Automatic train stop or ATS is a system on a train that automatically stops a train if certain situations occur (unresponsive train operator, earthquake, disconnected rail, train running over a stop signal, etc.) to prevent accidents. In some scenarios it functions as a type of dead man's switch. Automatic train stop differs from the concept of Automatic Train Control in that ATS usually does not feature an onboard speed control mechanism.


Mechanical systems

Preserved mechanically-operated ATS system formerly used on Tokyo Metro Ginza Line (installed 1927–1941, replaced with CS-ATC and TASC in 1993)

See also: Train stop

The invention of the fail-safe railway air brake provided an external means for stopping a train via a physical object opening a valve on the brake line to the atmosphere. Eventually known as train stops or trip stops, the first mechanical ATS system was installed in France in 1878 with some railroads in Russia following suit using a similar system in 1880.[citation needed] In 1901 Union Switch and Signal Company developed the first North American automatic train stop system for the Boston Elevated Railway. This system was soon adopted by the New York City Subway and other rapid transit systems in the United States.[1]

Mechanical ATS was more popular on rapid transit systems and dedicated commuter rail than freight or long-distance passenger lines due to a combination of the increased complexity found in mainline railroad operations, the risk of inadvertent activation by debris or other wayside appliances, and the danger of emergency brake applications at high speeds. Moreover, the forces involved in a physical tripping action can begin to damage both the wayside and vehicle borne equipment at speeds over 70 miles per hour (110 km/h).

In 1910 the Pennsylvania and Long Island Rail Roads installed a mechanical ATS system covering various lines to New York Penn Station using the patented Hall trip valve which was designed to prevent inadvertent activations from debris, however the system was only installed on locomotives and multiple units traveling to Penn Station and did not see further adoption.

While similar in operation mechanical systems around the world are generally incompatible due to the wide variety of vehicle dimensions and track gauge which will result in the mechanical stopping devices not engaging the onboard valve.

Electronic systems

ATS pickup on the leading truck of a San Diego Coaster F40PH

Electronic systems make use of electric currents or electromagnetic fields to trigger some action in the locomotive cab. While mechanical systems were generally limited to venting the brake pipe and triggering an emergency stop, electronic systems can trigger other actions such as an acknowledgment from the driver, cutting power or a less severe application of the brakes. Without physical contact electronic systems could be used with higher speeds, limited only by the equipment's ability to sense the signal from stop devices.

The first such electronic system was Crocodile (train protection system) installed on French railways starting in 1872 which used an electrified contact rail to trigger an acknowledgment from the driver. If no such acknowledgment was made in 5 seconds the train would be stopped. In the UK the Great Western Railway implemented a similar system in 1906 dubbed Automatic Train Control that served as the template for the magnetic based Automatic Warning System, which ultimately replaced it starting in the 1950s.

In the United States, the General Railway Signal corporation introduced its Intermittent Inductive Automatic Train Stop system in the 1920s which made use of inductive loops in a "shoe" mounted outside of the running rails. This system was also of the acknowledgment type and was adopted by several railroads, continuing to see service as of 2013.[2]

In 1954, Japan introduced ATS-B, the first known variant of ATS. In 1967, ATS-S (and its various supplements) was invented, the first non-contact-based ATS to be used; in 1974, ATS-P was used for the first time, and in 1986, H-ATS was invented.[3][better source needed]

Usage around the world

United States

The majority of systems meeting the definition of Automatic Train Stop in the United States are mechanical trip stop systems associated with rapid transit lines built in the first half of the 20th century. Since 1951 ATS has been required by the Interstate Commerce Commission (later the Federal Railroad Administration) as a minimum safety requirement to allow passenger trains to exceed a speed limit of 79 mph (127 km/h). The regulatory requirement refers to a system that triggers an alert in the cab of the locomotive whenever the train passes a restrictive wayside signal and that then requires the locomotive engineer to respond to the alert within a set period of time before the brakes are automatically applied.

The most popular implementation of ATS for the mainline railroad industry was made by the General Railway Signal company starting in the 1920s and consisted of inductive coils mounted just outside the right hand rail in relation to the direction of travel. Often referred to as just ATS in railroad operating books, the full name of the system is Intermittent Inductive Automatic Train Stop to differentiate it from mechanical systems being offered at the time. The popularity of ATS as a train protection mechanism fell after the introduction of track coded cab signals in the 1930s.

ATS installations in the United States

System Operator Lines In Service Notes
Train stop New York City Subway A Division (IRT) 1904–present Trips right
B Division (BMT and IND) 1915–present Trips left
Port Authority Trans-Hudson System-wide 1908–present Trips left
SEPTA Broad Street Subway 1928–present Trips left
Market–Frankford Line ?-present Trips left, at wayside signals only
MBTA Blue Line 1925–present Trips both
Orange Line 1901–present Trips right, at wayside signals only
Red Line 1912–present At wayside signals only
Chicago Transit Authority Chicago 'L' ?-present Trips left, at wayside signals only
Pennsylvania Railroad/Long Island Rail Road New York Tunnel Extension 1911-? Trips right, used Hall trip valves on trains
Long Island Rail Road Dunton to Flatbush Avenue[4] ?-circa 1970 Trips right, used Hall trip valves on trains.
IIATS BNSF Railway Santa Fe Chicago to Los Angeles "Super Chief" Route 1930s-present Parts of the route have had ATS removed
Metrolink and Coaster Former ATSF San Diego Main Line. ?-present In service milepost 179 to 249.
New York Central New York to Chicago Water Level Route 1920s-1971 Removed by successor Penn Central
Southern Railway 2700 route miles of main line. 1920s-1971 Removed in favor of increased CTC use.
Union Pacific Former Chicago & North Western North Line, Northwest Line 1952–2019 Used by Union Pacific on lines that also run Metra Commuter trains. Both freight and commuter locomotives must be equipped, with some exceptions.
New Jersey Transit RiverLINE 2003–present Installed at interlockings only. Enforces Stop.
Westcab Port Authority of Allegheny County Pittsburgh Light Rail 42S Line from downtown to South Hills Village. 1985–present Some overlap with an Automatic Train Control system installed on the Route 47 Line.


Many trains in Japan are equipped with this system. The ATS systems in Japan are slightly similar to those used in the United States, but are nowadays primarily transponder-based. The first mechanical ATS systems in Japan were introduced on the Tōkaidō Main Line in 1921, followed by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line in 1927; but ATS did not become commonplace in the country until the late-1960s as a result of the Mikawashima train crash which occurred in 1962. Below is a list of ATS systems that are specific to Japan only:

JNR/JR Group

Private railways/Subway lines

Meitetsu ATS transponders near a buffer stop at Saya Station. This transponder arrangement is similar in principle to "Moorgate control" used on the London Underground.
ATS pickups (yellow circles) on a Hankyu 3000 series train.

In addition, various private-sector railways and subway lines have adopted their own versions of the ATS system since the 1960s. Like the ATS systems used by the railways in the JR Group, they are transponder-based as well, but are generally incompatible with the ATS systems used by JR.

New Zealand

In Wellington only a few signals at a converging junction are fitted with mechanical ATS. All electric trains are fitted.

South Korea

Some Korail and subway lines are equipped with this system, as follows: Line 1, Line 4 (above ground section between Geumjeong and Oido stations), Suin-Bundang Line (between Gosaek and Incheon), Gyeongui-Jungang Line, and the Gyeongchun Line. The first ATS system in South Korea was installed on the Korail network in 1969, followed by Seoul Subway Line 1 in 1974 (similar to Japanese ATS-S).


Buenos Aires Underground lines and have ATS equipped, while , , and have the more advanced Communications-based train control.[6]

The Roca Line is ATS equipped in its electrified branches since 1985.[7] Its ATS was provided by Japanese company Nippon Signal.[8][7]


Many Taiwan Railways Administration trains are equipped with an Ericsson-developed ATS system since the late-1970s (similar to Japanese ATS-SN and ATS-P),[9] which serve as fallback for a Bombardier-designed ATP system introduced in 2006 (equivalent to ETCS Level 1), of which the latter system replaced the older AWS system originally introduced in 1978 on the EMU100 and EMU200 express trains.

United Kingdom

Some of the Firema T-68 and Bombardier M5000 trams of the Manchester Metrolink trains were equipped with ATS, however this is gradually being phased out due to the introduction of line of sight signalling.

London Underground lines are universally fitted with ATS equipment. This comprises a trip arm just outside the right-hand running rail, and an air valve known as a tripcock on the leading bogie of the train. When the applicable signal shows 'danger', the trip arm is held up by a spring. If a train attempts to pass the signal, the trip arm makes contact with the tripcock. This opens the tripcock, which is connected to the train pipe of the air brakes, and causes an emergency brake application to be made. When the signal shows 'clear', the stop arm is lowered by compressed air.


Many China Railway trunk lines use an ATS system introduced in the late-1980s, similar in principle to Japanese ATS-P and ATC.

See also


  • Richey, Albert S. (1915). "Automatic Train Stop". Electric Railway Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 813–815. automatic train stop.
  1. ^ Union Switch and Signal Co. (1911). Automatic Block Signalling for Interurban Electric Railways. Swissvale, PA. p. 33.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) Bulletin No. 57.
  2. ^ "A look at Automatic Train Stop (ATS) – RailPAC". 2 October 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  3. ^ ja:自動列車停止装置#1.E5.8F.B7.E5.9E.8BATS
  4. ^ LIRR Atlantic Branch Interlocking Diagrams 1968
  5. ^ "". Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  6. ^ Siemens modernizará las señales de la línea C - EnElSubte, 1 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b Sánchez, José E. (27 March 2015). "Sistema ATS Línea Roca: Síntesis, Conservación y Evaluación" [Roca Line ATS System: Summary, Conservation, and Evaluation] (PDF). ALAF Asociación Latinoamericana de Ferrocarriles (in Spanish). Operadora Ferroviaria Sociedad del Estado. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  8. ^ "South America | NS World wide Projects | NIPPON SIGNAL". Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  9. ^ アジアの鉄道18か国(吉井書店)