Although we're still years away from the 2022 Winter Games, China has already begun testing a driverless high-speed rail system that will be put in place around the Beijing region in time for the Olympics.
China Railroad corporation conducted the automated test using a high-speed train leaving Shenyang, Liaoning bound for Heishan, Hebei on the Beijing-Shenyang railway line last Thursday.
Similar to trials currently being conducted on self-driving cars, a human driver is required to monitor the automated train in case of emergencies.
Train driver Zhang Kai likened himself to the train's "backup," telling China Daily that the automated system has freed up his hands so that he only has to look over the train's operation.
Described as "China's first smart railroad," the railway linking Beijing and Zhangjiakou – the twin host cities of the 2022 Olympic Games – will feature the new technology as well as a staff of service robots designed to carry luggage for passengers.
As seen in a CCTV livestream video, the automated test was performed on one of the 16 new models of the "Revival" high-speed train series, each measuring 414-meters-long and scheduled to begin servicing the public on Jul 1.
Experts say the new technology will improve safety on China's vast high-speed railway network.
"As the train speed will be raised to 350 kilometers per hour or even faster in the future, it requires a higher standard for safety control," said Institute of Railway and Urban Rail Transit of Tongji University professor Sun Zhang. "Man is not as reliable as machine in train operation, since man can be distracted by his emotions, health conditions, and other unexpected situations, which may pose a great danger to travelers' safety."
The driverless trains are reported to begin welcoming public passengers as early as next year with more tests to be performed up until September.
China's first automated subway began operation in Beijing on the last day of 2017. The 14.4-kilometer-long Yanfang Line services nine stations in Beijing's southwestern area.
Meanwhile, other forms of automated public transportation have been appearing throughout China. Shanghaibegan testing its own driverless subway back in March while a new Chinese 30-meter-long automated hybrid bus/tram/train designed to drive itself on city roads made its debut last year.