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Metro moves to make all its train doors open automatically

As of now, conductors manually operate the doors on arriving at a station, thousands of times a day

A Metro car
Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

“Metrorail operators,” according to a release by Metro on Monday, “initiate an ‘open doors’ command more than 20,000 times each weekday.” This manual opening of train doors is the result of a change that the regional transit authority made a few years ago, after what Metro calls “a series of wrong-side door incidents” where train operators opened doors on the side opposite of platforms. But now Metro says it will reverse course across its fleet during 2019.

“The automatic door opening feature is part of the original design of the Metrorail system, but its use was discontinued years ago – along with automatic train operations – due to reliability problems and overriding safety priorities,” the release notes. (Metro ceased self-driving train technology after a fatal crash on the Red Line in 2009 but plans to restore it also this year.) Transmitters on the track communicate precise location data to an arriving train, Metro says. Once the train has come to a complete stop, the doors open automatically.

The revival of automatic door opening is intended to improve customer service and safety by facilitating faster train boarding and taking human error out of the equation. Metro’s current policy is for operators to wait several seconds before triggering the “open doors” command, “as a behavioral safety check to reduce the risk of a mistake,” and this slows down boarding.

But the transit agency says it has started to test automatic door opening in recent weeks and will continue to do so. “If all goes well, Metro expects to return to systemwide use of the auto-doors feature later this year,” the release points out. Operators will still manually close doors.