The RMT union has warned that it may take action if the government presses ahead with plans for driverless trains on the London Underground.
One of the many conditions of the government bailout earlier this year was that TfL investigates the possibility of how the London Underground could be converted to higher levels of automatic control, and now adverts have been posted for seeking consultancy services to do just that.
The RMT’s General Secretary Mick Lynch said “The news that the Government is pressing ahead with wasting money on a consultancy project on driverless trains on London Underground when there are massive challenges facing the transport network shows their twisted set of priorities.
“This is all part of the Government driven cuts assault on transport in London and RMT is pledged to fight it with every tool at our disposal including the use of industrial action.”
While it’s not unsurprising that unions will be concerned about anything that could potentially affect their members, threatening strike action just for hiring a consultancy to investigate the matter could backfire. It’s not just that a lot of the public will instinctively blame the unions if strikes take place but mainly because pretty much every report that’s ever looked at the issue of driverless trains on the Underground has concluded that it’s simply not viable without such a massively expensive upgrade that any potential cost savings could never cover the cost of implementing the system.
That’s assuming the technical difficulties of retrofitting it to the old tube could be overcome anyway.
For example, under modern safety standards, driverless trains of the speed achieved by the tube would need platform edge doors. However, those can’t be fitted to much of the legacy tube network, especially in areas where several lines share the same station, such as the Piccadilly and District line stations.
The cost of rebuilding so many stations to enable them to support driverless trains would be astronomical and take decades to achieve, not to mention the cost of signalling upgrades and new trains.
Ultimately, TfL is required by the terms of its funding agreement to spend some money on a consultancy to report on the issue, and that report is pretty much guaranteed to find that it’s simply not worth the effort or investment to go driverless, and hence killing off any talk of driverless trains for the next few years.
In light of that, it makes sense to support the consultancy process.
After all, it’s difficult to think of anything more likely to kill off any government’s plans for driverless tube trains than an independently commissioned government report that concludes that it’s a total fantasy to try and introduce them.