Automated Metros Observatory

Unattended Train Operation has many benefits and many beneficiaries: customers, operators, funding authorities and staff.

Vancouver’s Skytrain, a pioneer in automation

The implementation of UTO systems allow operators to optimise the running time of trains, increasing the average speed of the system, shortening headways up to 75 seconds, and reducing dwell time in stations (in optimal conditions) to 15 seconds.

Greater flexibility in operation
By taking the human factor out of the driving equation, operators gain flexibility and can make better use of assets. UTO systems offer a more tailored service coverage, reducing overcapacity supply at off-peak hours and enabling operators to inject trains in response to sudden surges in demand, for example in the case of big events.

Platform screen doors in Singapore

Impressive safety records
UTO systems also offer safer operations by reducing the human-risk factor; well designed UTO systems have proven to be more reliable than conventional metros and hold an impressive safety record. Platform and track incidents aside, there has been only one operational incident in Osaka, at the end of the 80s, when a train did not stop at terminus and hit a bumper stop, provoking injuries in a few dozen passengers..

Increase in quality of service
Overall, passengers perceive an increased quality of service, thanks to the enhanced reliability of trains and shorter waiting times in platforms. The re-deployment of staff in stations also increases passenger’s level of subjective safety and security.

Financial feasibility
For new lines, automation costs have a relatively low comparative weight within the overall budget. Main cost factors are mainly connected to the rolling stock, the signalling and control systems and platform and track protection systems:

  • Rolling stock – An increase in commercial and average commercial speeds, reduced headways and the optimal distribution of reserve train sets along the lines translate in gains in the fleet. Thanks to higher reliability, it is possible to achieve more capacity with the same (or even reduced) fleet size; the technical reserve (spare vehicles) can also be downsized.
  • Signalling and control systems – Full UTO represents a higher cost than traditional ATP systems. However, the current trend is to install CBTC systems on new lines – even with drivers (GoA2). The signalling technology being basically the same, the cost difference is marginal in the case of a new line.
  • Platform & track protection systems – The need to replace the role of the driver in preventing platform and track incidents represents the highest civil engineering cost increase.

Metro also becomes affordable for smaller cities: when trains run more frequently, the system does not need to be “oversized” to cope with peak demand. Accordingly, civil structure works can be of smaller scale.

… even in the case of conversion

RATP’s converted Line 1 © Gérard Rollando

Line conversion poses a more complicated business case. It is necessary to factor in extra costs due to the technical difficulties connected to the modification of the existing signalling and control systems and the need to replace or retrofit existing rolling stock, as well as the increased cost and complexity of installing platform and track protection systems in older stations. To minimise its impact, conversion projects should be timed to the end of the life cycle of the existing equipments. For conventional lines that upgrade to UTO in parallel with the renewal of rolling stock or signalling equipment, it is estimated that the return on investment period is around 10 years. (The automatism costs being offset by gains in rolling stock fleet, this figure refers to the extra cost of retrofitting PSD into existing stations).

Operational cost factors: staff & energy gains
When factoring in operational costs, automated lines come clearly ahead of conventional lines; some studies indicate a halving in operational costs. Staff costs are greatly reduced thanks to the abolition of the drivers’ function, even in cases of line conversion, when staff is likely to be retrained and deployed to other functions. Acceleration and deceleration patterns can be adjusted to reduce energy consumption and maximise energy recovery, thus significantly reducing energy costs. While maintenance costs are marginally increased due to the introduction of platform and track protection systems, the overall balance is positive thanks to the gains in personnel and energy costs.

Holistic efficiency and organisation opportunities
Implementing UTO (as a new system or retrofit of an older line) is a major milestone in the life of the operating company. The introduction of a more sophisticated computerised system and Operation Control Centre (OCC) should be an opportunity to review most operation processes and assess how they can be improved and “plugged in” to the system in order to extract maximum benefit from the data process capabilities installed, and also yield better performance at optimised costs. The main operation areas likely to be affected are: operation resource planning, staff training, rolling stock management, maintenance management, quality management.

Job profile change
The introduction of UTO requires some significant changes to the qualifications of staff. Routine driving work disappears and staff is no longer locked inside a cabin, but deployed along the line and in contact with customers. Front-line staff needs a customer-oriented profile and some technical knowledge to be able to reset defective equipments (e.g. escalators) or drive in case of failure. OCC staff requires demanding qualifications and skills to be able to perform emergency operation without the support of on-board staff.

Staff on Barcelona’s L9/10

In general terms, staff in a UTO line acquires a deeper knowledge of all the key systems, as well as a global overview on the functional interactions among them, allowing for professional growth. In automated lines, operational staff tasks also evolve towards maintenance. Two fields of activity totally separated in a traditional line merge, having a positive impact in the staff (who has a more diverse profile) and the line.

As a consequence, UTO raises the attractiveness of the job profiles, and of the operator company as an employer, contributing to staff motivation. In those systems where it is possible to compare with conventional lines, the indicators show that UTO line staff are more satisfied with their job and translate into reduced levels of absenteeism.