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Monday 27 February 2012

The Myth Of Automation

The spectre of trade unions – make that militant trade unions – has appeared over the race for the London Mayoralty. And, as I noted earlier, an awful lot of hot air is being expended on the subject of driverless trains on the Underground. Much of this merely emphasises the ignorance of many hacks and bloggers, some of whom would rather believe their own dreams than take on board reality.

What has sent the convocation of Ron Hopefuls into a mood of slavering expectation has been another article in the Standard, titled “I’ll curb power of Tube unions, says Boris”. And it falls at the first hurdle, as Automatic Train Operation (ATO) is confused with “Automation”. These are not the same thing. There is no prospect of the latter on any Tube or Sub Surface Line (SSL) in sight.

Central Line: out in the open and a bit complex

The piece is partly correct when it mentions the Victoria, Central and Jubilee lines, but ATO is not the same as “Automatic Trains”, particularly on the latter two routes with significant parts of their track out in the open and therefore subject to a variety of inclement weather conditions, as well as trespass and vandalism. “Automation” may not be an option here. Ever.

Nor is the Northern Line ATO even running in test form as yet – and on top of that, this has a complex layout with a variety of potential routings. To get ATO working here before 2014 may be manageable, but nobody familiar with the Tube and its ageing infrastructure should guarantee it. On top of that, the SSLs are yet more complex in terms of their routing possibilities.

As I noted previously, new fully automatic lines, such as the 9 and 10 in Barcelona, are completely underground and all platforms have doors, to ensure passengers have no chance of accessing the tracks. This would be required in London – else how would full automation cope with those who fall off the platforms, whether deliberately or otherwise?

There will be no fully automated working in London for at least four years, and that would only be between Waterloo and Bank, on a line with no intermediate stations. Moreover, thus far the public preference has been for retaining a train operator, which is also useful when there are problems, and especially on open sections of track (see above).

And there will only be any potential political advantage to be gained from this idea when one of the major Tube lines has gone over to fully automatic working. There is no prospect of this as yet, and little even if Bozza were to serve a second and even third term. It’s just the right, whistling to keep their spirits up, aided and abetted by the gullible hackery of the Standard.

But it might move a few more papers, so that’s all right, then.

1 comment:

Dave Eyre said...

The driverless trains in Lille and at Atlanta Airport are exactly as you describe with no access to the lines.

Besides Boris will have enough problems with his busses!