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Berlin: Automated subway? Very maybe...


Berlin, which took nearly two decades to get its new airport up and running, is now thinking about another big engineering project—semi-automating its U-Bahn subway system.

But while the plans are rudimentary, the potential problems are already quite clear: High cost, a slow-motion plan, and unclear purposes. The idea, as put forward in a request for proposals by Berlin's transit operator BVG, is to convert the system to semi-automated operation.

Unlike newer lines built or converted in Paris, Copenhagen and some other cities, where the operation is completely autonomous and unstaffed, Berlin's plan is to have a train operator continue to open and close the doors and start the train, with automation taking over between stations.

But the whole issue may become academic. BVG says it would only be possible to convert two stations a year to the new system; the two lines it has picked to try the system on first have 50 stations between them, meaning a 25-year rollout. The system as a whole has 175 stations.

And yes, this story appears on January 20th. It is not yet April Fools' Day.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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