Research and development of automatic train operation for railway transportation systems: A survey

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, mode - subway/metro, literature review - literature review, technology - automatic vehicle monitoring, technology - intelligent transport systems, operations - capacity, planning - service quality, planning - service improvement, place - urban


Automatic train operation, Railway systems, Railway traffic control, Review paper, Speed profile optimization, Train speed control


With the rapid development of communication, control and computer technologies in the last several decades, automatic train operation (ATO), for which the driver no longer has to cautiously operate the control handle, is emerging in many urban rail systems to replace traditional manual driving in recent years. As technology advances in railway systems, one theoretically challenging and practically significant problem is how to use the ATO system to make the current railway network more efficient with higher carrying capacity, lower cost and improved quality of service by optimized railway traffic management and train operation. In this review, we focus on this emerging technology of automatic train operation (ATO) for its theoretical development and practical implementations. Specifically, this study first presents the background of ATO technology in railways, which involves the detailed description of its development and implementation in urban metro systems, fundamental features and basic structure of a typical ATO system. Then, we present a comprehensive literature review in this area, in which the current studies are generally classified into three main aspects, i.e., train operation modeling techniques, train trajectory optimization and train speed control methods. Finally, the emerging requirements for current ATO systems and the most promising research directions in this area in the future are discussed explicitly, including (i) the practical implementation of ATO in main line and high-speed railways, (ii) the cooperative train operation methods for energy-saving issues and (iii) the integration of railway traffic control with advanced ATO technology.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


Transportation Research Part C Home Page: