The Cheat Sheet

India’s first driverless metro takes off

Mamuni Das | Updated on December 30, 2020

Delhi Metro recently started running without a driver on the 37-km stretch ‘Magenta’ line. With this leap of faith, Delhi Metro joined the select few countries globally to have started operations for a driverless metro. Soon, it will start the driverless trains on another stretch — the ‘Pink’ line — as well.

What is a driverless metro?

A metro train’s controls are basically remotely managed by engineers from the operations control centre. These are fully automated driverless train operations.

Dependency on crew availability will drop. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) says that the driverless train operations will be more flexible and number of trains in service can be regulated based on demand dynamically, without any dependence on availability of crew. Since these trains operate on communication-based train control (signalling) system, they can be run with a gap of 90 seconds to offer more carrying capacity, says the DMRC.

No drivers? Isn’t that scary?

The DMRC said that initially, an operator will be present in the train for passenger comfort and to attend to worries, if any.

In fact, confidence-building is required at not just the passenger end, but at the operators’ end as well. However, time was taken to build confidence in the system.

For instance, Delhi Metro had already driverless- metro enabled the stretch that was inaugurated three years ago.

The same train-set, during trials in December 2017, had rammed into a wall — an incident that was reportedly due to human error.

Now, the regulatory safety approval has come with riders though for extra caution.

Is India the only country with driverless trains?

No, over 16 countries including Singapore have driverless train technologies. But they run trains with an operator or an attendant primarily to deal with potential passenger worries or to let a “driver” take over the controls if needed.

What is the global experience?

With newer automation technology, several metro operations have diminished the driver’s role. As trains become more and more automated, the “nomenclature” for drivers of trains has changed to operator and assistant. But several countries still retain a human touch representing the metro operator.

A research study by CoMET, a benchmarking group of community of metros, found that some metros with automated lines use attendants on all trains for other reasons, for example to provide customer service, or to open doors.

Also, some countries — that face strikes due to wage issues — are evaluating introducing driverless metro train to deal with such issues.

What are the benefits?

A study by Judith Michelle Cohen of Imperial College London stated that the results from an analysis of data from 23 lines suggested that unattended train operations (UTOs) could reduce staff numbers by 30-70 per cent through wage cost reduction, depending on whether staff on UTO lines were paid more.

On the basis of the experience of seven metros, the capital costs of lines capable of UTO were higher, but the internal rate of return had been estimated by two metros at 10-15 per cent.

Also, automated lines were capable of operating at the highest service frequencies of up to 42 trains per hour, and the limited available data suggested that automated lines were more reliable, as per the 2015 study.

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Published on December 30, 2020

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