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First year of automation is a success for Barcelona

Posted: 25 February 2011 | | No comments yet

2010 was a very significant year for Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB). It was the first year that automated lines were put into operation – since December 2009, sections of the first five stations of a new line were inaugurated and the existing light metro Line 11 was turned into a driverless running mode.

TMB automation in 2010 During 2010, two new sections of a new line were inaugurated in April and June bringing a total amount of 11 stations and almost 11km of extension.

Once construction is completely finished, the new automated line will have a total length of 50km. Branches will be positioned at both ends of the line which means each branch has been assigned a line – thus two lines: Line 9 and Line 10. In 2010, TMB started to operate the north branches of these lines.

2010 was a very significant year for Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB). It was the first year that automated lines were put into operation – since December 2009, sections of the first five stations of a new line were inaugurated and the existing light metro Line 11 was turned into a driverless running mode.TMB automation in 2010 During 2010, two new sections of a new line were inaugurated in April and June bringing a total amount of 11 stations and almost 11km of extension.Once construction is completely finished, the new automated line will have a total length of 50km. Branches will be positioned at both ends of the line which means each branch has been assigned a line – thus two lines: Line 9 and Line 10. In 2010, TMB started to operate the north branches of these lines.

2010 was a very significant year for Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB). It was the first year that automated lines were put into operation – since December 2009, sections of the first five stations of a new line were inaugurated and the existing light metro Line 11 was turned into a driverless running mode.

TMB automation in 2010 During 2010, two new sections of a new line were inaugurated in April and June bringing a total amount of 11 stations and almost 11km of extension.

Once construction is completely finished, the new automated line will have a total length of 50km. Branches will be positioned at both ends of the line which means each branch has been assigned a line – thus two lines: Line 9 and Line 10. In 2010, TMB started to operate the north branches of these lines.

Once Lines 9 and 10 are completely finished, the percentage of kilometers of automated lines in the Barcelona metro network will be significant and even more if the current conventional Line 2 conversion project progresses as planned. So, with the conversion of Line 11, TMB’s commitment to automation can clearly be seen.

Being conscious of this future, TMB has made a special effort to define a new organisational model to operate in this automated environment. Along with the challenge of running an unattended automated line, there is an added challenge to operate singular infrastructures as a result of building Line 9 and 10 in one of the most densely populated areas in Europe with a complex geology and changing topography. Some of these singularities include:

  • Deep stations (70m in some cases) in a configuration with platforms built inside the tunnel.
  • High capacity elevators (up to 40 people) synchronised with trains as a regular system to provide connection between halls and platforms in those deep stations.
  • Emergency exits.
  • Full size platform screen doors in all stations.
  • Different types of track: single tunnel, double tunnel and viaduct.
  • Sections with single tunnel, shared for both directions of trains running and divided into two levels by a concrete slab. Platform ramps have been built to interconnect both levels of the tunnel.

Operational model

Despite civil works and technology, organisational issues are something the investors and the company cannot ‘buy’ because they are in some way a cultural aspect. So, with the early months of operation, it is difficult to efficiently submit the model to a previous test system which has been an important focus of attention inside the organisation.

So, the success of launching a specific operational model defined in the previous stages of the project has been one of the success points of this first year of operation.

This operational model has been applied to line and Control Centre structures and has been intended not only to operate an efficient automated and unique line, but to take profit of all advantages of automation facing new requirements of suburban operation for TMB as the need for deep technical knowledge, improve equipment availability, new means for remote management, a key role of the OCC, a new dimension of customer care and the assurance of the response time.

The operational model of the line has evolved from two previous stages in TMB:

  • An initial model based on drivers, station staff and station and traffic managers.
  • A new model applied in current nonautomated lines as an evolution of a previous one based on versatility of line staff where they can both drive and attend stations and there is a higher layer of operational intermediate managers.

A key job position: the Operation Technician

The model for automated lines is based in a flat structure with the creation of a single profile deployed in the line: the Operation Technician, who performs all the field activities such as customer care, first level equipment recovery and train incidents (including manual driving if necessary to remove trains from commercial running). This role is specific for automated lines. So, their main mission is to grant the operational working of the automated line as someone responsible for being the interlocutor with OCC and other internal or external means in the line.

Due to full automation of the line and the existence of different technological systems and automated trains to allow it to run, one of the key duties for the Operation Technician is the response time in case of incident. In order to minimise it, they are technically skilled and have been trained in equipment recovery. Moreover, the line has been divided into zones or groups of stations and the Operation Technician’s position is always tracked in these zones by monitoring from the OCC, thus allowing the closest resource to be sent to the station or train where the incident is happening or where attention is required.

To promote the versatility of the duties of the Operation Technicians, a set of different missions have been defined and assigned to each of them with a set of different tasks to be done during their shift in their zone of work (i.e. checklists of trains and stations equipment, reports of activity or customer attention). These missions are based in the mobility in stations and trains under the criteria of minimising response times in the case of an incident.

Bearing in mind the response time minimisation and fitting demand needs, the work has been organised in flexible shifts: three main shifts covering the full day (day, afternoon and night) and two additional shifts overlapping the main ones and providing staff support at the time of day where more customers are present in the network. So, the model allows a flexible fit to customer needs which vary according to train station, type of day or time of the day.

With this full picture of line operation, one of the key success factors is to provide continuous training for Operation Technicians in order not only to reinforce their acquired capabilities in their training period once they are recruited but to get knowledge of new systems and functionalities delivered as the project is going on, including update on technologies, operational and safety procedures and reviews of relevant incidents that have occurred for future learning.

In order to support the deployment of Operation Technicians, a higher level of management has been defined in the line which comprises not only hierarchical management of technicians (as zone managers and line operation managers) but responsibility in the relationship with Maintenance and OCC providing a strong link with key areas of the organisation in the operation of the automated line.

As Lines 9 and 10 are part of a project still on-going, there are some activities, for example the implementation of new sections of the lines or pending functionalities of current systems which are still under development or testing, while commercial running is active. To ensure that all project activities don’t hinder this, a strong organisational link has been developed in the operational model creating the responsibility of a Project Manager inside Operation Areas which ensures the minimum impact of the project activities in current commercial running and the efficient transfer of the results of the project.

The OCC

In an automated line, the OCC has a key role in the responsiblity for remote operation and monitoring of services (trains running and stations) and customer information and attention. In TMB, not only has a new OCC been built to provide these services to the automated lines, but a new role of Head of Automated Lines has been defined to manage the OCC operations for automated lines taking decisions over people and resources, establishing operational measures to minimise impact on the service of any incident, providing training to Operators and Operation Technicians and actively participating in the development of automated lines.

Of course, synergies with current lines have been used so operation posts as power, customer information and security are shared with them, but automated lines fully dedicated monitoring and operation new posts have been created for stations, traffic, rolling stock and communications equipment.

One of the main challenges is communi – cation with customers in the trains as there is no presence of staff in them; this communication is managed from the OCC and requires new technological means in the trains not present before to make it happen: intercoms and PAs to OCC, online video surveillance and information screens.

Line 11

As mentioned before, Line 11 is an existing light metro rail of five stations and 2.15km and 2-cars trains where a driverless running mode has been set up since the end of 2009 in four or five stations (those with mid-size platform screen doors equipped, the fifth one is pending the implementation of an alternate anti-intrusion system as its platform is shared with trains of another line so it’s not possible to install platform screen doors).

In the case of Line 11, presence of TMB staff is needed as manual driving in the fifth station remains and is not equipped for driverless running and (but this is temporary) due to the fact that the trains are not equipped with remote online customer information systems, so the information to/from customers must be managed by an on-board technician.

The operation model described in this article has also been successfully applied to this Line (with full deployment of Operation Technicians) providing key learnings for our future challenges due to the difference in infrastructures, technology and operational procedures respect Lines 9 and 10.

Future challenges

After the first year of operation of Line 9, 10 and 11 with the brand new model for automated lines, we can conclude that it has been a complete success in terms of efficiency and customers and employees satisfaction reaching a very high standard of service if we compare with our best references of operation.

In the following years, three new sections of Lines 9 and 10 will be launched reaching by the end of the construction a total amount of 52 stations and over 50km of automated lines. The deployment of the model to the whole line (figures five times higher than today in terms of number of stations, kilometers of network, number of trains or number of passengers carried; plus new type of infrastructures as viaduct sections) will be the stress-test to the current successful experience.

The key points will not only be the increase of human resources in the line and the OCC to match the new figures, but the continuous training on expert and new staff and the adjustment of different processes described in the operational model.

In a mid-term future, the automation of existing Line 2 (currently 18 stations and 13.7km but extensions planned to join Line 9) will bring a completely new challenge: applying an operational model for a new constructed automated line to the conversion of a conventional line into automated.

About the Author

Ramón Malla is the Director of Automated Lines at Barcelona Metro, in charge of projects and operations of this type of line. Regarding international activities, Mr. Malla is the Executive Coordinator of the UITP Observatory Group of Automatic Metro Lines that brings together world experts in that field.

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