Train drivers should be replaced by robots

  • Thread starter Pagan Harpoon
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In summary, a conversation about the role of train drivers and the possibility of replacing them with computer systems was had. The general consensus was that while robots may be able to handle the basic functions of driving a train, they would not be able to handle unforeseen emergencies or make quick decisions in critical situations. It was also noted that accidents caused by human error could be avoided with better technology and signaling systems. Overall, the suggestion of completely replacing train drivers with robots was met with skepticism due to the unpredictable nature of emergencies and the need for human judgement in such situations.
  • #1
Pagan Harpoon
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I have been thinking recently about what a train driver actually does. It seems to me that he makes the train go and stop at the appropriate (and completely predictable) times. I don't doubt that there is slightly more to it than that, but I still find it very hard to imagine that there is anything there that couldn't be done more efficiently by a computer system. One computer system could drive all of the trains in a whole region, it would know exactly where they all are and I think the whole thing would go very smoothly, trains would be late less often and the railway companies wouldn't have to pay drivers. I can't think of any justification for it other than that train drivers are here, and they would be upset if they were replaced by robots.

So, train drivers - a drain on society?
 
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  • #2
I have worked with industrial robots so am some what familiar with what can go wrong. I think a human brain is irreplaceable when critical decisions need to be made quickly.

Perhaps remote control is possible but even that has issues.
 
  • #3
what about the probable accident ..can robot react on that situations?
 
  • #4
Most of the recent accidents on the UK rail have been from drivers going through red lights (SPADs). Not exactly comparable, but there haven't been any accidents on the automatic Docklands Railway or the Vancouver Sky train in the 20years they have operated.
 
  • #5
In the event of some sort of emergency, I doubt there's much that a train driver can do other than put on the brakes. Do I think that a robot could do that? Yes.
 
  • #6
donot only count the accident done by the human, think how many times human have saved from happening an accident.. it would be better to implicate robot only after inventing artifical intelligence... mathematics and logarithm could not stop sudden accidents...
 
  • #7
Pagan Harpoon said:
In the event of some sort of emergency, I doubt there's much that a train driver can do other than put on the brakes. Do I think that a robot could do that? Yes.
What constitutes an "emergency" to a robot? They are incapable of making judgements.
 
  • #8
I think artificially intelligent computers operating trains sounds a bit dodgy. The reason I think that computer systems that we have now could do this job is precisely because I don't see it as requiring much intelligence, just following a set of procedures and not making mistakes. Again, in the event of an emergency, how much is there to do with a train? It goes along the track, it can be stopped by putting on the brakes. Is there really any room for a train driver to avoid an accident with some smooth maneuver that requires quick thinking of which a robot wouldn't be capable?
 
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  • #9
What constitutes an "emergency" to a robot? They are incapable of making judgements.

Some set of rules in its coding. If the tracks are damaged, as would be detected by sensors and even humans monitoring the situation, that is an emergency; if the train's wheels fall off, that is an emergency; if another train breaks down up ahead, that is an emergency.
 
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  • #10
Robots can do the actual driving, but we still need humans to handle 1,001 unforeseen situations. All sorts of things happen at one time or another. Someone could get his leg stuck in the door. Someone could get robbed. A coyote or a deer could wander onto the tracks. We'd have hard enough time just designing a robot with good enough stereo vision to recognize different possible objects on tracks and qualify the threat level, in all weather conditions (sunshine, rain, snow, thule fog, sandstorm). To handle all the exigencies, we need a powerful AI.
 
  • #11
trust143_raj said:
think how many times human have saved from happening an accident..
That of course is harder to measure.
At the speeds an intercity/TGV train travels at you can't stop in the visible range of the driver. Radar has been looked at but it's only good on straight stretches if there is an accident around the corner and you are doing 250kmh there's nothing you can do.

In busy suburban/commuter services the huge number of signals leads to confusion with drivers going through a green signal that was meant for an adjacent track - lights on poles were a good way to signal to drivers 150years ago but not today - this was the cause of the biggest UK accidents.
Underground/city railways have driver accidents mainly due to fatigue and familiarity. including incidents where drivers simply forgot to stop at the end of the tunnel.
To prevent accidents in these cases you need much better signalling systems that prevent trains proceding if it isn't clear. If you are relying on the signalling system anyway, why have a driver - whose only job is obey the red/green light in the cab?

The most dangerous operations are marshaling/shunting yards jut because of the numbers of workers on the ground crossing tracks. These get a lot safer when the operations are automated just because there are fewer people in harms way.
 
  • #12
Pagan Harpoon said:
Some set of rules in its coding. If the tracks are damaged, as would be detected by sensors
You mean the off-the-shelf Type IV 'Damaged Track' Sensors available at the 'Everything Trains' Store?

i.e. what sensors?


Pagan Harpoon said:
and even humans monitoring the situation,
So, we're back to humans, but now the humans are remote, seeing only through cameras.

Pagan Harpoon said:
if the trains wheels fall off, that is an emergency; if another train breaks down up ahead, that is an emergency.
How does a robot know the wheels have fallen off or a train up ahead is broken down?

The answers may seem easy, but think them through.

Emergencies (at least unforseen emergencies) are by definition outside any rules. The possibilities are unbounded. No set of rules can possibly account for them. And no amount of sensors can detect them all. The only thing that can is the judgement of a human.
 
  • #13
The train would know if there is another train up ahead because that train is controlled by the same computer. The actual design of a system for detecting problems would be a job for engineers, not me. If you say that it can't be done or would be less reliable than humans, or that the cost would be more than the potential benefit, then I can't respond. However, I don't expect that this would be the case, as modern technology is quite impressive.
 
  • #14
DaveC426913 said:
How does a robot know the wheels have fallen off
The German InterCityExpress already does that, following an accident where the wheel did fall off - they now have vibration sensors that stop the train if the vibration is exceeded.
Most goods trains have temperature sensors in the wheel bearings, seized wheel bearings are a big source of fires, they also have IR cameras at places like the entrances to tunnels that check all the wheels as the train goes past.
 
  • #15
The problem with railways, they are amazingly safe, compared to roads. There was a big scandal in the UK a few years ago with a fatal accident due to some shoddy outsourced repair work.
For several months a number of main routes were speed limited to allow for safety checks. The extra traffic on the motorways killed twice as many people.

So spending billions on safety systems for a method of transport that kills a 1-2 people a year doesn't make sense. it would make more sense to make the trains cheaper and LESS safe and encourage more users.
 
  • #16
mgb_phys said:
The German InterCityExpress already does that, following an accident where the wheel did fall off - they now have vibration sensors that stop the train if the vibration is exceeded.
Most goods trains have temperature sensors in the wheel bearings, seized wheel bearings are a big source of fires, they also have IR cameras at places like the entrances to tunnels that check all the wheels as the train goes past.

Yes, and we can put all these sensors on trains to cover the potential emergencies we can think of. Which is what we do.

The driver is there in addition to all the automated safety devices because it is the only link in the chain that can make judgement calls on things we can't think of ahead of time.
 
  • #17
DaveC426913 said:
The driver is there in addition to all the automated safety devices because it is the only link in the chain that can make judgement calls on things we can't think of ahead of time.
I think for trains (unlike aeroplanes) the job is predictable enough that the human error due to the driver outweighs the benefit of having a human driver.

Unless you implement all the automatic safety systems anyway and have them able to override the driver, in which case his job becomes merely to watch the screens and not touch anything.
At that point he would have a better safety role as a conductor in the passenger section checking on passengers.
 
  • #18
Pagan Harpoon said:
Some set of rules in its coding. If the tracks are damaged, as would be detected by sensors and even humans monitoring the situation, that is an emergency; if the train's wheels fall off, that is an emergency; if another train breaks down up ahead, that is an emergency.

How about someone is robbing people on the train? There is a medical emergency on the train? There is a bomb threat on the train? How does a computer deal with human situations occurring on board the train?

We put emergency break buttons for passengers to push? Think that's a very good idea? A phone for passengers to call in an emergency? Probably not a very good idea either.

Having at least one human operator aboard a train is probably a pretty good idea. It would also piss off the union when you try to put all of their members out of a job.
 
  • #19
TheStatutoryApe said:
How about someone is robbing people on the train? There is a medical emergency on the train? There is a bomb threat on the train? How does a computer deal with human situations occurring on board the train?

We put emergency break buttons for passengers to push? Think that's a very good idea? A phone for passengers to call in an emergency? Probably not a very good idea either.

Having at least one human operator aboard a train is probably a pretty good idea. It would also piss off the union when you try to put all of their members out of a job.

All of this is wrong (from where I live)...

in the GTA the train system for passengers is the GO Transit system... the main job of the conductor is sit and look at signals and operate the train accordingly. There is absolutely no reason that a robot could not do this. If we then had set up so that way they all relay information to a main computer area (which they already do... that's why the people who sell you tickets know exactly where trains are etc.) ... this would allow a human operator to force the robots to stop the trains if there was an accident, or to wait to take another route etc. etc. etc. Really there are already people who sit and monitor the train tracks... and analyze accidents etc. etc.

As for the passengers, that's the duty of the customer abassador that's in the middle of the train, they call for doors closing, next stops, and are there for general help... Each car has it's own safety equipment and tools. Each car is equiped with yellow strips which you press in the event of an emergency, in which case the customer abassador runs through the train to that area and each car is equiped with multiple emergency breaks... as well the train has a defibulator (SP?) In all these sitations the conductor really does nothing... if it was something serious the customer service ambassador, instead of radioing ahead to stop would just stop the tell the robot to stop...

Things that a human would be effective for would be say a person is on the tracks... to try and stop before running them down but I don't think that's much of a problem... how many times do you hear stories where the train 'just stopped because of conductor pulling the break?'
 
  • #20
Sorry! said:
...but I don't think that's much of a problem... how many times do you hear stories where the train 'just stopped because of conductor pulling the break?'
Do you seriously think you hear stories of what actually happened? Train operators have an agreement with authorities to not release details. It is well-known here in Toronto, for example, that jumper incidents are kept under wraps.
 
  • #21
DaveC426913 said:
Do you seriously think you hear stories of what actually happened? Train operators have an agreement with authorities to not release details. It is well-known here in Toronto, for example, that jumper incidents are kept under wraps.

Yeah, because they all die... that's why it's kept under wraps. I happen to live right beside clarkson GO and I take the train multiple times a day so I know when something happens... If a train suddenly slams it's breaks and stops short of running over a person it will definitely make news (the person would probably go and tell someone who cares about the train operators?)

As a side note one thing that I find kind of disturbing is how fast the trains start back on schedule after someone dies. A few months ago a person getting off the train from downtown tried to grab on to the white handles on the ends of the cars (I assume they are for train workers to hold on to while the train is in motion in the yard) anyways, the guy fell off the track and got run over by the train. Trains were not put off schedule at all, in fact only the next train even had to change tracks, after that all trains were on correct track and on schedule still... there's plenty of other incidents similar... just find it kind of weird.
 
  • #22
I thought Skytrains are run by robots ..
 
  • #23
Sorry! said:
As for the passengers, that's the duty of the customer abassador that's in the middle of the train, they call for doors closing, next stops, and are there for general help... Each car has it's own safety equipment and tools. Each car is equiped with yellow strips which you press in the event of an emergency, in which case the customer abassador runs through the train to that area and each car is equiped with multiple emergency breaks... as well the train has a defibulator (SP?) In all these sitations the conductor really does nothing... if it was something serious the customer service ambassador, instead of radioing ahead to stop would just stop the tell the robot to stop...

This is pretty much what I am referring to. At least a single person on the train that is responsible for what is going on on the train as opposed to a completely automated vehicle with only passengers aboard. "Operator" was perhaps the wrong word to use.
 
  • #24
TheStatutoryApe said:
This is pretty much what I am referring to. At least a single person on the train that is responsible for what is going on on the train as opposed to a completely automated vehicle with only passengers aboard. "Operator" was perhaps the wrong word to use.

Ah yes, then I definitely agree, obviously we couldn't have completely operated trains... unless of course we get some iRobot technology sometime soon...

Of course even knowing how the trains operate and thinking a robot could easily and safely operate it I would still rather it be a human... puts my mind at ease, and hey, at least of soemthing did go wrong we can point the finger... who would be at fault if a robot caused an accident?
 
  • #25
Sorry! said:
Yeah, because they all die... that's why it's kept under wraps. I happen to live right beside clarkson GO and I take the train multiple times a day so I know when something happens... If a train suddenly slams it's breaks and stops short of running over a person it will definitely make news (the person would probably go and tell someone who cares about the train operators?)

The point is, you have no access to accurate information. You cannot base your idea of what works and doesn't work on what you hear anecdotally.


Sorry! said:
As a side note one thing that I find kind of disturbing is how fast the trains start back on schedule after someone dies. A few months ago a person getting off the train from downtown tried to grab on to the white handles on the ends of the cars (I assume they are for train workers to hold on to while the train is in motion in the yard) anyways, the guy fell off the track and got run over by the train. Trains were not put off schedule at all, in fact only the next train even had to change tracks, after that all trains were on correct track and on schedule still... there's plenty of other incidents similar... just find it kind of weird.
The more the schedule is thrown off, the more reporters show up and the more questions start getting asked. They try very hard to keep this stuff out of the news.
 
  • #26
Sorry! said:
Of course even knowing how the trains operate and thinking a robot could easily and safely operate it I would still rather it be a human... puts my mind at ease, and hey, at least of soemthing did go wrong we can point the finger... who would be at fault if a robot caused an accident?

Human who designed the robot.
 
  • #27
DaveC426913 said:
Do you seriously think you hear stories of what actually happened? Train operators have an agreement with authorities to not release details. It is well-known here in Toronto, for example, that jumper incidents are kept under wraps.

Here in D.C. I have heard that Metro (our subway) is involved in one or two suicides a month.

A depressed high school friend of mine succumbed in this manner. His grandfather had been an train engineer.
 
  • #28
Loren Booda said:
Here in D.C. I have heard that Metro (our subway) is involved in one or two suicides a month.
Same here. Those facts tend to come out long afterward. Here, there was an article on the paper recently - a sort of expose - that showed subway suicide statistics from the last ten years. But the individual incidents are never published. There is an agreement.

Loren Booda said:
A depressed high school friend of mine succumbed in this manner. His grandfather had been an train engineer.
My son was enamored (don't know how enamored) of a young teen who stepped into the path of a subway while with her friends.
 

Related to Train drivers should be replaced by robots

1. What are the advantages of replacing train drivers with robots?

Replacing train drivers with robots can have several advantages. Firstly, it can increase efficiency and reduce travel time as robots can operate trains at a constant speed without making human errors. Secondly, it can reduce labor costs for train companies as they won't have to pay salaries and benefits to human train drivers. Additionally, robots can work for longer periods without rest, which can lead to increased productivity and improved service for passengers.

2. Will replacing train drivers with robots lead to job loss?

There is a possibility that replacing train drivers with robots can lead to job loss. However, it is crucial to consider that the use of robots can create new job opportunities in areas such as programming, maintenance, and supervision of these machines. Moreover, train companies can also retrain existing employees for these new positions.

3. Is it safe to have robots operating trains?

Robots used for operating trains are equipped with advanced technology and sensors, making them safe to use. They can detect obstacles and respond quickly to changes in the environment, reducing the risk of accidents. Additionally, these machines can be regularly maintained and monitored, ensuring their safety and reliability.

4. Will replacing train drivers with robots reduce human error?

Yes, replacing train drivers with robots can significantly reduce human error. Unlike humans, robots do not get tired, distracted, or make mistakes due to emotions. They can follow predetermined routes and schedules accurately, minimizing the chances of accidents and delays caused by human error.

5. How will the presence of robots affect the overall passenger experience?

The presence of robots on trains can lead to a more comfortable and convenient experience for passengers. As robots can operate trains at a constant speed, it can reduce the jerking and sudden braking that passengers may experience with human drivers. Additionally, the increased efficiency and reduced travel time can also improve the overall experience for passengers.

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