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China’s Trackless Trains

After two years of testing, a new futuristic train that runs on virtual tracks was launched for the first time in Yibin, in the province of Sichuan, China. Instead of steel tracks, these tram-bus-hybrid run over tracks painted on the asphalt in white.

China’s Trackless Trains

Similar to self-driving cars developed around the world, the new “Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit” is guided by GPS and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technologies into moving very precisely along the virtual tracks. In the case of obstructions, such as accidents or traffic jams, the trams can temporarily leave their designated tracks to go around the obstacles. But this can only be initiated by the driver.

The ART runs on rubber wheels but has the speed (70kph), capacity and ride quality of light rails. The standard ART system is three carriages that can carry 300 people, but it can take five carriages and 500 people if needed. The train is powered by lithium–titanate batteries and can travel a distance of 40 km per full charge. The batteries can be recharged via current collectors at stations. The recharging time for a 3 to 5 km trip is only 30 seconds, and for a 25 km trip, it is about 10 minutes.

The main advantage of trackless rails is the absence of tracks which leads to much lower cost of construction and maintenance. A single kilometer of traditional tramway cost about $30 million to build, but with the high-tech virtual line, the cost is reduced to less than half.

The virtual railway in Yibin, which runs for 17 km through the middle of the city, was built at an estimated $160 million and is expected to carry up to 10,000 passengers every day, rising to 25,000 after it is connected to the nearby high-speed rail network.

China’s Trackless Trains 

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