Explained: India’s first driverless metro in Delhi and why it is significant

India’s Urban Mass Transit will mark a milestone on December 28 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to stop the country’s first “driverless” metro in Delhi.

The first “ driverless ” train will depart on the 38km Line 8 or Magenta Line of the Delhi Metro, which has a 390km network spread across the national capital and adjacent cities such as Noida, Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Bahadurgarh .

The Delhi Metro, now the country’s largest urban mass transit system, began operations on December 24, 2002 on an 8.4km stretch between Shahdara and Tis Hazari stations. Since then, its network has grown, with another 61km to be added as part of the Phase IV expansion project.

Since 2002, Delhi Metro has also made several technological leaps in terms of train operation, and the move to “driverless” mode is the latest in a series of changes over the past 18 years. The Center also notified changes to the Metro General Rules, 2020 as previous regulations did not allow driverless services.

Will all Delhi Metro trains run driverless from December 28th?

No, Driverless Train Operation (DTO) or Unmanned Train Operation (UTO) modes can only be implemented on Line 7 and Line 8 of the DMRC network that has undergone Phase III expansion. These corridors are equipped with advanced signaling technology that makes the transition possible. For now, DMRC is implementing UTO mode only on line 8.

How much control do drivers now have over train operations?

Even now, trains are mostly remotely controlled from the control rooms of the DMRC known as the Operations Control Center (OCC), from where engineering teams track and monitor the movement of trains across the DMRC network in real time. OCCs are similar to air traffic control towers featuring large display walls and communication technology. DMRC has three OCCs, two of which are inside the subway headquarters and one in Shastri Park. But the level of control that train drivers or train operators have over trains varies from line to line.

Do train drivers have more control over train operations on old corridors?

It’s correct. For example, on Line 1 or the Red Line and Line 3/4 or the Blue Line, drivers have complete control of the trains, starting with the speed, opening and closing of the doors. The target speed is, however, decided by the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, which means that drivers cannot drive trains beyond a certain limit. The remaining corridors, including line 8 for now, are covered by the ATO (Automatic Train Operation) mode. In this mode, drivers press the start control only after closing the doors on each platform. But ATO mode is occasionally deactivated on these lines as well, and drivers have to drive trains manually so that they remain ready to intervene in an emergency.

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What will change on the Magenta line from December 28th?

From ATP and ATO, the metro will switch to Driverless Train Operation (DTO) mode. In this mode, the trains can be controlled entirely by the three command centers of the DMRC, without any human intervention. Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) signaling technology also makes it possible to remotely monitor and resolve every aspect of train operations. Manual intervention is required only in case of hardware replacement. In the command centers, posts of information controllers have been created to manage the passenger information system, crowd monitoring. Rolling stock controllers will monitor train equipment in real time, download faults and other events detected by CCTVs, and assist traffic controllers in executing commands remotely. All station controllers will also have access to the onboard CCTV feed. But the system will still be one step away from UTO (Unattended Train Operation) mode, the final stage of driverless services.

Does this mean that technically the metro will continue to have drivers on board?

Yes for now. Until DMRC switches to UTO mode, it will have itinerant assistants on board, who will be trained metro operators, to intervene in case of emergencies or other types of breakdowns. This will change once the subway finishes equipping all trains with high-resolution cameras to detect track defects. Subsequently, metro will also gradually remove the cabs intended for drivers and cover all the control panels. Currently, drivers operate out of the cabs, located at the front and rear of each train, which block the view of the tracks from the front and rear carriages. Track defects cannot be captured with the positioning and resolution of currently installed cameras. The bandwidth capacity for transmitting real-time footage to command centers will also need to be increased.

But how safe will the trains running in UTO mode be?

DMRC points out that its rail operations already involve a significant degree of automation. And the high-resolution cameras, once installed, will avoid the need for manual monitoring of the tracks from the driver’s cabs. Below the floor, images of the tracks and overhead cables, from which the trains draw energy, will be continuously analyzed, transmitted to OCC and corrective actions taken immediately in case of anomalies.

The Rail Safety Commissioner (CMRS), who referred to the DMRC for DTO / UTO operations on Dec 18, also directed the subway to ensure onboard cameras are kept free of moisture to ensure clear visibility in the center command. DMRC has also hired a consultant (consortium of Systra MVA and Systra France) for the inspection and review of the systems for the implementation of the UTO operation. The report must be submitted to the CMRS by the DMRC upon implementation of the UTO mode.