If a computer can be programmed to make an airliner take off, fly thousands of miles and land itself, making a train go from point A to point B is a doddle in comparison.
It not a matter of "if", it's a matter of "when" and the "when" is only restricted by money, not technology.
Sure, autopilot is about a hundred years old, automatic landings on jet airliners have been around since the mid 60s, and the rest of the automatic flight technology has also been around for a long time and what we need is a whole lot of money, but maybe there is something else we need.
Even if a plane flew itself as many of them more or less already do, I don't know how confident I'd be about boarding it with no-one in the cockpit, despite the fact that some sort of pilot error is the major cause of crashes. Yes, we have trains without drivers and drones piloted from the ground, but with a 500 pax aircraft it's not the same.
In today's largely automated flights, there are still at least two people up the front, albeit twiddling their thumbs for much of the time, and probably suffering from automation fatigue that compromises their ability to take over should the need arise.
To be honest, I think the airline industry has more immediate challenges than the full automation of flight. The very survival of the industry in anything like its current form could be on the line depending how the economic and energy situation progresses over the next few decades. The US airline industry has been shrinking for about five consecutive years. Linking this to rail, I think similar problems could arise there too, although Rio Tinto will probably already have Autohaul up and running by then.
Yep and then an air hose blows or something in Mr Diesel needs resetting or we have a break away or a hot box/dragging gear detector goes off etc etc etc . If it was that plane it'd be a pile of smoking wreckage and d'ya think the announcement "White Nuckle Airlines apologises for any inconvenience" is gonna cut it ? I want to see the fella a couple of thousand Km away winding on 240 virtual hand brakes .
This is the problem... sometimes, seriously bad smeg happens, and the chances of coming out of it alive, or without huge delays/runaway/crash might, just might be better if there is someone up the front, even if that person spends most of his time doing nothing. Sooner or later some automated flying machine is going to be involved in a big disaster because it encounters a set of variables it was not programmed to handle. Even if it is just something minor like a fuel leak, broken air hose etc... What is an ATO computer going to do then? "Minor" things like that can cause problems for aircraft that computers might have trouble solving, possibly even to the point of a crash occurring.
First they sent factories to China and replaced clerks with computers, now they'll replace the rest of the workforce with computers too. Who exactly is going to be earning the money to consume all the wonderful goods we're expected to surround ourselves with? The services sector ain't gonna just keep expanding to accommodate every displaced worker.