Occasional London Mayor – and full time collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph – Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has set great store by his pronouncements on “driverless tube trains”, and that new trains would be ordered without drivers’ cabs. I said at the time that this would not happen even if he were to serve another two terms as Mayor. Today I was proved right.
Not automatic now, and it won't be in future
Because, this morning, Mike Brown, who is the head rail travel man at Transport for London (TfL), conceded that no driverless trains would run on the Underground network until 2020 at the earliest. And even then, there would have to be a full analysis, which would consider passenger safety, staffing, and “design modifications” to the Tube network – as I’ve already pointed out.
Thus far there has been no response from the Evening Standard, aka London Daily Bozza, to the news: only yesterday it was trumpeting “Driverless Tube trains must go ahead” above a photo of a train of “A” stock, which is not only not a Tube train, but is so Old Technology that it has separate control handles for power (or “motoring”, as they say at the Underground) and braking.
The Standard was quoting at length Tory AM Richard Tracey, who claims to have authored a report on driverless trains. On this I commend his efforts, but do wonder if he has taken into account the mildly inconvenient facts, such as none of the existing fleet, or any of the trains on order, being suitable for driverless operation, or the inevitable requirement for platform doors for all underground stations.
Moreover, it is debateable whether driverless operation would be permitted on those parts of the network that run above ground – remember that, for instance, the new Lines 9 and 10 in Barcelona are going to be completely below ground. And, given the need for platform doors – inevitable on the crowded London system – there is the prospect of major re-engineering of Tube stations to retain adequate ventilation.
Somehow I doubt that Tracey has considered this, and the consequent effect on the cost of implementing driverless operation. There are few Metros around the world that have to live with the constraints of the Tube, and few which have so many lines that date back a century or more. Not of course that Bozza will have bothered to consider any of this: he just spouts without thinking things through.
For now, the best that Londoners can hope for is more coverage of the network with Automatic Train Operation (ATO), which is better for capacity but still requires a Train Operator, and a move to renew the fleets on the Piccadilly (1973 stock) and Bakerloo (1972 stock) lines. In other words, Bozza and his cheerleaders would do well to concentrate on practical matters, rather than pipe dreams.
And that includes the hacks at the Standard. Get real, folks.