India’s first driverless metro

India’s urban mass rapid transit marked a milestone on 28 December 2020 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the country’s first ‘driverless’ metro in Delhi.

The first ‘driverless’ train roll out on the 38-km-long 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 24 December 2002 on a 8.4-km stretch between Shahdara and Tis Hazari stations. 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.

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.

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 varies from line to line.

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

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

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.

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.

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