Rail

DC Metro begins testing automatic doors on passenger trains

Posted on March 4, 2019

DC Metro's automatic door opening feature on its rail system was discontinued years ago — along with automatic train operations — due to reliability problems and overriding safety priorities. Photo: Larry Levine/WMATA
DC Metro's automatic door opening feature on its rail system was discontinued years ago — along with automatic train operations — due to reliability problems and overriding safety priorities. Photo: Larry Levine/WMATA

The first Metro trains to automatically open their doors in years have been operating on the system over the past two weeks, as Washington, D.C.-based agency conducts testing and calibration before restoring regular use of the auto-doors feature.

The automatic door opening feature is part of the original design of the Metrorail system, but its use was discontinued years ago — along with automatic train operations — due to reliability problems and overriding safety priorities. When in automatic-door mode, the train receives data on its exact location from transmitters located on the track. After the train comes to a complete stop and is confirmed to be properly “berthed” at the platform, the doors are automatically opened on the appropriate side of the train.

Metrorail operators initiate an “open doors” command more than 20,000 times each weekday.

Returning to automatic door operations has two significant benefits. First, it enhances safety by removing the potential for human error resulting in a “wrong side” door opening. Metrorail operators initiate an “open doors” command more than 20,000 times each weekday. While rare, there have been instances where operators have temporarily lost awareness and accidentally opened doors on the wrong side of the train, something that the automatic system prevents.

Use of the automatic system also improves the customer experience. Following a series of wrong-side door incidents several years ago, Metro began training operators to pause several seconds prior to opening the doors. The pause was meant as a behavioral safety check to reduce the risk of a mistake. However, for customers, there is now a delay of several seconds between the train arriving at the station and the doors opening. When using the automatic system, doors will open as soon as the train is stopped at the proper location.

Train operators will continue to have responsibility for closing doors at all times.

Additional testing will be conducted over the next several weeks, along with ongoing train operator familiarization. If all goes well, Metro expects to return to systemwide use of the auto-doors feature later this year.
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