“We really believe in autonomous rail, but we need more partners to make this work,” Mr Geert Pauwels told delegates at Terrapinn's RailLive conference in Bilbao on April 19.

Lineas has already invested in the digitalisation of its assets and operations, and around 2000 wagons are fitted with sensors for real-time monitoring.

However, Pauwels says this is just the beginning, and if a real modal shift to rail is the objective, everything needs to be rethought. Lineas has therefore set its sights on the development of autonomous freight wagons.

“We need a wagon with an engine, battery, cameras, and radar,” Pauwels says. “These are technologies which already exist, we just need to apply them to rail.”

“We have started talking to Bosch Engineering about putting the technology into a freight wagon,” says Mr Rik Vos, Lineas' COO. “The first step is the wagon, which must be as intelligent as a robot in a warehouse, and we need two-way communications. The next step is an intelligent train. We can do the train integrity check because we have all the data.

“Autonomous shunting is proof-of-concept, then we can start platooning wagons, and when they start talking to the infrastructure we can create automatic management.”