Were You On A Self-Driving Train This Morning?

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Were You On A Self-Driving Train This Morning?
A Thameslink Class 700 enters Blackfriars. Image by British Rail Photography under Creative Commons.

Did you catch the 09.46 Thameslink service from Peterborough to Horsham on Monday morning? If so, you were on the UK's first self-driving mainline train.

We've long said that Thameslink provides its passengers a new adventure every day, but this morning offered something a little special. For the first time, a passenger-carrying service switched to auto, on the section between St Pancras and Blackfriars.

During the trial, a computer controlled the train's acceleration and braking. A driver was present at all times to take over, should the unexpected happen.

Comparable systems have operated on bits of the tube for years and, of course, the DLR, but this is the first mainline train in the UK to think for itself.

Self-driving trains are, in theory, more efficient trains. Thameslink aims to roll the tech out to its entire fleet of class 700s by the end of 2019, and thereby increase frequency. Drivers will still be present.

The RMT union is not overjoyed, calling this 'another step towards a faceless railway'. General Secretary Mike Cash said: 'There’s a clear pattern here – close the ticket offices, remove the guards and now automate the functions of the driver. This isn’t about improving reliability and service quality for the public, it’s about maximising the profits of the private rail operator.'

Why can't it be both?

See also: Five things we miss about the old Thameslink trains.

Last Updated 26 March 2018