Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday inaugurated India’s first automated, driverless train on Delhi Metro’s Magenta Line even as he outlined his government’s plans to extend Metro services to over 25 cities by 2025.

At an online event, he also launched the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) — which allows users to pay for travel, toll charges and retail shopping, and permits them to withdraw money at the same time — for Delhi Metro’s Airport Express Line.

“The inauguration of the first driverless Metro train shows how fast India is moving towards smart systems,” Modi said via video-conferencing. “When our government was formed in 2014, only five cities had metro services. And today, 18 cities have Metro services. By 2025, we will take this service to more than 25 cities.”

In 2014, just 248km of Metro lines were operational in the country, but now the network was spread across over 700km, Modi said. “By the year 2025, we are trying to expand it to 1,700km. These are not just figures; they are a proof of ease of living in the lives of millions of Indians,” he added.

Modi also emphasised the importance of “Make in India” — a reference to his government’s flagship initiative to promote domestic manufacturing — in expanding metro services, saying this would reduce costs and generate employment.

When urbanisation gathered pace a few decades ago, not much attention was given to the needs of the future, he said. “The first Metro in Delhi was started with the efforts of Atal (Bihari Vajpayee) ji,” Modi said, referring to the late Prime Minister. “The metro today is no longer just a medium of public transport, but a great way to reduce pollution. Thousands of vehicles have been reduced from the road due to the Metro network…”

Delhi Metro services, which cover 389km on nine routes (lines), began in 2002, when the city-state was ruled by a Congress government led by the late Sheila Dikshit, and Vajpayee was the Prime Minister.

Efforts of former chief minister Dikshit in bringing the Metro to the Capital cannot be ignored, Delhi Congress chief Anil Chaudhary said. “…the people of Delhi and this country know that the Metro was brought to the city because of the efforts of Sheila Dikshit and the Congress party.”

Meanwhile, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) said it entered the elite league of 7% of the world’s Metro networks with the introduction of the automated trains.

“The driverless trains will be fully automated, eliminating the possibility of human error. The service will be available on Delhi Metro’s Magenta Line…This will be extended to Delhi Metro’s Pink Line (Majlis Park-Shiv Vihar) by mid-2021,” DMRC said in a statement.

The technology has different levels or grades of automation (GoA), officials explained. In the first grade, or GoA 1, trains are run by one driver. In GoA 2 and GoA 3, the role of the driver is reduced to operating doors and for taking over in case of emergencies; the starting and halting of trains is automated. Finally, in GoA 4, trains are set on a completely unattended operations mode.

The first driverless train was flagged off from Jasola Vihar-Shaheen Bagh on the 37-km Magenta Line, which connects Janakpuri West in west Delhi to Botanical Garden in Noida. Altogether five automated trains ran on Monday. All these operated in GoA 3 mode with a driver present to take care of emergency services.

Another significant takeaway of the event was the launch of NCMC, which will now be fully operationalised on Delhi Metro’s Airport Express Line. It will enable anyone carrying a RuPay-Debit Card issued in any part of the country to travel on the route. The facility will be available on the entire Delhi Metro network by 2022, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Sewa Ram, mobility expert and professor at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), said technologies introduced on Monday was a huge leap in the area of urban mobility. “Not only the Metro, the common mobility card should be extended to all modes of transport. This will not only help provide a common platform for people…but will also allow better research data. Researchers will be able to better assess travelling patterns of people and accordingly suggest best plan for development,” Ram said.

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