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Wednesday 9 May 2012

Oo-er Readers, The Trains Won’t Drive Themselves!

[Update at end of post]

So, a full day after Political Scrapbook broke the news that the appointment by London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson of Stephen Greenhalgh to be his policing deputy was a foul-up of the first order, the less than dynamic Evening Standard City Hall duo of Pippa Crerar and Peter Dominiczak have decided they might as well bother to report it.

Gosh chaps, Tube jobbies need sorting! Cripes!!

Mayor’s appointment of policing chief Stephen Greenhalgh branded a ‘complete shambles’” is the headline. But “branded” doesn’t enter into it, and “shambles” fails to convey the mess into which Bozza has got himself. Such is the manner of this cock-up that on the Denis Norden Cock-Up Richter Scale (tm), this was a tsunami inducing, reactor trashing Category 8 plus.

And, from a scan of the Crerar and Dominiczak piece, there looks to be another ready basted City Hall turkey all ready for the slow but inevitable media roast, and on a subject for which Zelo Street regulars will need no introduction: it’s those mythical driverless Tube trains again. But this time, Bozza has a secret weapon, a new deputy who is going to “get tough”.

Central Line at White City: no automation on the way

So who is this latest in the ever lengthening line of mini-Bozzas? Isabel Dedring, readers are told, is a “key City Hall figure”. She will have “an expanded role that would include reducing Tube delays and deliver driverless trains”. And how, pray, will she accomplish this task? Ah well. She has “degrees in law, Russian and political science from Harvard and speaks four languages”.

None of this will help Tube reliability, which needs (for instance) the Automatic Train Operation (ATO) on the Jubilee Line to be properly bedded in and optimised, and that on the Victoria Line renewed (in addition to retrospectively sorting the “sensitive edge” door problems that have bedevilled the 2009 Stock since its introduction). And on neither line can the trains drive themselves.

The scale of investment that would be necessary for fully automatic operation would be enormous: new trains (none are likely to be ordered for the foreseeable future following the delivery of “S” stock for the Sub Surface Lines (SSLs)), new signalling, platform doors at all stations (tunnel ventilation permitting), and years of testing on a system that in many parts is over a Century old.

At some time, the Standard’s hacks are going to have to cease recycling Bozza’s press releases and start asking the occasional question – the kind of thing that journalists are supposed to do – unless they want to see any residual credibility sprayed up the wall. Driverless Tube trains aren’t about to happen, no matter how many degrees Bozza’s appointee has garnered.

Let’s have some proper reporting from the Standard. This isn’t good enough.

[UPDATE 10 May 1800 hours: predictably, in a suitably gushing write-up of their latest interview with Bozza, Pippa Crerar and Peter Dominiczak have returned to the subject of those mythical "driverless trains". And they let Standard readers know that "He does not intend to let union bosses, who oppose the plans, get in his way".

And just what, pray, are these "plans"? How can "union bosses" oppose something that has not yet been put forward? There is, to no surprise, any explanation that no Tube trains in service or on order could be operated without a Train Operator in the front cab, nor of the significant sums that would have to be spent in order to achieve the "driverless trains" goal.

Moreover, Bozza puts on record his assertion that two terms is enough, so on that basis will be out of office by 2016. He'll be lucky to even have the Waterloo and City driverless by then, especially as it will mean scrapping trains that would not be far past their 20th birthday (the Piccadilly Line stock is 40 next year and the last of the Metropolitan Line trains that are now being withdrawn was put into service in 1962).

Someone needs to do some proper analysis of this idea, and ask the difficult questions. But it isn't going to be the less than dynamic City Hall duo at the Standard]

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