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June 20, 2017

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Experts highlight safety benefits of a driverless Metro

WITH tests of China’s first domestically developed driverless Metro system under way, engineers and automation experts are keen to allay concerns about the new technology.

The system, to be put into operation on Beijing’s Yanfang line by the end of the year, will avoid accidents caused by misjudgment or operational errors by controllers, they said.

Metro trains will be operated according to set programs and occasionally receive commands from a unified control center, said Wang Daomin, a project manager with Beijing MTR Construction Administration Corp, one of the train’s developers.

“The train has no conventional driver’s compartment,” Wang said. “A duty officer will be on board during the initial phases, but that role will be removed later on.”

In one demonstration, reporters watched a train start, depart from a station and arrive at another, passengers disembarking and boarding. The whole process ran smoothly without a controller.

Engineers said the train can travel at speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour and will carry up to 1,262 passengers.

“The system will remove the safety risks caused by human error,” said Tang Tao, director of the State Key Lab of Rail Traffic Control and Safety at Beijing Jiaotong University.

Tang said the automated system can monitor real-time track situations and intervene to prevent crashes.

“While some people may not feel comfortable with the driverless system, it is actually safer as it operates more precisely,” he said.

Human error has been blamed for a number of subway accidents in recent years, including a 2011 rear-end collision in Shanghai that injured nearly 300 passengers. In that case, train operators were found to have failed to follow proper procedures during manual operation.

Sun Qingbin, a lead engineer involved in the test runs, said a number of safety measures are in place to deal with emergencies.

Beijing Jiaotong University and six rail-tech companies are behind the system’s development.

“We began the research a long time ago, but this will be the first time we use the technology in China,” said Gao Chunhai, chairman of Traffic Control Technology Co, one of the participating firms.

The automated system costs 2 percent more than the conventional manual driver system, but will save energy by around 15 percent once it is operational, said Ding Shukui, general manager of Beijing MTR Construction Administration Corp.


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