India's first driverless train on Delhi Metro's Magenta Line in the national capital. | Photo: DMRC
India's first driverless train on Delhi Metro's Magenta Line in the national capital. | Photo: DMRC

New Delhi: The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) Monday entered the elite league of 7 per cent of the world’s metro networks that can operate without drivers, with the launch of the country’s first ‘driverless’ train on the Magenta Line in the national capital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off India’s first driverless metro via video-conferencing. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejirwal and DMRC Managing Director Mangu Singh were among other senior officials who attended the event.

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The train will be fully automated, eliminating the possibility of human error, according to DMRC officials.

The service will be available on Delhi Metro’s 38-km long Magenta Line which connects Janakpuri West in West Delhi to Botanical Garden in Noida.

DMRC has had driverless technology since 2017, but the agency had been conducting rigorous trials before launch. The initial launch was set for May 2020 but it had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Delhi Metro had resumed services on the Yellow Line from 7 September after being closed for over five months amid the pandemic. Its network spans about 390 km with 285 stations across 11 corridors in the national capital region.

Here’s a look at some of the key points about this new initiative.

Making public transport ‘smart’

During the virtual function, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The inauguration of the first driverless metro train shows how fast India is moving towards smart systems.”

He added, “The first metro in the country was started with the efforts of Atal (Bihari Vajpayee) Ji. When our government was formed in 2014, only five cities had metro services and today 18 cities have metro rail service. By 2025, we will take this service to more than 25 cities.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Anuj Dayal, executive director, corporate communications, DMRC, said, “Delhi Metro also has made multiple technological leaps in terms of operating trains, and the transition to ‘driverless’ mode was something we wanted to do as we complete 18 years.”

The Centre has also notified changes in the Metro Railways General Rules, 2020 as the previous norms did not allow driverless services, Dayal added. On 16 December, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs issued a gazette notification adding unattended train operation (UTO) mode to the metro rules.


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How driverless train is different from regular metro

The driverless trains will be fully automated, requiring minimum human intervention and eliminating the possibilities of human errors, an official statement from DMRC said.

Driverless train technology has set standards for automation called grades of automation (GoA). In GoA 1, trains are run by one driver and, in GoA 2 and GoA 3, the role of the driver is reduced to operating doors and for taking over in case of emergencies — the starting and halting of trains is automated. Finally, in the GoA 4, trains are on completely unattended operation mode.

The world’s first fully automated driverless railway opened in Japan’s Kobe in 1981.

Dayal said DMRC was still at the GoA 1 stage and will gradually move to the fourth level.

The driverless metro trains will switch to what is called the 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. At the command centres, information controllers have been created to handle the passenger information system and a system to monitor the crowd.

The Commissioner of Railway Safety (CMRS) has set multiple conditions to be fulfilled by the metro for introducing UTO operations.

According to DMRC officials, the railway tracks cannot be captured with the placement and resolution of the cameras that are currently installed. “The bandwidth capacity to relay footage in real time will have to be enhanced,” said a technical advisor of the DMRC, who has been involved in this project.

“This requirement is prerequisite to implementation of UTO. Presently, we are starting driverless operation. There will be a roving attendant on board. Hence, those cameras are not essential at this stage,” Dayal told ThePrint.

The complete transition to driverless mode will be limited to one train each on Magenta and Pink Lines that have these cameras currently.

A DMRC spokesperson confirmed that no separate budget has been allocated for driverless trains at this point as it was already part of Phase III of metro expansion (Rs 40,000 crore).


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Safety measures

According to the CMRS clearance, the driverless trains will have “roving attendants” initially. These attendants have been trained to intervene and operate trains only in case of emergencies.

“Roving attendants shall be present in the cab till the cab partition is removed and all driver control panels are covered, but will not take any action for normal operation,” added Dayal.

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. The DMRC also plans to remove the partitions and cover the control panels for these trains. This will effectively allow passengers to view the tracks as trains zip through elevated lines and underground tunnels.

DMRC has also been directed to ensure that the on-board cameras are kept free of moisture to ensure clear visibility at the command centre so that the footage can be continuously monitored to ensure safety.

The extension of the driverless technology to the Pink Line will increase the driverless network on the Delhi Metro to around 94 km, according to an official DMRC statement.

“The extension of driverless mode over 57 km of the Pink Line will come into effect by mid-2021,” Dayal said in a statement.


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