again automatically when it’s time to recommence operations.

Research project

AStriD – “Autonomous Tramway in Depot”

October 2019 saw the green light for making a fully automated tram depot a reality as the first step in the autonomous driving process was completed. From the very start, the development process took into account the legal provisions governing approval and operation of an autonomous tramway system. The project is sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in accordance with the Modernity Fund (“mFUND”) funding guideline and is being implemented in collaboration with Verkehrsbetrieb Potsdam GmbH (ViP), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility (IKEM), and Codewerk GmbH.
  • At InnoTrans 2018, Siemens Mobility and ViP introduced a test for an autonomous tram system in real traffic on a section of the Potsdam tram network.
  • The objective of the research project resulting from that trial is to develop a digital depot based on autonomous trams.
  • Its technical feasibility is already being demonstrated in 2021 in the form of autonomous service runs: for example, through a washing facility to a stabling siding.
AStriD is an important milestone on the way to achieving self-driving trams. Working with our partners, we are using valuable synergies to digitalize the depot and reduce time-consuming on-site shunting. By automating the depot, we can better support our customers in ensuring sustainable value growth over the entire lifecycle and guaranteeing the availability of their trams.
Albrecht Neumann, CEO Rolling Stock of Siemens Mobility
News, media, and events

Autonomous tram - Keeping you on track

What’s the progress on autonomous trams and the Siemens research project? Feel free to learn more and talk to our experts. Here are some links to the latest news and events.


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The world's first autonomous tram
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