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Are Singapore’s MRT trains driverless?

Goh Jun Cheng

As a rail system known for safety, efficiency and advanced infrastructure, Singapore’s MRT trains incorporate both human staff and automated technology in their operations. But does this mean the MRT trains run without any onboard drivers at the controls? Let’s take an in-depth look.

Brief History of Singapore’s MRT System

Singapore launched its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) metro system in 1987 with the North South line before expanding to 6 main lines by 2020. The system spans over 200 km and serves over 3 million daily passengers.

The MRT was designed for high capacity and reliable service to support Singapore’s land transport needs as the population grew. Automated features were included from the start to maximize operational efficiency.

Train Captains Remain Onboard

To date, MRT trains are not fully autonomous without human operators onboard. Instead, every train has a ‘Train Captain’ stationed in the driver’s cab to oversee the journey.

So while not driverless, Train Captains do act as overseers who monitor the automation features and take control when required rather than manually driving throughout.

Automated Train Control

Singapore’s MRT leverages automated train control through computerized systems that take charge of speed, braking, navigation and other functions.

But Train Captains provide active supervision in the cab to manage emergency situations, communicate with controllers, authorize door closings and more. This ensures both automation and human judgment.

Certain new MRT lines like the Downtown Line have even more advanced automation capabilities that Train Captains can activate with the press of a button, but they remain present.

Gradual Steps Towards Full Automation

As automation technology continues improving, the MRT network may eventually transition to fully driverless trains like Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

But for now, Singapore seems to be taking a deliberate approach by having onboard crews adopt increasingly automated assistance over time. This allows capabilities to be tested while maintaining safety.

The hybrid model has worked reliably for decades, but driverless MRT trains could become an inevitability in Singapore’s future as the system keeps modernizing.

Conclusion

In summary, Singapore’s MRT trains are not currently driverless, but utilization of advanced automation features is increasing. For now, the blend of Train Captains and automated technology delivers efficient, safe and high-performance transit for millions of passengers daily across Singapore.

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