Automatic train operation

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"Robotrain" redirects here. For the New York City train, see L (New York City Subway service).
Panel of MTR SP1950 EMU, capable of running ATO

Automatic train operation (ATO) is an operational safety enhancement device used to help automate operations of trains. Mainly, it is used on automated guideway transits and subways which are easier to ensure safety of humans. Most systems elect to maintain a driver (train operator) to mitigate risks associated with failures or emergencies.

Many modern systems are linked with Automatic Train Control (ATC) and in many cases Automatic Train Protection (ATP) where normal signaller operations such as route setting and train regulation are carried out by the system. The ATO and ATC/ATP systems will work together to maintain a train within a defined tolerance of its timetable. The combined system will marginally adjust operating parameters such as the ratio of power to coast when moving and station dwell time, in order to bring a train back to the timetable slot defined for it.

Types of train automation[edit]

The two white ATO start buttons beside the power/brake lever in a Tokyo Metro 10000 series train, corresponding to GoA 2 operation

According to the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), there are five Grades of Automation (GoA) of trains:[1][2]

  • GoA 0 is on-sight train operation, similar to a tram running in street traffic.
  • GoA 1 is manual train operation where a train driver controls starting and stopping, operation of doors and handling of emergencies or sudden diversions.
  • GoA 2 is semi-automatic train operation (STO) where stopping is automated but a driver in the cab starts the train, operates the doors, drives the train if needed and handles emergencies. Many ATO systems are GoA 2.
  • GoA 3 is driverless train operation (DTO) where starting and stopping are automated but a train attendant operates the doors and drives the train in case of emergencies.
  • GoA 4 is unattended train operation (UTO) where starting and stopping, operation of doors and handling of emergencies are fully automated without any on-train staff.


The earliest ATO system on a full metro line was on the Barcelona Metro line 2 (now integrated in L5), introduced in 1961 and replaced with a more modern system in 1972. The original system used two photocells, one for acceleration and one for braking, with steel plates on the track to control train spacing and intervals. Another example was on the Victoria line of the London Underground, opened in 1968, whose ATO system was upgraded in 2013. The ATO system performed all functions of the driver except for the opening and closing of the doors: the driver pressed two buttons to start the train and, if the way was clear, the train automatically proceeded to the next station. Many newer systems are now computer-controlled, including London's Docklands Light Railway and the Central line and Jubilee line of the London Underground, Line 14 of the Paris Métro, Copenhagen Metro, Kelana Jaya Line of Kuala Lumpur Rail Transit System, the Washington Metro, Hong Kong MTR, Manila Light Rail Transit System, North East Line, Circle Line and the future Downtown Line and Thomson-East Coast Line of Singapore MRT, Tokyo Metro Namboku Line, Kobe Municipal Subway, a number of ART-based and VAL-based systems.

Some networks with ATO
Network Lines
Kazan Metro All lines
Ankara Metro M1 line
Barcelona Metro Lines 9, 10, and 11
Bucharest Metro M1, M2, and M3
Busan Metro All lines
CPTM Lines 7, 9 and 12
Copenhagen Metro All lines
Daegu Subway All lines
Daejeon Subway All lines
Dubai Metro All lines
Incheon Metro Line 1
İstanbul Metro M2 Line (Yenikapı-Hacıosman), Marmaray Line (Ayrılık Çeşmesi - Kazlıçeşme), M4 Line (Kadıköy-Kartal)
MRT and LRT (Singapore) All MRT and LRT lines. All except North South Line and East West Line are fully automated and driverless.
London Docklands Light Railway Capable of unattended operation, but attendants are present on trains.
London Underground Victoria line, Central line, Jubilee line, Northern line
Madrid Metro All lines
Manila Light Rail Transit System Manila Light Rail Transit System Line 2 (Purple Line)
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority All lines
Metro de Caracas All lines
Milan Metro Line 5
MTR All heavy rail lines. Additionally, Disneyland Resort Line is capable of running in driverless mode.
Muni Metro J Church, K Ingleside, L Taraval, M Ocean View, N Judah, S Castro Shuttle, T Third Street
New York City Subway BMT Canarsie Line (L train) began full ATO in June 2012.[3][4] IRT Flushing Line (7 <7> trains) undergoing track and signal modernization, with completion in 2016.[5]
Nuremberg U-Bahn Existing U2 and new U3 lines converted to ATO, with one-year mix service[6]
Paris Métro Automated: all lines except 3bis, 7bis and 10. Driverless: Line 14, Line 1
PATCO Speedline Automated from Philadelphia, PA to Lindenwold, NJ
Rapid KL Kelana Jaya Line & KLIA Aerotrain
Rio Tinto Group Has iron ore railway driverless go-ahead[7][8]
San Juan Tren Urbano Has an Siemens ATC system that allows for fully automatic operation.[9]
Vienna Metro Line U1-U4 since opening. Driver for safety and security reasons.
São Paulo Metro All lines (except 4-Yellow and 15-Silver, which uses CBTC)
Seoul Metropolitan Subway Seoul Subway Lines 5-9 and the Bundang Line
Seville Metro ATO has been installed shortly after inauguration.
SkyTrain (Vancouver) All lines
Saint Petersburg Metro Line 2 (Moskovsko-Petrogradskaya)
Taipei Metro All lines
Valencia Metro Line 1 has ATO installed in the underground section of the line. Lines 3 and 5 are preinstalled as ATO.


Many railways are planning on using ATO. It has been partially implemented on the Delhi Metro with plans of full operation by 2013. ATO was introduced on the London Underground's Northern line in 2013 and the SSR Lines by 2018. Although ATO will be used on Crossrail and Thameslink, it has not yet been implemented on UK mainline railways. The Toronto Subway and RT is undergoing signal upgrades in order to switch to have the system running on ATO over the next decade.[10]

See also[edit]