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Train drivers should be replaced by robots

  1. Dec 11, 2009 #1
    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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  3. Dec 11, 2009 #2

    Integral

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    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.
     
  4. Dec 11, 2009 #3
    what about the probable accident ..can robot react on that situations?
     
  5. Dec 11, 2009 #4

    mgb_phys

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    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.
     
  6. Dec 11, 2009 #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.
     
  7. Dec 11, 2009 #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...
     
  8. Dec 11, 2009 #7

    DaveC426913

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    What constitutes an "emergency" to a robot? They are incapable of making judgements.
     
  9. Dec 11, 2009 #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?
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2009
  10. Dec 11, 2009 #9
    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.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2009
  11. Dec 11, 2009 #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.
     
  12. Dec 11, 2009 #11

    mgb_phys

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    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.
     
  13. Dec 11, 2009 #12

    DaveC426913

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    You mean the off-the-shelf Type IV 'Damaged Track' Sensors available at the 'Everything Trains' Store?

    i.e. what sensors?


    So, we're back to humans, but now the humans are remote, seeing only through cameras.

    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.
     
  14. Dec 11, 2009 #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.
     
  15. Dec 11, 2009 #14

    mgb_phys

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    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.
     
  16. Dec 11, 2009 #15

    mgb_phys

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    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.
     
  17. Dec 11, 2009 #16

    DaveC426913

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    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.
     
  18. Dec 11, 2009 #17

    mgb_phys

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    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.
     
  19. Dec 11, 2009 #18
    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 thats 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.
     
  20. Dec 11, 2009 #19
    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?'
     
  21. Dec 11, 2009 #20

    DaveC426913

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    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.
     
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