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Monday 8 October 2012

Driverless Dream Dies A Death

London’s occasional Mayor and regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, is well practised in one particular political genre: the art of flagrant and cheap populism. Thus it was no surprise to see the rash of stories last year about “driverless” Tube trains and “full automation” of lines, which would see off Bob Crow and his members.

Cripes chaps, I've been rumbled!

This appeared on the Zelo Street radar in January last year, as Mail hack James Chapman, who should have known better than to take Bozza’s guff and trot it out unchecked, told readers “The Tory mayor of London revealed that automatic trains have been tested and are running successfully on the London Underground”.  They hadn’t, and they weren’t. The story was a pack of lies.

There were no “automatic trains”, there are none today, and there will not be for many, many years to come, if at all. There is Automatic Train Operation (ATO), but as any fule kno, that is a far cry from full automation, as ATO merely drives the train from one station start to stopping at the next one. The Train Operator deals with platform work and door control, as well as intervening in emergencies.

Train Operators also communicate with controllers and security agencies, as well as keeping information supplied to passengers. And ATO only extends, as I pointed out, to the Victoria, Central and Jubilee lines (the latter is still not fully bedded down, as regular and long suffering commuters will be aware). Nor does the DLR operate in full automatic mode, despite some hacks asserting that it does.

So it was no surprise to see the previously slavishly Bozza supporting Standard admitting today that, for the foreseeable future, as this blog has been saying for more than a year and a half, there are not going to be any driverless tube trains, and that therefore the myth of “full automation” has been busted: “there are no plans to test driverless trains on any part of the network” is the word from LU.

Maybe driverless operation will be tested elsewhere, but, as ATO was in the early 1960s, it will have to also be proved on the capital’s system at some time. So where does this leave Bozza’s manifesto promise that “Under my leadership, TfL will rapidly establish a timetable for introducing the first driverless trains to become operational on the LU within a decade”? It leaves it stone dead.

Along, it has to be noted, with ATO and new trains for the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines (the existing ones dating from 1973 and 1972 respectively), which, with yet more budget cuts coming, have been shunted down the line for several years. These mere facts, together with the tens of millions expended on vanity bikes, vanity buses and a vanity cable car, should be borne in mind when Bozza appears in Brum today.

Because that, and not the amiable clown act, is the reality for Londoners right now.

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