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India Set to Deploy Driverless Trains Along Busy Metro Routes

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【Summary】With over 90 percent of driverless trains being manufactured in the country (according to a report from Times of India), local transportation groups have amassed plenty of experience that could eventually be applied to self-driving systems for private cars.

Michael Cheng    Mar 15, 2017 7:00 AM PT
India Set to Deploy Driverless Trains Along Busy Metro Routes

In developing self-driving technology for private cars and trucks, India is taking a slow, cautious approach (currently led by Tata Elxsi). But this does not mean the country is shunning driverless platforms. New reports have shown that India is very much interested in autonomous transportation - specifically driverless trains.

Indian authorities are in the process of developing a new route, called the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro 3 project, that will facilitate the automated pods. The underground line is about 16 miles long and will be operational by 2020. There are over 27 stations on the route, with all except one located underground. To ensure consistent operation, the country has decided to install driverless trains without human drivers. Mumbai Metro Rail systems director AA Bhatt said that the driverless trains will be equipped with new technology that is widely used globally.

"Initially for one year, till the operations stabilise, it will be operated by drivers. Once operations become smooth, computers will take over and run the trains," highlighted Bhatt.

CBTC System

The self-driving trains will rely heavily on a customized communication-based train control (CBTC) system to streamline communication between the pods on the track. So far, this type of signaling system is being implemented in multiple locations around India. The CBTC platform will enable operators to deploy more trains on long tracks by reducing the gap between each train, as it moves along the route. Currently, the time gap between local trains in India is three minutes. With the CBTC system in place, operators can reduce this gap by 50 percent, allowing pods to travel roughly a minute and a half apart from each other.

In addition to more trains, the vessels will be able to carry twice as many coaches, from four to eight. Siemens Limited/Siemens Rail Automation was recently awarded with a contract order to build key components of the modern railway system, which are all part of the Trainguard CBTC platform. The tech giant's competitors include Alstom, Nippon and Thales.

Overview of Autonomous Trains

At the moment, over 27 countries are using self-driving technology to power their city transit service. Like driverless platforms for private cars and trucks on open roads, autonomous trains require cutting-edge infrastructure to support the pods, as they travel to different stations. Cameras are used to monitor cracks and inconsistencies during critical stages of operation, such as releasing the breaks and the opening or closing of passenger doors. The monitoring devices are capable of detecting fire hazards, which is very important in underground stations.

With over 90 percent of driverless trains being manufactured in the country (according to a report from Times of India), local transportation groups have amassed plenty of experience that could eventually be applied to self-driving systems for private cars.

"Initially, it will be a problem to get people used to the discipline required to deal with these automatic systems and we also need experience in handling emergencies and when that happens trains can go driverless," said Brijesh Dixit, from Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation.

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