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June 25, 2018updated 05 Feb 2020 1:28pm

Around the world: 1,000km of fully automated metros

In April, the International Association of Public Transport announced that fully automated metro lines around the world had reached a combined 1,000km milestone. But which networks stand out in terms of performance, longevity and innovation?

By Eva Grey

The popularity of driverless metro lines has grown exponentially since the first one was inaugurated in 1981, in Kobe, Japan. Metros built since have had enviable records in safety, flexibility, punctuality, cost efficiency and overall passenger satisfaction, and no city that welcomed an automated metro line has ever reverted back to a conventional system.

In April, the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Observatory of Automated Metros, the body commissioned to disseminate and share knowledge about automated metro lines, announced that driverless metros across the world have surpassed a total of 1,000km. The opening of the Pujiang Line in Shanghai, China helped achieved this milestone, and today there are 63 fully automated operation (FAO) lines in 42 cities across 19 countries in the world.

As important as the achievement is in itself, it’s the context and history that make it even more noteworthy. The first 500km of automated lines were built over the span of 29 years; once the technology was proven, it took only eight years to double that figure and get us where we are today. The UITP estimates (based on confirmed projects) that by 2025 there will be over 2,300km of fully automated metro lines in operation.

“In these 1,000km we find a diversity of profiles of lines and cities around the world,” UITP director of rail transport Laurent Dauby said in a press release. “This demonstrates the broad range of services that automated lines can offer to meet the mobility challenges for cities in the years ahead.”

Copenhagen: repeat winner of world’s best metro

Asia and Europe make up almost 75% of the kilometres of fully automated metro lines, while Europe is expected to host a further 26% of the growth expected over the next decade, mainly in conversion projects.

Some of the world’s best performing FAO lines are European, and Copenhagen is a case in point. The Danish capital has never known anything different: its entire underground system was designed with automation in mind from the very start. First opened in 2002, both Lines 1 and 2 won the World’s Best Metro award in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The 21km-long network transports about 12,000 passengers every hour in one direction. The service is punctual 98.7% of the time, according to Wavestone data, and operates 24/7.

Each of its 22 stations have been designed by a renowned Italian team, who focused on allowing the maximum amount of natural light to seep through glass pyramid-style buildings, all the way to the subterranean platforms.

Works for a new metro extension (known as Cityringen in Danish) are now under way, and two new lines are expected to open in July 2019. Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, the design of the 17 new stations will allow in plenty of daylight, but with an added twist: Cityringen’s new metro stations will give the capital new urban spaces, complete with patches of greenery and bicycle parking.

Dubai Metro: maintaining a stellar reputation

When it opened in 2009, Dubai’s metro topped the list as the world’s longest automated rail system. It has since been demoted to third place, after Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Singapore, but its reputation as a sleek, reliable and highly modern public transit system has remained.

With a total length of 75km, Dubai’s Red and Green Lines have served more than one billion riders before the end of 2017. The metro is well known for high levels of safety, solid in-train and station-wide connectivity, state of the art NFC payments introduced in 2013, and for its trains that run like clockwork and arrive on time over 99% of the time.

The city’s municipality is keen to keep up this stellar reputation. Local media recently reported that owners of the buildings overlooking the elevated sections of Dubai Metro received official notices to undertake maintenance and beautification work on their exteriors, as part of a campaign to maintain Dubai’s aesthetic appearance. This is part of the preparations for Expo 2020, hosted in Dubai in two years’ time, which will see a huge number of foreign visitors head to the city and use its public transport network.

Plans to add four additional lines – the Blue, Purple, Pink and Gold services – will extend the network to 320km by 2020, which could be the longest in the world at that time.

Vancouver’s SkyTrain: world’s longest FOA

Vancouver’s automated Expo Line opened in 1985, making the city one of the first to adopt driverless trains. Today, Canadian passengers enjoy a reliable service across three lines – Expo, Canada and Millennium – on a network spanning nearly 80km and 53 stations.

The system’s name is derived from the panoramic views of the metropolitan area that can be seen from the train, which runs on elevated guideways outside Downtown Vancouver. It also runs across its very own SkyBridge, over the Fraser River, the world’s longest cable-supported transit-only bridge.

At the start of this year, Hyundai Rotem announced a new contract to increase capacity on the Canada Line with the supply of 24 new metro cars. This is after the regional transport authority TransLink reported that ridership grew by 6% last year.

Recently, the transport authority employed actor Morgan Freeman to do a number of voiceovers to be broadcast in Vancouver’s metro and bus stations as part of TransLink ’s ‘Avoid Card Clash’ campaign. However, the promotion is currently suspended as a result of recent allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the Hollywood actor.

Paris’ Line 1: a golden standard in flexibility

When it comes to automated trains, the French know-how is almost unmatched: the European country is home to five of the world’s most advanced networks, in Paris, Lille, Rennes, Lyon and Toulouse and currently hosts 16% of the world’s kilometres of fully automated metro lines.

Paris is a leading example in terms of performance. It currently has two automated lines – 1 and 14 – but while Line 14 was originally designed to be driverless, Line 1 was converted later, without interruption to its service.

In 2015, Line 1 further proved its sturdiness and adaptability by taking on the increase in passengers when the RER A line was closed for planned works. Today, most of the stations on Line 1 have 3G and 4G coverage, while operator RATB has committed to digitalisation by carrying out tests on the projection of passenger flows in stations using big data.

Barcelona: Europe’s longest driverless metro

When Barcelona inaugurated its new, expanded driverless subway in 2016, Line 9/10 immediately gained the title of Europe’s longest, spanning 47.8km and 52 stations.

With 20 interconnection points that branch out to incorporate the local trams, high-speed trains and even reach the airport, the line serves a densely populated and economically dynamic area, which is home to three million people.

In 2015, Spanish operator TMB introduced NFC and mobile payments for the entire urban network, and passengers enjoy good 4G coverage. TMB also uses big data to predict and model passenger flows in stations.

Further construction works targeting the central section of the line have been on hold for a number of years, but last year local media reported that the Catalan Government was seeking a €740m loan from the European Investment Bank to finance the project, which does not yet have a fixed deadline.

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