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May 10, 2012

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Metro officials look to trains without drivers

THE city is testing technologies to allow subway trains to be piloted automatically, without human drivers, and the function is expected to be ready on Metro Line 10 as soon as the end of this year.

Shao Weizhong, vice president of Shanghai Shentong Metro Group, said yesterday at a press conference that among the Shanghai subway network, Line 10 is "originally designed to be driverless model."

Line 10 was opened to service in 2010, just before the World Expo was held in the city. The driverless model has been a goal for Line 10 trains, which are designed and produced mainly by domestic manufacturers.

The unmanned driving was expected to be put into use a year into the operation but was delayed for safety concerns as the operator feared the technologies were not mature. It would be the first of its kind in the country.

The plan hit the skids when two Line 10 trains collided in a tunnel, causing hundreds of injuries. The operational safety along the line and even on the whole network of 11 lines came under heavy criticism. Human error in the form of a wrong dispatching order under an emergency was blamed for the crash. Several long-term delays due to equipment breakdowns have occurred on the line.

After the news conference yesterday, a daily Metro rider surnamed Xu expressed concern, saying, "The trains crashed even when drivers were on, then who would board an unmanned train?"

"The priority in a big city's public transport system is to address the safety concerns," said Sun Jianping, director of city traffic and port administration, which oversees the mushrooming Shanghai Metro network with 11 lines and daily volume of more than 6 million riders.

The track, already the world's longest, is expected to nearly double to more than 800 kilometers in the long run.

To limit potential dangers, the Metro authority needs to hasten third-party evaluation work, Sun said. For subways in service for more than 10 years such as Lines 1 and 2, the evaluation work should be done every three years, said Sun. Those in service less than 10 years should be evaluated every five years. The evaluation work on Line 1 will be finished this year.


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