At a visit to a tube train factory, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has called for future tube trains to be driverless to beat the unions.
The new Siemens factory that will build future Piccadilly line trains is being built in Goole, East Riding of Yorkshire and while the new tube train will have a theoretical capability to be a DLR style service, the trains will come into service as conventional tube trains, with a driver.
Boris Johnson told reporters covering the visit that “You can run these trains without the need for somebody to be sitting in the driver’s cab the whole time.”
“So what I will be saying to the London transport authority is let’s take advantage of this technological leap forward, let’s not be the prisoners of the unions any more, let’s go to driverless trains, and let’s make that a condition of the funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn.”
With the signalling upgrade planned for the Piccadilly line, plus the new trains, it would be possible to match the Prime Minister’s words as stated and run the trains in a DLR style configuration, with an attendant in the passenger area.
However, declaring this to be a way of bashing the unions is to fail to realise that the train attendant can still go on strike — as DLR passengers will confirm.
The benefits of having an attendant in the carriage with passengers instead of in a drivers cab is more obvious on the DLR, with its unstaffed stations, so the attendant is often the sole employee that passengers see, as opposed to the fully staffed London Underground stations.
TfL has already agreed with the RMT that when the new trains are delivered for the Picadilly line they will come with a drivers cab, and that the cabs will remain for the lifespan of the trains, so a government-mandated change would anger the RMT.
There is a risk therefore that tying a future funding agreement for TfL to an expensive change to the train function puts TfL in a fight with the unions that it didn’t ask for.
Such an additional upgrade would also cost more than the current deferred upgrade plans, so the Prime Minister would need to be willing to supply the additional funding on top of any planned funding settlement to keep TfL running.
It’s unlikely that the Treasury will be keen on spending so much money for so little practical gain.
For more about why the driverless train is less than it seems, go here.