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Panel of MTR SP1950 EMU, capable of running ATO

Automatic train operation (ATO) is an operational safety enhancement device used to help automate operations of trains. This is achieved according to the Grade of Automation (GoA) present, up to GoA 4 level, where the train is automatically controlled without the presence of staff on board. Mainly, it is used on automated guideway transits and rapid transit systems which are easier to ensure safety of humans. Most systems elect to maintain a driver (train operator) to mitigate risks associated with failures or emergencies.

Many modern systems are linked with Automatic Train Control (ATC) and in many cases Automatic Train Protection (ATP) where normal signaller operations such as route setting and train regulation are carried out by the system. The ATO and ATC/ATP systems will work together to maintain a train within a defined tolerance of its timetable. The combined system will marginally adjust operating parameters such as the ratio of power to coast when moving and station dwell time, in order to bring a train back to the timetable slot defined for it.


Types of train automationEdit

The two white ATO start buttons beside the power/brake lever in a Tokyo Metro 10000 series train, corresponding to GoA 2 operation

According to the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), there are five Grades of Automation (GoA) of trains:[1][2]

  1. GoA 0 is on-sight train operation, similar to a tram running in street traffic.
  2. GoA 1 is manual train operation where a train driver controls starting and stopping, operation of doors and handling of emergencies or sudden diversions.
  3. GoA 2 is semi-automatic train operation (STO) where starting and stopping is automated, but a driver operates the doors, drives the train if needed and handles emergencies. Many ATO systems are GoA 2.
  4. GoA 3 is driverless train operation (DTO) where starting and stopping are automated but a train attendant operates the doors and drives the train in case of emergencies.
  5. GoA 4 is unattended train operation (UTO) where starting and stopping, operation of doors and handling of emergencies are fully automated without any on-train staff.

Notable examplesEdit

Urban passenger railwaysEdit

Freight railwaysEdit

  • The Rio Tinto Group "AutoHaul" system on its iron ore railways in the Pilbara.[12] This system is GoA 4 capable, able to run trains without a single person aboard for the entire trip out to the mines and back to the port. In October 2017 the first fully autonomous test took place over a 100 kilometres (62 mi) section.[13] The group was granted accreditation by Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, approving the autonomous operation of iron ore trains in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.[14]


Many railways are planning on using ATO. ATO was introduced on the London Underground's Northern line in 2013 and will be introduced on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines by 2022. Although ATO will be used on Crossrail and Thameslink, it has not yet been implemented on UK mainline railways. The U-Bahn in Vienna gets an ATO in 2023 on the new U5 line. All lines being built for the new Sydney Metro will feature driverless operation without any attended staff present. The Toronto Subway and RT is undergoing signal upgrades in order to switch to have the system running on ATO over the next decade.[15] ATO (AVV system) is in everyday operation on Czech Railways lines since 1991, since 2008 also in test operation with ETCS. The Delhi Metro officials have stated that driverless trains with advanced features will run on the Botanical Garden - Kalkaji corridor with trial runs planned for the last week of July 2016 and the trains being operated on the route from August 2016 onwards. Initially, drivers will be deputed to operate the trains but they will be gradually withdrawn said a metro official.[16] In recent times UK railway had operated train with ATO over ETCS Level 2 using Grade of Automation 2 where the train control and protection was provided by ETCS rather than ATP or ATC.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ International Association of Public Transport. "A global bid for automation: UITP Observatory of Automated Metros confirms sustained growth rates for the coming years" (PDF). Belgium.
  2. ^ Elisabeth Fischer (23 August 2011). "Justifying automation".
  3. ^ "Driverless operations start in Nürnberg". Railway Gazette International. Archived from the original on 2009-07-01.
  4. ^ Tren Urbano Rapid Transit System, Puerto Rico - Accessed 2011-07-12
  5. ^ "Linea M1, nuovo sistema di regolazione della circolazione ATM, Azienda Trasporti Milanesi".
  6. ^ New York City Transit - History and Chronology Archived October 19, 2002, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "MTA L Train Response to Squadron" (PDF) (Press release). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 2011-09-06. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  8. ^ "New York Flushing Line CBTC contract awarded". Railway Gazette. 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  9. ^ Ward, Victoria (2018-03-26). "First self-drive train launched on mainline track". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  10. ^ "Rome's subway: the eternal project". 17 April 2016 – via Japan Times Online.
  11. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Rio Tinto has confirmed that it is on track to completely transition to driverless trains across its entire Pilbara operation by the end of 2018". July 20, 2017. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Rio Tinto operates first fully-autonomous test train". Railway Gazette. October 2, 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  14. ^ Ltd, DVV Media International. "Rio Tinto's automated trains approved". Railway Gazette. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  15. ^ Wheeler, Charles (2008-12-17). "Yonge Subway Extension – Recommended Concept/Project Issues" (PDF). TTC.
  16. ^ Rajput, Abhinav (April 28, 2016). "South Delhi-Noida direct Metro connectivity by August". HT Media Limited. Hindustan Times. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  17. ^ "Thameslink first with ATO over ETCS". Railway Gazette. 20 March 2018.