Automatic trains in metro — what is it? Where?

Automated metro systems have proved to be an effective urban decision worldwide. According to the data from July 2016, 55 completely automated metro lines exist in 37 cities of the world. The total length of these lines is 803 km – it is 14.2% longer, than in 2014.

Automated metro systems in the world

The automated metro systems have been existed for 30 years and the total length doubled each decade. In the last decade the total length increased by a factor of 4. More than 2,300 km are projected to be commissioned into operation by 2025. Analyses of the maintenance indicate some information on the future development of the metro systems to the authorities.

In this article only the lines functioning without any staff are reported. The absence of the driver’s cabin is a key feature of these trains. This type of the trains’ operation is known as the Unattended Train Operation (UTO), it works without the person to observe the process. It is ranged as the 4th grade of automation of metro systems, the well-known example is the Copenhagen metro. For instance, the 2th grade is when the trains run automatically, but the driver is still in the cabin like at the Victoria line in the London Tube.

automated metro systems

Automated metro systems vs traditional lines

By the middle of 2016, 848 stations of 37 metro systems of the world were served by 55 fully automated metro lines with the total length of 803 km. It means that 23% of 157 cities with the metro have at least one automated line, in turn it is 6% of the whole globe metro infrastructure. Considering the technology has developed for only the last 30 years, it is the short period comparing to the 153 years of the metro history.

Regionally oriented analyses showed that the part of the automated systems was larger in the Middle East and in Europe, with the factors of 15% and 10% of the total length respectively. In Asia, the leading area of the newly accepted in the operation automated metro lines, this factor was only 5%. But it more reflects the general range of the metro construction in the region. Also the primary metro construction leader, China, quite late welcomed the idea of the automated metro.

Automatic Train Operation as a global idea

Automated metro systems

Asia and Europe have about 76% of the automated metro systems and only 13% belong to Northern America despite the unofficial leadership of the region in automatization. In terms of the development the Middle East is the fastest among the other regions.


50% of ATO infrastructure concentrated in 4 countries: France, South Korea, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.


France is the leader with 16% and South Korea is close behind with 15%.

Automated metro systems

The three cities with the longest automated lines are not in Europe: Singapore (93 km), Dubai  (80 km) and Vancouver (68 km).

Automated metro systems

Characteristics and trends

Although, initially the technology was applied where the lines had the light passenger traffic, recently more lines with the large capacity are transferred to the automatic lines.


Each train carries more than 300 passengers at 80% of automatic metro lines now.


The busiest lines are in Europe and Asia – excluding 4th line in San Paolo in Latin America, the last carries more than 32,000 passengers per hour. The Middle East with Asia and Europe are projected to become the leaders in ATO advent.  Together they will have 88% of the market. And Latin America will have only 11% of the projected growth.

In Europe, the reconstructed lines occupy 26% of ATO. After the successful launch of the line U2 in Nuremberg, in 2009, and the line L1 in Paris, in 2012, the representatives of 6 European cities expressed their readiness to transfer their metro systems into automated in the next decade: Glasgow plans to do it with the line G, London – Docklands, Lyon – LA & LB, Marseille  – L1 & L2, Paris – L4, Vienna – U5.

Automatic lines capacity

Automatic lines capacity in different regions of the world

It is anticipated that the London tube will become automated by 2022. Also Asia will have 33% of the total length by 2025. Europe will have 30% and the Middle East will get 25%. China announced two lines to be opened in 2017. One of them is expected to be constructed according to the original Chinese technology. It may enhance the significant growth of the ATO in the region.

Automatic Train Operation

The data was considered in regard of the public transportation. It was published on the official website of the UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics). The report was prepared by the Observatory of Automated Metros on 15 July 2016. The data was improved in September 2016, when the information on Guangzhou and Singapore was updated.

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