Mayor Talks Up “Driverless” Tube Trains

Boris Johnson has again invoked the prospect of driverless Tube trains as a way of permanently beating the strikes.

The idea first surfaced last summer, when a group of Conservatives on the London Assembly leaked a document that proposed binning off drivers and hence ridding TfL of strike action and a hefty wage bill in one fell swoop. As last night’s Government of London address, Boris Johnson brought the subject up once again, noting that much of the Jubilee line is already under automatic train operation (ATO) between Stratford and Neasden. He could also have mentioned the Victoria and Central line, which operate under a similar system.

The idea seems attractive in principle, but Boris appears to have been led to the conclusion that ATO means the driver can easily be dispensed with. A full explanation of the system is available here, but in short, the driver presses a button to start the train from a station, and controls the doors. However, they are also capable, in the event of system failure, of manually driving the train. Even the DLR, which could be more accurately described as ‘driverless’, has a member of staff on board, capable of taking control if necessary.

Boris’ timing here suggests a new approach to the unions. Earlier this week he released a video message to warn Aslef members about a non-existent strike over the Royal Wedding. His speech last night came 24 hours ahead of another strike on the Bakerloo and Northern lines. Wary of Ken Livingstone’s chance to turn Boris’ apparent mishandling of the Underground into a key election issue next year, the Mayor appears to be doing everything he can to seize the initiative. Cooking up harebrained schemes to pull one over on the unions should play well among commuter circles, but don’t expect to see your Tube train rolling into the platform with an empty driver’s cab anytime soon.

Photo / nic_and_nath

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  • http://twitter.com/ianvisits IanVisits

    In his speech he specifically said that you still need someone on the train – but that such a person could be trained up to do that sort of work in a matter of weeks.

    So he is right that the driver can be dispensed with, and replaced with a train assistant.

    As TfL/RMT are still stuck to antique grades and structures for determining who can do what on the network – you would indeed be getting rid of the drivers and then employing a totally new “grade” of worker to do a different job.

    New workers on new contracts – and probably on a no-strike contract.

  • Dave

    This really does seem to lack any credibility whatsoever. Even if all trains could become ‘driverless’, surely drivers do not account for the totality of all union members working on the underground?

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but even without drivers, I would assume that the RMT and ASLEF unions would still have plenty of tube staff left to flex their muscles. This seems like an utterly pointless proposal.

    • Dean Nicholas

      Good point — the recent RMT strikes have been over closures to ticket offices and reduced numbers of station staff, nothing to do with drivers.

  • Mohbub H

    it takes more then 8 weeks to learn a stock of trains.

  • http://twitter.com/DangerousV Abraham Choong

    I hope they bring in automated trains and do away with front of house staff. Employ non unionised maintenance crew.

  • http://twitter.com/tractiveeffort DJ

    Incidentally, the new ATO system being used on the Jubilee line is exactly the same system used on DLR (Thales’ Transmission Based Train Control (TBTC)). The only difference is that the operator sits at the front on the Jubilee line, whilst on the DLR they rove around the train and are able to help passengers and do revenue checks.

  • michael

    Driverless trains is the best thing to happen to London. For years we had to put up with threats and strikes that are organised to disrupt events happening in london. I think its time we get rid of this 44 thousand£ a year con, paying some to sit and do nothing. Paris has driverless tube system which runs like clock work.

    • Me

      Paris also has wider tunnels with walkways for evacuation. Without widening tunnels driverless operation is not possible. HMRI say so.

  • Jon Millwood

    I much prefer the “driverless” DLR trains as the passenger service agent (as DLR call them) is free to be approached on the train and help passengers rather than just sit up front pushing buttons.
    The way the DLR is run should be a model for more of the tube network!

  • Karenbaker16

    Let me spell out a few simple facts,the DLR runs an above ground service with a speed of no more than 30mph!!! The London Underground Jubilee,Central and Victoria (which i might add have been running ATO trains since 1960) are deep level trains that run at speeds of up to 60mph!!! HMRI will not allow the running of driverless trains so wake up people and stop listening to the ramblings of Boris!!!! Comment added by a hard working single mother train operator on the Jubille line xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Disheartened

    It wouldn’t eliminate strikes as tomorrow’s 48hr DLR strike demonstrates

  • http://twitter.com/waysidesignals Phil Laing

    “In his speech he specifically said that you still need someone on the train – but that such a person could be trained up to do that sort of work in a matter of weeks.

    So he is right that the driver can be dispensed with, and replaced with a train assistant.”

    Wrong. What happens when a fault occurs on the signalling system, and the train has to be driven manually? Would you like a “train assistant” to take charge then? Or would you prefer an experienced tube driver?

    “I hope they bring in automated trains and do away with front of house staff. Employ non unionised maintenance crew.”

    Dumb. By non-unionised, I assume you mean undertrained, underskilled, underpaid?