The battle over driverless trains

Articles, New ProjectsEditor

From Chris Lo:

Driverless train technology might not be a new concept for the world's metro systems, but it's still something of a contentious issue in public transport circles. On one side, driverless trains are being championed as a way of avoiding human error and reaching new levels of efficiency at a time when many metro systems are operating at the very limits of their capacity. On the other, critics are concerned about entrusting public safety to a driverless system, as well as the spectre of mass job losses.

Of course, amongst those who are concerned, the very title 'driverless trains' conjures up the idea of an automated network, untouched by human control, the spectre of disaster lurking not far away. Any substantive change to the Tube is bound to throw up safety concerns. Here's Chris Lo again (the full article is very much worth reading):

The next step from semi-automatic train operation, which automates some aspects of train operation but still requires a driver to be in the cab, is driverless train operation. This technology, in operation on the likes of London's DLR, involves the automatic handling of all aspects of train operation, with a trained human operator on board the train to handle customer service, ticket checking and to take control in the event of an emergency.

So it can be done. And already has been in London. The DLR runs just fine - very well in fact.

This is what the Mayor had to say about driverless trains in his manifesto:

Under my leadership, TfL will rapidly establish a timetable for introducing the first driverless trains to become operational on the London Underground network within a decade. I will also ensure that TfL never again order a new train for London Underground with an old-fashioned driver cab – it is time to invest in new technology for London.

Moving to automation on this scale will make the tube more reliable, because the system will be smarter. It will also reduce the bargaining power of the union bosses intent on bringing London to a halt.

But driverless does not mean unmanned. Safety will still be our primary concern, and every train will always have a staff member on board to assist customers as they do on the DLR.

Which certainly doesn't seem unreasonable.

The reason we bring this up now is the RMT's decision to ballot over the concept of driverless trains. This is already a quote-heavy post, but it's worth adding in Bob Crow's statement here:

"RMT reiterates this union's complete opposition to driverless trains. Every train must have a driver to ensure the safe and effective running of the Underground.

"Plans to scrap drivers or reduce their driving duties are risking safety, services and jobs and are motivated by saving money and undermining trade unionism."

To clarify, the RMT are balloting members over this concept despite the fact that every train will, like the DLR, have a member of staff on board who is able to drive the train in an emergency and instead will be able to actually move about carriages and assist customers. Driverless does not mean unstaffed (or un-unionised for that matter).

Here's another quote, this time from LU's Managing Director, Mike Brown:

"A fleet of 191 new trains which have a driver's cab, like all of our existing trains, are now being delivered for the Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith and City lines. We have no design, no order in place and no programme for any further purchase of new trains at this time.

"We have always made it clear that we will continue to explore new technology as it develops - in common with every other metro around the world - but any call for industrial action at this point is ludicrous. On jobs, there are no plans in place for any further staffing changes at present."

I leave you with a final, excellent, quote from Annie Mole:

Are the RMT now proposing strike action for plans that currently don't exist?