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German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and industrial group Siemens on Monday unveiled the world's first automated, driverless train in the city of Hamburg, billing it as more punctual and energy efficient than traditional trains.

Four such trains will join the northern city's S-Bahn rapid urban rail network and start carrying passengers from December, using the existing rail infrastructure.

The train is controlled by digital technology and is fully automated. The driver remains on the train to supervise the journey with passengers on board. Shunting, such as turning the train around, is done without on-board personnel. The project partners DB, Siemens Mobility, and the City of Hamburg have invested a total of €60 million in the digital S-Bahn Hamburg, which is part of DB’s Digital Rail Germany project.

Automated train in Germany
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Automated train in Germany

The project, which Siemens and Deutsche Bahn called a "world first", is part of a 60 million euro ($70 million) modernisation of Hamburg's rapid urban rail system.

Deutsche Bahn CEO Richard Lutz said automated trains offer "a more reliable" service "without having to lay a single kilometre of new track".

Dr. Richard Lutz, CEO of DB: “Today we’re experiencing the true turn of an era: The railroad has arrived in the digital future and Digital Rail Germany has become a reality. With automated rail operations, we can offer our passengers a significantly expanded, more reliable and therefore improved service – without having to lay a single kilometer of new track. It is our goal to make rail transport attractive to ever-larger numbers of people, which is the only way we can achieve the mobility transition."

The four digital S-Bahn trains in Hamburg will provide regular scheduled passenger service beginning in December. Plans to digitalize Hamburg’s S-Bahn entire system by the end of the decade are already under way, and investments in trains and infrastructure are being made. The technology is projected to be used nationwide for regional and mainline rail systems.

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