Conversion of Line 1 to automatic operation will occur without shutting down service.
Paris’ Métro Line 1 carries 725,000 passengers a day and has been the city’s most heavily trafficked line since it opened in 1900. Yet continual ridership increases have made congestion a mounting problem, so the city is working on automating the line to augment capacity. Some trains will run without drivers beginning next year, and full conversion will be complete in 2012. The city’s process to convert the line provides an example to other cities with old systems needing to substantially improve operations.
The conversion process began in 2007 with the commencement of work to redo platforms to assure that trains line up correctly. Last March, Bérault station was equipped with automatic platform doors six feet tall that open and close with the arrival and departure of trainsets. These doors, which align with train doors, are standard on new automatic subways around the world, and ensure that passengers make it into the trains; trains cannot depart unless both vehicle and platform doors are entirely closed. The lack of conductor means that the system must be designed to be safe and almost fail-proof.
By summer of next year, all stations on the line will be equipped with the doors; the transit authority installs two doors a night on each platform without disrupting service whatsoever. The use of these platform walls has a number of benefits: reduced delays, far less trash on the tracks, and suicide prevention.
New trains similar to those used on the decade-old automated Line 14 will be brought into operation beginning at the end of next year and slowly replace the existing trainsets, which will be moved to other lines in the system. This means that Line 1 will have both automatic and driver-operated trains operating simultaneously for a year and a half. The primary advantage of the decision to install trains gradually is that it means the system never has to be shut down and it provides a testing period during which problems with the automated system can be compensated by replacing automatic train service with vehicles operated by drivers.
Paris’ investment in a faster, more reliable Line 1 is part of its overall renewal operation, which has been underway for the past ten years. The city has renovated virtually all of its stations since 1999 and is in the process of replacing the majority of its train fleet. The city’s confidence in an automated train system has been confirmed by the success of Line 14, which has been highly popular and suffered few technical difficulties since it opened in 1998. The city’s planned radial circumferential rapid transit line will be completely automated when it opens in 2020.
The French city’s experience demonstrates that a conversion process doesn’t have to be intrusive. New York’s attempt at automating its L Train, a process that began in 1997, has been plagued by repeated delays, and the system still doesn’t function properly.
The key to success on Line 1 in Paris is its staging. The computer-operated control system necessary for trains to move without drivers was installed earlier in the decade. Stations are being renewed one-by-one, and will include necessary devices to improve automation, including the platform doors which New York won’t have. Finally, driverless trains are being incorporated into the system one by one over a relatively long period, meaning that problems can be squeezed out over time. Managers of other older systems should attempt to emulate Paris.