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.

Notable examples[edit]

On the New York City Subway, the BMT Canarsie Line (L trains) began full ATO in June 2012.[3][4] IRT Flushing Line (7 <7> trains) are undergoing track and signal modernization, with completion in 2016.[5]

On the London Underground, the Central, Northern, Jubilee, and Victoria lines run with ATO.

On the Nuremberg U-Bahn, existing U2 and new U3 lines converted to ATO, with one-year mix service.[6]

The Rio Tinto Group has iron ore railway driverless go-ahead.[7][8]

The Tren Urbano, which serves the San Juan metropolitan area, has an Siemens ATC system that allows for fully automatic operation.[9]

The Vancouver SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia, is an automated and driverless system commissioned in 1985.


Many railways are planning on using ATO. It has been partially implemented on the Delhi Metro with plans of full operation by 2013.[needs update] ATO was introduced on the London Underground's Northern line in 2013 and will be introduced on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines by 2022. 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]