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India’s first driverless metro train i

  Jan 07, 2021

India’s first driverless metro train in Delhi

Q. What is the news? 

  • India’s urban mass rapid transit will mark a milestone on December 28 when Prime Minister is scheduled to flag off the country’s first ‘driverless’ metro in Delhi.
  • The first ‘driverless’ train will roll out on the 38-km Line 8 or Magenta Line of the Delhi Metro, which has a 390-km-long network spread across the national capital and adjoining cities such as Noida, Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Bahadurgarh.
  • Delhi Metro, now the country’s largest urban mass rapid transit system, had commenced operations on December 24, 2002 on a 8.4-km stretch.
  • Since then, its network has been growing, with another 61-km set to be added under the Phase IV expansion project.
  • Since 2002, Delhi Metro has also made several technological leaps in terms of operating trains, and the transition to ‘driverless’ mode is the latest in the series of changes over the last 18 years. The Centre has also notified changes in the Metro Railways General Rules, 2020 as the previous norms did not allow driverless services.

Q. Will all Delhi Metro trains operate without drivers from December 28?

  • No, the driverless train operation (DTO) or unattended train operation (UTO) modes can be implemented only on Line 7 and Line 8 of the DMRC network which came up under the Phase III expansion. These corridors are equipped with an advanced signalling technology which makes the transition possible. For now, DMRC is rolling out the UTO mode on Line 8 only.
  •  The first ‘driverless’ train rolled out on the 38-km Line 8 or Magenta Line of the Delhi Metro.

Q. How much control do drivers have over train operations now?

  • Even now, trains are mostly remotely controlled from the command rooms of the DMRC known as Operations Control Centre (OCC), from where teams of engineers track and monitor in real time train movement across the DMRC network. The OCCs are akin to air traffic control towers equipped with large display walls and communication technology. 
  • DMRC has three OCCs, including two inside the metro headquarters and one at Shastri Park. But the level of control that the drivers or train operators have over trains vary from line to line.

Q. Drivers have more control on train operations on the older corridors?

  • That’s correct. For example, on Line 1 or the Red Line and Line 3/4 or the Blue Line drivers are in complete control of trains, starting from speed, opening and closing of doors. 
  • The target speed is, however, decided by the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, which means drivers cannot run trains above a certain limit. The remaining corridors, including Line 8 for now, are covered by the Automatic Train Operation (ATO) mode. 
  • Under this mode, drivers only press the departure command after closing doors at every platform. But the ATO mode is occasionally switched off even on these lines and drivers are made to run trains manually so that they remain prepared to intervene in case of emergencies.

Q. Does that mean technically metro will continue to have drivers on board?

  • Yes, for now. Until DMRC switches to the UTO mode, it will have roving attendants, who will be trained metro operators, on board to intervene in case of emergencies or other types of failures. 
  • That will change once metro finishes equipping all the trains with high-resolution cameras to detect rail defects. After that, metro will also gradually remove the cabins meant for drivers and cover all the control panels. 
  • Currently, drivers operate out of cabins, located at the front and back of every train, which block out the view of the tracks from the front and end coaches. Defects on tracks cannot be captured with the placement and resolution of the cameras currently installed. The bandwidth capacity to relay footage in real time to the command centres will also have to be augmented.

Q. But how safe will be trains running on UTO mode?

  • DMRC points out its train operations already involve a considerable degree of automation. And the high-resolution cameras, once installed, will obviate the need for manual monitoring of tracks from the drivers’ cabins.
  • Under the plan, images of tracks and overhead wires, from which trains draw power, transmitted to the OCCs shall be continuously analysed and corrective action taken immediately in the event of any abnormality.
  • The Commissioner of Railway Safety (CMRS), which gave its nod to DMRC for DTO/UTO operations on December 18, has also directed the metro to ensure that the on-board cameras are kept free of moisture to ensure clear visibility at the command centre. DMRC has also engaged a consultant (consortium of Systra MVA and Systra France) for inspection and review of systems for implementation of UTO operation. The report shall be submitted to the CMRS by the DMRC at the time of implementation of UTO mode.

Q. What are the various grades of train automation? 

  • Driver-controlled mode: the train is driven without any assistance systems. The driver drives the train based on sight, while stationary light signals control railway operations. This is the prevalent system in train commuting in major cities all over the world.
  • Partly automated mode: the driver still has control over driving and braking the train manually. However, a train protection system continuously monitors its speed. Additionally, statistical information on current movement orders of other trains in the network is continually displayed in the driver’s cabin, for assistance.
  • Semi-automated mode:  the sole job of the driver is to start the engines.  The automatic driving system takes over after that. It has full control over the movement of the train between two stations, including the precise stopping of the train at the platforms and the opening and closing of doors.
  • Driverless mode: The automatic driving system has complete control of the departure, movement between stations, automatic and precision stopping of the train, and the opening and closing of doors. If necessary, the doors can be automatically opened again, according to the system’s analysis of the situation. In the case of high passenger volume, additional trains are automatically sent into operation at the touch of a button. However, an attendant is still present onboard to intervene in emergencies or unusual situations, such as a system failure.
  • Unattended driverless mode: All train operations are entirely controlled and monitored automatically, just like in driverless mode, except that there is neither a driver nor a train attendant onboard. Coupling and uncoupling of trains, stabilizing of bogeys, extended remote control and remote repair options are some additional controls, along with all the controls present in a driverless mode.

Q. What is the technology / Mechanism behind driverless trains? 

  • The technology employed in driverless trains is called Communication Based Train Control (CBTC). This technology involves communication between the train and equipment on the track for the management of all rail traffic. This method is more accurate in identifying train positions, bogey alignments, and rail stability than traditional signalling systems. This ensures greater efficiency and safety of both the equipment and the passengers.
  • Conventional metro rails require signalling and the intervention of a train pilot, whereas the function of CBTC-enabled trains is solely based on human-fed data and its own understanding. In most CBTC rail networks, data transfer between trains and trackside equipment is carried out using wireless communication networks, such as the global system for mobile communications-railway (GSM-R) and wireless local area networks (WLAN).
  • Driverless trains are energy efficient and economical due to optimized acceleration, traction, smooth braking and controlled power intake. Based on line data generated by the control centres, the automated system calculates precisely where and how the train should be accelerated or braked in order to time the arrival and departures with maximum accuracy. Former train pilots can be employed as train attendants to service passengers, and can also act immediately during emergencies.