Impacts of Unattended Train Operations on Productivity and Efficiency in Metropolitan Railways

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - urban, mode - subway/metro, operations - reliability, operations - capacity, operations - frequency, economics - capital costs, economics - profitability, planning - service quality, planning - surveys


metro productivity, unattended train operation (UTO), service capacity, reliability


Urban metro subway systems (metros) around the world are choosing increasing levels of automation for new and existing lines: the global length of metro lines capable of unattended train operation (UTO) is predicted to triple in the next 10 years. Despite significant investment in this technology, empirical evidence for the financial and service quality impacts of UTO in metros remains scarce. This study used questionnaires and semistructured interviews with the Community of Metros and Nova Group benchmarking groups to assemble emerging evidence of how automation affected costs, staffing, service capacity, and reliability. The results from an analysis of data from 23 lines suggested that UTO could reduce staff numbers by 30% to 70%, with the amount of wage cost reduction depending on whether staff on UTO lines were paid more. On the basis of the experience of seven metros, the capital costs of lines capable of UTO were higher, but the internal rate of return had been estimated by two metros at 10% to 15%. Automated lines were capable of operating at the highest service frequencies of up to 42 trains per hour, and the limited available data suggested that automated lines were more reliable. The findings indicated that UTO was a means to a more flexible and reliable operating model that could increase metro productivity and efficiency. The study identified important work needed to understand the impacts of UTO and identify where statistical analyses would add value once sufficiently large data sets became available.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.