Driverless trains thrill passengers

The new Metro line utilizes an "automated people mover," a system of driverless cars that went into operation on March 31, serving Pujiang Town residents only.

Pujiang Town residents now have an easier, faster commute to downtown in a first-of-its-kind mode of Shanghai transport.

The new Metro line utilizes an “automated people mover,” a system of driverless cars that went into operation on March 31.

The 6.7-kilometer Pujiang Line stretches from Huizhen Road Station to the Shendu Highway Station, where passengers can transfer to Metro Line 8. The four-carriage trains can each carry about 726 people on what is a 15-minute trip involving six stations.

The wheels of the train are made of rubber rather than steel to provide smoother travelling and to reduce operational noise.

Passengers who have already taken the line said it feels like riding in an automobile. And because the line is all above ground, they remarked on the nice views from the train carriages.

 Automated people movers are more expensive than conventional Metro rolling stock. The Zhujiang New Town Automated People Mover System in Guangzhou, for example, it is the most expensive system of its kind in the world.

Although the Pujiang Line may turn out to be the least used Metro line in Shanghai, its existence is a boon to local residents who used to have to take buses to the nearest Metro station. The commute hour traffic was so intense that residents said they often had to let three full buses pass before they could get aboard one. Bus service in the suburban area has long been viewed as slow, irregular and unreliable.

Lin Xin, who boarded the line with her 9-year-old son Ziyi, said the new line has eliminated big transport headaches for her family. She cited places like Pujiang Suburban Park, where parking a car made visits difficult.

”Kids love the view from the new trains and the high-tech feeling of traveling without a driver,” she said

Another resident, Zhao Lei, posted a comment online, saying the new service is very welcome. “It’s great to have a Metro line serving us,” Zhao wrote. “It operates above ground so it’s less depressing than dark undergrounds. One has a view. My son will love this.”

The line operates from 5:51am to 22:42 daily. Speakers are installed in every train for passengers to report emergencies to the central operations base that controls the trains.

The Pujiang Line is a joint venture between Shanghai Shentong Metro Group and Keolis, a French transport group.

Francois Dieu, head of the French team, said the most important element of a driverless car is smooth communications.

“Staff must be able to calm passengers if problems occur and to guide them to safety,” Dieu said.

Ideally, only one or two staffers are needed at the stations, but in the first three months of the operation, there will be staff on all platforms and in carriages to deal with any unforeseen circumstances.

The Pujiang Line expands the length of the Shanghai Metro network — largest in the world — to 673 kilometers and 395 stations.

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