In June 2013, VAG Verkehrs-Aktiengesellschaft was able to look back at and evaluate five years of automated metro service (or unattended train operations – UTO).
In Nuremberg two lines are automated – these are line U2 and line U3, which share track in Nuremberg’s downtown area. The automated system was implemented as a hot plug-in, which means: service was never interrupted, the trains were running all the time.
First the line U3 – a line consisting of three sections: two new sections in the south and in the north and a common section shared with the existing line U2 in the middle – was automated. Line U3 was opened in June 2008. Afterwards the U2 line was automated train by train and it has been fully automated since January 2010. In December 2011 two new stations were added to line U3 and the city of Nuremberg is currently in the process of building an even further extension of this line to the North.
Automation of an existing line
Nuremberg was the first city worldwide to convert a conventional metro line to automated service while it was in full duty. It was also the first city worldwide that had a metro system where a conventional line operated by drivers and an automated line share track. Therefore, the project has received a lot of attention, especially from experts. More than 200 groups of international visitors prove the groundbreaking status of the project. If service would not be running smoothly no visitors would be coming anymore.
“We are very pleased with the automated service on our two automated metro lines U2 and U3 which offer our passengers an actual availability of almost 100 percent – exactly, the actual availability is more than 99 percent”, said Andreas May, Project Manager at VAG and member of the UITP Observatory of Automated Metros.
“The system has been running soundly and has fully fulfilled our operative expectations. With more than 99 percent actual availability we have reached the goal we had set. 100 percent of actual availability cannot be reached by any technical method of transportation, not even by bike”, said Mr May.
100-second headway at peak hours
Having the automated system enables VAG to be very flexible in terms of managing the trains and using them in everyday traffic. Depending on time of day and number of passengers, capacity can be increased or decreased by using more or less trains. VAG can even react on short notice if an especially high number of passengers has to be transported unexpectedly. That means: trains can be added to the schedule on short notice and VAG can handle the closing of doors from the control room.
At peak hours VAG offers customers a train every 100 seconds on the shared track in the automated system.
“Our personnel that is not needed anymore as drivers for metro-trains were able to get a qualification in customer service and are now stationed along the two automated lines. They are a real benefit for our customers because they are contact persons and have time for our customers’ questions. That was and is not the case for drivers, whose duty it is to drive trains and keep track of the timetable and who don’t have time to explain things to customers”, said Mr May.
Smooth service despite the challenges
“All the positive aspects of the system come up to our customers’ interests and to our interests in having a stable and economic and comfortable system that helps us to preserve resources”, stated the Project Manager.
“Looking back, the change to the automated system has been running smoothly, even if there were some teething problems in the system in the beginning and we had to postpone the opening for two years. The first timetable was just way too optimistic to be met. One has to keep in mind that it was the first project of its kind worldwide and had been a great innovation for Germany as well – it was new grounds for all participants, for us, for Siemens as manufacturer, for all firms delivering pieces and the authorities, who had to confirm the safety of the automated system”, Mr May concluded.