Driverless trains may be the future of freight

Driverless trains could play a big role in the future of freight, and help solve both the supply chain and sustainability crisis in the process.


October 13, 2021

Source: Sergey Kucherov / Getty Images

Trains are already an underrated player in the US freight game. Some fun facts:

  • They account for ⅓ of the freight cargo in the US (almost as much as trucks)
  • They are 4-5x more efficient in energy used per mile than trucks

Researchers believe autonomous trains could help combat those pesky supply chain issues we’re having and the climate crisis, per The Wall Street Journal.

One reason they’re bullish? The technology already exists

Autonomous trains power many city metro systems, and the 1st autonomous freight train was launched in Australia in 2019.

Researchers cite a range of benefits compared to human-driven trains:

  • Improved safety
  • Increased freight capacity
  • More efficient use of the rail system

But going fully autonomous isn’t just the flip of a switch. The biggest challenge is whether they can coexist on rail networks with human-driven trains.

And like any new digital technology, cybersecurity is a risk

With trains weighing 4k-20k tons and sometimes carrying hazardous materials, a hack could have dire consequences.

But if engineers can figure it out, model train enthusiasts may be able to take their chops from the basement to the real world.

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