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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Metro Fights Drowsy Drivers

Moscow metro riders may be able to rest a little easier soon knowing that it will be a lot harder for train drivers to fall asleep at the helm.

Metro officials said Friday that drivers soon will begin wearing devices designed to sound an alarm if they begin to nod off.

Spokesman Konstantin Cherkassky said the search for an appropriate wake-up device was prompted by four incidents last year when train drivers fell asleep while their trains were running. No serious accidents resulted -- the trains merely went past stations without stopping -- but metro administrators don't want to take any more chances.

Cherkassky said that each of about 2,500 train drivers eventually will wear a small, battery-powered appliance that fits on the ear much like a hearing aid. The device is designed to react to the angle of the driver's head position.

"So should the driver start to nod off, the device will produce a beeping sound to wake him up," Cherkassky said.

Cherkassky could not specify the cost or manufacture of the device, but he said special market research has been conducted by Moscow metro managers to find the most suitable and efficient device.

"Even despite our constant financial difficulties, there is never any problem with spending money on improving safety in the metro," Cherkassky said.

Similar devices have been available to motorists for years in the West. For example, one U.S. firm, L.J. Enterprises, offers on its World Wide Web site what it calls a Doze Accessory for $9.95. The company advertises the product, which looks like a hearing aid, as "great for long-distance [car] driving."

The Moscow metro has a good safety record, due in part to numerous built-in safety devices. They include automatic brakes and speed controllers and sensors that notify the driver if any part of the train comes off.

Cherkassky said a tunnel sensor may have prevented an inciden earlier this week when a drunk apparently trying to catch up with a train was detected entering a tunnel between the Polyanka and Borovitskaya stations. He was picked up by the driver of the next train and turned over to police.

Opened in May 1935, the Moscow metro and its ornate stations have long been the pride of the Russian capital. It serves about 9 million passengers a day -- well over its design capacity of 6 million -- more than any other subway in the world.

Like many other public services, however, the metro has suffered from financial problems and reduced government subsidies since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Cherkassky acknowledged that the metro, subsidized mainly by the city government, is technically in need of repair in some areas. But he said that overall, the system is in reasonably good shape.

"If things got really bad, we would simply close any stations that put passengers' lives at risk," he said.