Driverless Tube trains: Is this the end for drivers?

The Queen in the cab of a Tube train in 1969 The Queen in the cab of a Tube train in 1969

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Driverless trains and ticketless technology will again be on the agenda as London Underground's (LU) 'Operational Vision' is due to be put in front of the Transport for London (TfL) board on Wednesday.

Here's the paper itself (.pdf).

Its sub heading is 'Technology Enables Change' and it very broadly outlines what last week's leaked report described on the direction LU is heading. It's called 'emerging thinking'.

It does admit cabless trains will probably be on the network by 2020.

The report says: "Given the technology available now, it is very unlikely that, after the procurement of the trains for the Sub Surface Lines, LU will ever again buy a fleet of passenger trains with conventional drivers' cabs.

"This means that the new generation of Tube train being developed for the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Central lines, to be introduced in the 2020s, could dramatically change the train staff operating model."

Union fears

It also says: "For train staff who currently drive a train, LU will make a commitment to them that they can continue to do so for the rest of their career. In return, train drivers will need to show greater levels of flexibility to support long-term service reliability improvement."

Start Quote

What it means is the unions' worst fears look likely to materialise; automated trains, bankcard ticketing and job losses.”

End Quote Tom Edwards

The report also says the next generation of employees supporting the train service could be much more like the train captains on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), rather than those seen traditionally on LU.

Crucially, from an employee's point of view, it says: "The operational vision outlined above could mean that there will be changes to LU staff numbers in the future."

Last week, we were told the leaked report that outlined 1,500 job losses was not LU policy.

LU maintains it isn't in terms of the detail but that the broad themes are being looked at. Of course, it maybe official policy in the future.

What it means is the unions' worst fears look likely to materialise: automated trains, bankcard ticketing and job losses.

All of which spell trouble for the commuter in terms of industrial relations and strikes.

Is it an indication of the state of industrial relations that the unions are not involved (yet) in this process?


The RMT Union has told me: "Driverless trains are a lethal and unworkable option for London Underground and any move in that direction will meet the fiercest union resistance."

Tom Edwards Article written by Tom Edwards Tom Edwards Transport correspondent, London

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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    i agree.. we all quickly forget 7/7....drivers are needed!!!! whatever modern technology provides..people need help not computers to tell them whats going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Wouldn't it be great if a train captain could walk through the carriages at quieter or later times and interact with customers. Giving feedback to management [or transport police] and reassurance to passengers. Something that can't be achieved in a cab. Like a PCSO on 25k (ish) +++ Any union member would surely hate trousering 40K+ of public money for basically watching a few TV screens in a cab

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    All DLR trains are staffed. Yes, they are driverless trains and, if all goes to plan, so will the Underground. But people must remember that Tubes trains WILL NOT be un-staffed. As RayB said, today's driver's will be tomorrow's train captains. The problem lies witht he over-crowding of trains.
    Bob Crow is out of date. I doubt that LU will compromise passenger safety for new technology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The Department for Transport has cut billions from TfL’s budget and plans to do so until 2015.

    The tender for new trains on the Piccadilly, due to come into service in 2014, was cancelled last year and if as expected they are not re-tendered until 2018 then driverless or not they are unlikely to appear until after 2020.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Christian Wolmar estimates that converting the Tube’s 250 miles, 270 stations and 550-odd trains to NoPO would take over a decade and would cost billions.

    Unless LUL receive unprecedented levels of funding driverless trains are a long, long way off. Rather than looking 20 or 30 years into the future it might be more useful if management focused on the problems that beset LUL in the present.


Comments 5 of 15



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