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Transit users have been enjoying highly frequent driverless train service for the last 10 years in Dubai and for more than 30 years in Vancouver. That’s still a dream for many of us though!


Metros are the backbone of public transportation systems in cities.  Driverless is clearly the technology of the future and there are many benefits and advantages of the system over conventional technologies.
What exactly is “Driverless Train technology”? What makes the system unique?

First of all, it is a fully grade separated driverless automated system controlled by the SelTrac™ moving-block railway signalling system from Thales, a Toronto-based rail signalling company. The SelTrac™ system allows trains to run closely to each other in a safe manner.

Trains are automatically controlled by the Operation Control Centre and adjustments can be made quickly to meet changes in demand. Early in the morning, before the start of regular operation, trains are automatically positioned for service. Pre-scheduled in the timetable, or by operator command, trains can even be sent for a wash! All is done automatically with little to no human intervention.

So, for example, when the Shanghai Shentong Metro Group Co. was facing growing demand for metro transport capacity, it made sense to call in Thales for its world-leading capabilities in driverless systems.

Cities in Asia and the Middle East want state-of-the-art, and that means driverless.

David Dimmer, Director of Product Strategy for SelTrac™.

Thales has more than 30 years of experience in Fully Automated Operation lines through its involvement in design, implementation, operation, and maintenance projects around the world, including Dubai’s Red and Green lines, Vancouver’s SkyTrain lines, and Incheon’s Line 2 in South Korea.

For Shanghai, Thales SEC Transport (TST), the joint venture with Shanghai Electric, has been awarded the signalling contract for Line 14 of the Shanghai Metro by Shanghai Shentong Metro Group CO. Ltd., one of the world’s biggest players in urban rail. This will be Shanghai’s pilot project for a metro line using Fully Automated Operation (FAO), with a highly integrated management system incorporating both signalling and supervision solutions.

There is huge demand throughout China and other countries in Asia and the Middle East facing population growth. Urban rail operators are turning to driverless for the same reasons: rapid growth in passenger volumes, an increased need for safety, a need to control operating costs, demands by commuters for more frequent service, shorter journey times, and a more pleasant end-to-end travel experience.

Fully automated, driverless operations increase system availability, network capacity and operational efficiency to meet these challenges. According to the UITP (international organisation for public transport), there were 53 fully automated metro lines in 36 cities or 789 kilometres. This should soar to 2,200 kilometres over the next three years. The same report* ranks Thales number one in driverless technology with 32.4% market share.

“Today’s safety and system availability requirements for system operators are higher. Trains stuck in tunnels and other accidents are not acceptable. Today, our clients are demanding 99.9% efficiency, not 90%, and that means automation.”

Flexibility of operations, such as the ability to increase service levels for large events without adding drivers, is another benefit. Finally, cities everywhere face the need to polish their image since they compete for tourists and special events.

The key to success?  It’s the real partnership between Thales and rail operators which has made development and operations of the automated ‘train of the future’ a successful reality today.

*UITP’s 2016 World Report on Metro Automation


Get to know why the Dubai Metro will be a wonder at World Expo 2020 and discover thirty years and counting: Vancouver’s Driverless Transit Revolution