New Delhi: Delhi Metro’s journey may have been halted for over five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the year gone by, but the urban transporter is zooming into 2021 riding on next-generation driverless trains, while accomplishing a major technological feat for the country.Also Read - Delhi Metro Unveils First Refurbished Train After First-Ever Mid-Life Overhaul of Old Coaches

The first case of novel coronavirus in Delhi was reported on March 1 and soon the daily cases began to multiply and number of containment zones grew rapidly. Also Read - Delhi Peeps Good News! Driverless Operations Flagged Off on Delhi Metro's Pink Line TODAY

Flight services were soon suspended to check the spread of the virus. Also Read - Driverless Train Operations on Pink Line to be Inaugurated on Nov 25: DMRC

Metro services in Delhi-NCR were stopped on March 22 to contain the spread of the pandemic and the ensuing nationwide lockdown from March 25 meant the services remained suspended in that period.

The raging virus that has claimed over 10,000 lives in the national capital in 2020 alone, wreaked havoc in June when the city witnessed the first major wave of the pandemic, followed by two more lethal waves in mid-September and November.

Following guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Delhi Metro resumed operations in a graded manner on September 7, after a hiatus of 169 days, even as both the DMRC and commuters trod with caution amid the new normal in the rapid transport system.

Delhi Metro resumed services after taking a slew of measures to ensure least physical contact for riders, like automated thermal screening-cum-sanitiser dispenser and lift calling system driven by a foot pedal at several stations, to begin with.

The DMRC put up banners at prominent places in the metro premises, advising commuters to take metro only in case of an emergency and avoid it if they were feeling unwell.

Wearing of masks inside train coaches and station premises became mandatory and those found violating it faced challans by authorities.

DMRC chief Mangu Singh, in an interview to PTI in September had said, “Restarting of services was not done on consideration of generating revenue or bringing ridership, but to connect people and contribute to revival of the economy.”

He had also asserted that tokens were planned to be brought in use after the pandemic was over, but it is “our attempt to slowly phase it out” and have more smart cards in use.

During lockdown periods, employees across sectors, leaving healthcare, sanitation services, were largely working from home, and after the phase-wise unlock began in mid-2020, commuting long distance was becoming an issue for people.

For riders too, stepping into the metro premises again was anything but a regular experience as the new normal slowly became a daily routine.

Inside coaches, warning stickers alert commuters to leave alternate seats vacant, floor markets in carriages tell people to maintain social distancing, so do those outside on platforms.

The Delhi Metro had resumed train services a day after the city had recorded 3,256 COVID-19 cases, which was by then the highest single-day spike here in 72 days, as the tally had mounted to over 1.91 lakh.

In view of COVID-19 safety norms, issuing of tokens have been temporarily stopped from September 7 onwards, and monetary transactions are happening via smart cards, credit and debit cards, mobile apps or other online services.

In the new normal of metro travel, cash transaction has been suspended, a paradigm shift the riders have more or less accustomed themselves too.

Metro officials say, smart phones have become a ubiquitous device, so accessing services online is not a worrying issue for commuters.

As life in a metro city went on during this pandemic of the century, so did the life in Delhi Metro, and with daily cases dropping below the 1000-mark and positivity rate also showing a steady slump, the city is well on the road to recovery.

As the unforgettable year inched towards its end, Delhi Metro and India achieved a major technological feat, with the operationalisation of the country’s first driverless train on the 37-km Magenta Line on December 28.

With the commencement of these new-generation trains, the DMRC has now entered the select league of “seven per cent of world’s metro networks” which can operate services without drivers, officials said.

Delhi Metro had begun its commercial operation on December 25, 2002, a day after the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had inaugurated DMRC’s first stretch, spanning 8.2 km from Shahdara to Tis Hazari, with just six stations.

The DMRC’s current operational network spans about 390 km with 285 stations across 11 corridors (including NOIDA-Greater NOIDA line). On regular days, the average daily ridership of the Delhi Metro is over 26 lakh.

The DMRC is set to reach another milestone in the new year, as another major corridor, 57-km Pink Line (Majlis Park Shiv Vihar) will also have driverless operations by mid-2021, officials said.