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Friday 14 January 2011

Yikes Chaps – No Driver!

Occasional London mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has, in between his regular mission to collect “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph, put forward his latest jolly good idea for solving the industrial relations problems of London Underground (LU). Bozza has told the Daily Mail that his secret weapon is “driverless trains”. Except he’s talking total guff.

LU uses what is known as Automatic Train Operation (ATO) on three lines, but this does not do away with the Train Operator (TOp), the term LU uses instead of driver. ATO was trialled in the early 1960s, and used from the beginning on the then new Victoria Line. At present, all trains on that line, both original 1967 stock and new 2009 stock, use the original ATO system, but when the 1967 stock has been withdrawn, a new ATO system will be introduced, and no doubt there will be some need for manual intervention as it is bedded in.

The Central Line was the first line to have ATO introduced in place of lineside signalling, initially in the central area only. The installation has not been without its problems, and unlike the Victoria, it has a lot of surface running, where slippery, wet or icy rail conditions makes some manual use of the controls unavoidable. TOps are trained to enable them to make the necessary intervention, as well as oversee station stops and be able to perform a range of safety related tasks, including evacuation of the train, if necessary.

Most recently, the Jubilee Line has had ATO replace lineside signals, but between Stratford and Neasden only. The installation has not yet been optimised for speed and therefore line capacity, and in the near future will have to be revisited to enable a more frequent service to operate.

So just three LU tube lines have ATO, one of them in a partial and not yet fully functioning installation, and another with a new system yet to be introduced. All other tube lines – the Northern, Piccadilly, Waterloo and City, and Bakerloo – have no ATO and no prospect of it being implemented any time soon. None of the Sub Surface Lines (SSLs) – the District, Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan – have ATO, or are slated to receive it.

All this may be borne in mind when Bozza sounds off about “driverless trains”: such things do not exist on LU.

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