Mar 7, 2023 - News

Metro plans return to automatic trains

Illustration of a DC Metro station with a train passing through.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Metro plans to return to automatic train operation, which means train operators will no longer be responsible for driving, starting, stopping, or opening doors.

  • Operators will still have to close train doors and respond to any emergencies.

Why it matters: The agency says returning to ATO will make riders’ lives better.


  • It’ll improve safety by reducing the chance of human errors such as running red lights, overshooting platforms, and moving without permission.
  • Rides will be smoother. Trains would be programmed to stop at an exact location, preventing jerky start/stop movements.
  • It’ll save money by cutting down on power usage thanks to automatically timed stops and starts.

Catch up quick: Metro was designed to operate with ATO and had been using it since its start in 1976.

  • But, the system was suspended after a fatal crash in 2009. An investigation found that the cause of the accident was not the ATO system, but it wasn’t reimplemented in part because of a need for infrastructure updates.

Worth noting: Most large rail systems across the country are automated.

What’s next: Metro will start testing ATO on the Red Line as early as this May if it gets approval from its regulator. The agency plans to roll out ATO system-wide by December.


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