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UK’s first self-drive mainline train carries passengers

The technology allows trains to run at a higher frequency.

Passengers have ridden the UK’s first self-drive mainline train.

The Thameslink service used an automated system to accelerate and brake as it travelled north to south through central London.

The technology allows trains to run at a higher frequency than in manual operation by optimising their speed.

Under automatic train operation, a driver remains in the cab to carry out safety checks and close the doors at stations.

Monday’s 9.46am train from Peterborough to Horsham was a demonstration of the technology being put into use as part of the £7 billion Thameslink Programme to transform journeys on what was one of the country’s most congested sections of railway.

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Automatic train operation is initiated by pressing a button (GTR/PA)

The number of services between London St Pancras and London Blackfriars will gradually increase to 24 trains per hour in each direction by December next year.

This means there will be a train every two to three minutes, which is a frequency never previously achieved on Britain’s railways.

Gerry McFadden, engineering director at Thameslink’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London, a historical bottleneck that has held back rail expansion across the south of the country.

We’ll always need a driver in the cab Govia Thameslink Railway's engineering director

“Self-drive technology also has great potential for the rest of the country’s rail network, particularly on congested routes, and could in future reduce the need for costly infrastructure projects.”

“We’ll always need a driver in the cab but this technology allows us to run more trains, more frequently than we could by driving the trains manually. For passengers, the trip will be as smooth as ever.”

The technology was developed by Siemens and operates on Network Rail’s digital signalling system, which enables trains to travel closer together.

Its use on the Class 700 Thameslink trains will help create capacity for up to 60,000 more passengers at peak times.

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