Germany's Bosch engineering company is part of the consortia developing driverless freight and passenger trains over the next five years. The project is part of the modernizing drive for the French state railway.
French state railway concern SNCF announced the project for mainline, long-distance trains which is to be financed by the SNCF, the French state and commercial partners. French cities, including Paris, already have driverless metro trains.
The €57 million ($66 million) first phase of the development is divided into two consortia:
SNCF said it is in discussions with Deutsche Bahn to promote a European standard for driverless trains.
Director of the autonomous train project Luc Laroche said: "These human and technological issues are considerable ones. We are mobilizing the collective intelligence, competence and savoir-faire of our partners from the varied world of industry."
"These partners constitute a world first for ambition, approach and combined skills," Laroche said.
President of Bosch France, Heiko Carrie said "As a provider of leading mobility solutions, the Bosch Group is pleased to be part of this consortium and to be able to contribute, thanks to its technology, to this important new step towards autonomous trains."
Major changes for SNCF
In its statement, the SNCF said the benefits of autonomized trains for passengers and for freight clients would be greater capacity, better circulation of trains and improved timekeeping. It also said the trains would use less energy and therefore have ecological benefits.
"The digital transformation of the network and signal system will make it possible for more and better trains to circulate," SNCF Network President Patrick Jeantet said. "It is essential to develop autonomous trains. It will make us a champion of digital industry."
SNCF has 17,000 trains and transports 4 million passengers every day. It is currently running an annual deficit of €3 billion and attempts to change working practices have been met with a series of strikes by many of its 146,800 employees.
Earlier this year, Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said: "For 30 years we have shied away from making the necessary transformation of SNCF and for 30 years we've seen the service deteriorate... We can't go on like this. We're going into the wall." The current annual government subsidy to SNCF is €14 billion.
The plan is to roll out the first semi-autonomous trains by 2020 and completely-autonomous trains by 2023.