The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has been testing automatic doors on trains in the Washington, D.C. area over the last three weeks as part of a plan to reintroduce automatic doors by the end of the year.
The transition back to automatic doors would shorten wait times and reduce rider risk, according to a March 4 WMATA news release. Without automatic doors, drivers may open the doors on the wrong side of the track, which could produce injury and increase commute times, according to Ian Jannetta, WMATA media relations manager.
The automatic doors were first implemented during WMATA’s launch in 1976 as part of the automatic train operation system, which gave trains self-driving capabilities. The system was discontinued after a 2008 accident at the Fort Totten station, where two trains crashed into each other following a system signaling error. The incident killed eight passengers and the train operator. Regarded as the deadliest in WMATA’s history, the accident forced the organization to reexamine its entire operations systems and discontinue automatic train operations, according to DCist.
While train operators will still be in charge of closing doors, installing automatic doors reduces the interactions that operators have with machinery, which results in safety benefits, according to Jannetta.
“Metrorail operators initiate an ‘open doors’ command more than 20,000 times each weekday,” Jannetta wrote in an email to The Hoya. “While rare, there have been instances where operators have temporarily lost awareness and accidentally opened doors on the wrong side of the train, something that the automatic system prevents.”
Although WMATA officially announced their plans for installing automatic doors in 2018, the organization has planned to transition back to automatic trains for several years now, according to The Washington Post.
WMATA aims to restore the automatic train operation system because of its potential to shorten wait times and enhance customer experience, according to the news release.
“Following a series of wrong-side door incidents several years ago, Metro began training operators to pause several seconds prior to opening the doors,” the news release read. “However, for customers, there is now a delay of several seconds between the train arriving at the station and the doors opening.”
To ensure the safety of its return to automated doors, WMATA plans to introduce a system to disable automatic features outside of rush hour and train its operators on navigating the system, according to the Washington Post. WMATA still plans to have operators on board to monitor the systems, make announcements and close doors.
The automatic doors are set to be implemented system-wide after undergoing additional testing, according to Jannetta.
“Additional testing will be conducted over the next several weeks, along with ongoing train operator familiarization,” Janetta wrote. “If all goes well, Metro expects to return to system wide use of the auto-doors feature later this year.”
Reinstituting automatic train operation is one of several plans to increase ridership on Metro, which now competes with rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft. Other potential initiatives included creating an all-day peak service, allowing users to make payments through a mobile app and giving ride credits to customers whose trip is more than 10 minutes late, The Washington Post reported.