Driverless trains could soon zip their way through London Underground tunnels, according to a leaked Transport for London (TfL) report. Critics say the Tube would be worse off, but I think they’re over-reacting.
Yes, 1,500 jobs could be lost if TfL’s report is implemented, but there are also plans for staff to change seats from the driver car to the train carriages. This is where human interaction could actually be improved. But, I’m speeding ahead of myself…
TfL’s trying to cut costs (£2 billion by 2018 to be precise) and it’s got some radical ideas on how to do it. There’s talk of scrapping Oyster Cards and replacing them with contactless bank cards, but it was the idea of making the Tube fully-automated that pricked up my ears. The plan is to get rid of train drivers, instead using signal operators to control them.
Bring on the driverless Tube
Much of my journey to work is already done on driverless, or partially-driverless, trains. The first leg of my trip is on the Docklands Light Railway, which has never had any drivers. Instead, there’s an attendant who makes their way through the carriages (dependent on how packed they are) checking tickets and making mini-announcements. Usually everything runs smoothly… if not painfully slow.
The second leg of my daily trip to my Which? Convo desk is on the Jubilee line, which is semi-automatic (incidentally, so are the Central and Victoria lines) where drivers generally don’t need to do too much. It’s still not perfect, because when the Jubes’ automated system goes wrong, we’re often left stuck in a sweaty train under London town.
Still, take out the drivers and there’ll be no one to strike over their already hefty pay packets. Then again, making the Underground driverless would be a huge undertaking, involving a complete restructuring of how the Tube works. We’d therefore see years of weekend Tube upgrade closures, which might make the strikes pale in comparison.
If I was to be completely pessimistic, I could see these upgrade closures and strikes combining into one big (forgive the pun) train wreck as Tube staff walkout over the prospect of imminently losing their jobs.
Anyway, let’s get back on track – personally I think the benefits of driverless Tubes are too good to pass up. It could speed up trains, the service could become more efficient, it would save a lot of money in the long term, and others have even argued that it could make the Tube safer. But maybe you wouldn’t trust driverless Tube trains?