U-Bahn train leaving a station, Source: Depositphotos

The Berlin U-Bahn will start using semi-automatic trains

The Berlin U-Bahn will start using semi-automatic trains

However, it could take 25 years to automate at least two lines of the German capital’s underground

Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), the public transport operator of the German capital, is planning to purchase semi-automatic trains for use on the local U-Bahn underground network. The tender for the trains will be issued later this year, however, the question of automatization of the subway could take decades. Plus, critics are also worried about the way this will affect accessibility for disabled commuters.

Other European capitals, such as Paris and Copenhagen, already enjoy the benefits of autonomous subway trains, however, Berlin authorities are taking a more cautious approach to the idea. The argument for the automatization of the underground is that it will increase the frequency of trains. Currently, most BVG trains run once every five minutes and automatization could shrink this pause down to 90 seconds.

The issues behind automatization

Semi-automatic trains still feature a driver, who is responsible for starting the train and also for folding out the ramp that eases accessibility for people in wheelchairs. Everything else, including running the train, stopping, opening and closing doors and communicating with other trains to avoid accidents is up to the smart system.

The two concerns that have popped up in the wake of the news of the tender were that automatization of the stations would actually be very slow. Although no details have been presented BVG said that it could transform two stations per year to operate with automatic trains. Considering that U5 and U8 alone have 50 stations together, it would take a quarter of a century to prepare these two lines alone. And the entire U-Bahn has 175 stations!

Another concern is that if full automation is eventually implemented, this would hamper accessibility and make the metro less welcoming to people with disabilities.



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