in control: The control centre at Rashidiya closely monitors movements of all trains and can detect any snag on any train, station or track within seconds. If there’s a major problem, the controller instructs train attendants to move it manually xpress/ pankaj sharma

Dubai: It’s rush hour on Dubai Metro and commuters are jostling for space in the five cars of a train running from Rashidiya to Jebel Ali.

Suddenly there is a public announcement: “Attention passengers, we are facing a technical problem. We may have to stop the train. But please stay calm. Do not touch any safety devices …”

Passengers are familiar with delays on the Metro caused by minor technical glitches — the last one occurred on September 14, But what if there’s a major emergency?

“We leave nothing to chance,” said Mariam Al Safar, Passenger Service Supervisor, as she shared the procedures and types of evacuation followed by the Metro during an emergency. The automated train goes manual in such situations and 150 drivers or attendants, 80 per cent of whom are women, are pressed into service, Mariam told XPRESS.

Growing confidence

Until now every train had an attendant. But starting this week they will be on alternate trains only. It’s sign of growing confidence in the operations of the Metro which, with one fault for every four million kilometres, boasts one of the world’s lowest train fault rates.

“Emergency or not, each of the 79 trains is thoroughly checked and prepared before it is pressed into service,” she said. These checks are conducted at the depots in Rashidiya and Jebel Ali (Red Line) in the morning and afternoon. The Green Line depot is at Al Ghusais.

The Rashidiya control centre which monitors the movement of trains is equipped to detect any snag on any train, station or track within seconds.

“If it is a major problem, the controller instructs us to move the train manually. We are also given a Manual Route Reserve (MRR) which effectively blocks a portion of the track for our train. This avoids collisions with other trains.”

The next step is to check the parameters of the train in the driving console. Every train has two consoles — in the gold and the fifth car. “We drive from the leading car,” said Mariam, who qualified as the Middle East’s first woman train driver before being promoted as supervisor.

The driver checks for station messages and faults — electrical, pneumonic, battery, pressure etc — on a screen in the console. After moving the auto lever (MSS) to manual mode, she then uses another lever (DHL) to power the train. This lever controls the accelerator and brake.

“The maximum speed allowed on the main track in manual mode is 30 km/h, but we keep it at 26 km/h for safety reasons,” said Mariam. “If a fault is detected, say in a door, it is isolated by manually locking it. Passengers are directed to use another door to exit at the next station.”

But major crises call for swifter action and evacuation. A rescue panel in the console is activated and constant communication is maintained with the controller. Mariam said: “Based on the instructions we get, we make a public announcement to evacuate. Passengers may be asked to evacuate in four ways — train to station, train to train, train to guideway or end to end.”

While train-to-station evacuations are common, the other types are rare. In case of emergencies like a power failure on the track, a train-to-train evacuation takes place. Passengers are moved to a train on the adjacent track through a derailment board that connects the doors of the two trains.

End-to-end evacuation is warranted by problems like brake or battery failure. In such situations, passengers are transferred from adjoining cars of two trains on the same track.

In a train-to-guideway evacuation, passengers are instructed to leave the train and walk to the nearest station atop the walkway or ledge on either side of the tracks.

If a train is stuck in a tunnel, passengers are evcauated along the guideway and in an annexe.

When the train is manually run, it also hoots. “We use the horn before starting and also before reaching a station, especially at night as there could be maintenance work going on. When you hear the horn, it means the train is on manual,” Mariam said.