Sadiq Khan is forced to draw up plans for driverless Tube trains
The dawn of driverless Tubes: Sadiq Khan is forced to draw up plans for automated Underground trains under terms of latest £1.08bn TfL bailout
- Transport for London must now push ahead with timetable for driverless trains as part of Government bailout
- Ministers say they want to see business plans by the end of 2021 amid hopes they would improve punctuality
- But Mayor Sadiq Khan who chairs TfL has called them a ‘gross misuse of taxpayers’ money at this critical time’
- DfT says Mr Khan has committed to ‘make progress’ towards driverless trains with an ‘on-board attendant’
- TfL will now report on the business case for fully automated trains on Piccadilly and Waterloo and City lines
London moved a step closer to driverless trains today after transport bosses were forced to push ahead with a timetable for rolling them out despite opposition from Sadiq Khan, as part of a new Government bailout.
Transport for London has agreed a third bailout to keep services running amid the collapse in demand for travel during the pandemic, with the latest package said to be worth £1.08billion and running until December 11.
Ministers have told TfL they want to see business plans by the end of this year for driverless trains on the London Underground amid hopes they will improve punctuality and make them ‘less susceptible to human error’.
But London Mayor Mr Khan, who chairs TfL, has called the trains a ‘gross misuse of taxpayers’ money at this critical time’ – while RMT rail union chiefs have criticised them as ‘unwanted, unaffordable and unsafe’.
The Department for Transport said Mr Khan had committed to ‘make progress’ towards running driverless trains with an ‘on-board attendant’ on at least one Tube line, and he would also ‘review TfL’s generous pensions scheme’.
The DfT will run a joint programme with TfL to look at the business case for fully automated trains on the Piccadilly and Waterloo and City lines, but strike action would be inevitable if they went ahead amid fears for drivers’ jobs.
TfL already runs driverless trains on the Docklands Light Railway through East London, but this was purpose-built in 1987 – and far greater challenges lie ahead for switching a complex Tube network dating back as far as 1863.
Transport for London has ordered 250 air-conditioned driverless trains which are set to boost capacity on the Piccadilly line
The trains will have a driver on board when they launch but have been designed to be capable of fully automatic operation.
The trains will have walkthrough carriages and double-doorways throughout the train to speed up boarding and alighting
TfL has been told to produce a general plan by the end of the year for driverless trains, then another within the next year for the Waterloo and City line, and then a third plan within 18 months for the Piccadilly line.
New driverless trains for the Piccadilly line have already been ordered by TfL amid hopes they will be in service by 2025, but its current plans have no firm commitments that they will actually be operated autonomously.
How will driverless trains work and what other features will they have?
Transport for London has ordered 250 air-conditioned driverless trains which are set to boost capacity on the Piccadilly line alone by up to 60 per cent.
The trains will have a driver on board when they launch, which could be in 2025, but they have been designed and built to be capable of fully automatic operation.
While this would remove the need for a driver, they would still have an ‘on-board attendant’ to manage the operation of the trains, which TfL hopes will have a lifespan of more than 40 years.
The new trains will feature air cooling for the first time on a deep Tube line, with such a system only currently on the District, Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City line services which run at a higher level.
They will also have real-time information screens, fully walkthrough carriages and double-doorways throughout the train to speed up boarding and alighting.
The trains will run on the Piccadilly line, followed by the Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo and City lines. They will boost capacity by 25 per cent on the Central and Bakerloo lines, and 50 per cent on the Waterloo and City.
A number of our Tube lines already operate with modern signalling which controls the train but still requires the driver to confirm when it can safely leave a station and to open or close the doors, and to be there for safety.
Transport for London has said driverless trains will ‘require significant additional infrastructure to be installed to the trains, platforms, track and signalling specifically to allow for this level of automation, funding for which would need to be fully identified’.
It comes after a leaked TfL document last October said the business case for driverless trains was ‘not financially positive given the high capital costs’ and would be ‘poor value for money’ with a £7billion bill.
All Tube trains are currently either operated manually – which sees a driver control starting, stopping, door operation and any emergencies – or in semi-automatic mode, when starting and stopping is automated but a driver operates the doors and drives if needed.
The bailout follows a long war of words between Boris Johnson and Mr Khan, with the Prime Minister accusing his successor as mayor of ‘blowing’ TfL’s finances through an ‘irresponsible’ policy of freezing some fares.
Speaking about the latest Government bailout yesterday, Mr Khan said it is ‘not the deal we wanted’ but it ensures ‘we can continue to run vital transport services at this crucial time for our city’.
He added: ‘We have successfully managed to see off the worst of the conditions the Government wanted to impose on London, which would not only have required huge cuts to transport services equivalent to cancelling one in five bus routes or closing a Tube line, but would have hampered London’s economic recovery as well as the national recovery.’
TfL has insisted it is on the path to achieving an unprecedented level of financial self-sufficiency until the pandemic significantly reduced its fares revenue.
It has been struggling with passenger numbers even in recent weeks as the third national lockdown has eased, with usage still only back at around 60 per cent of the levels before the Covid-19 crisis began.
Under the latest bailout agreement, TfL must find £300million of new savings or income in the 2021/22 financial year and £500million of new or increased sources of revenue each year from 2023.
The package brings Government support for TfL since March 2020 to more than £4billion.
But Mr Khan said: ‘It’s important to remember that TfL only needs emergency funding from the Government because its income from fares dropped by up to 90 per cent because Londoners followed the rules by staying at home and avoiding public transport during the lockdown.
‘In my first four years as Mayor I reduced TfL’s deficit by 71 per cent and increased its cash balances by 13 per cent. TfL is a world class transport authority.
‘TfL is also being forced to undertake some early development work on the business case for driverless trains.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, pictured with his wife Saadiya, takes the Jubilee line on the London Underground on May 10
The new trains set for the Piccadilly line will feature air cooling for the first time on a deep Tube line
The new Underground trains will run on the Piccadilly line, followed by the Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo and City lines
‘However, I’ve made it crystal clear to Ministers that we will object to any future requirement to force TfL to implement driverless trains on the London Underground. It would cost billions of pounds and would be a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money at this critical time for our country.
How Paris made switch to driverless metro trains
Paris is one example of a city that has made the change to driverless trains, after converting its oldest metro line Ligne 1 in 2011 following a four-year transformation.
The line, which runs between La Défense and Chateau de Vincennes, underwent a switch to the new trains while remaining operational to 725,000 daily passengers.
Commuters use the Paris Metro in September 2019
The new trains, which are also air-conditioned and fitted with a modified brake system to reduce noise, were implemented by operator RATP with the intention of reducing wait times by an average of 20 seconds.
The upgrade followed eight years of negotiations with the unions when the idea was proposed in 2003, with drivers moved onto other lines and promoted – and a commitment that there would be no redundancies.
The trains can now run every 85 seconds after the £850million system was implemented – and RATP says staff can be at any stranded train within five minutes.
‘This short-term settlement is yet another sticking plaster so I will seek to work with the Government over the months ahead to agree a longer-term funding deal for TfL that is both fair and right for Londoners and the whole country.
‘I’ve repeatedly said that I want to build bridges with the Government and work constructively with Ministers in London’s interest – and the national interest – as we seek to recover from the pandemic. This remains the case, but I’ll always stand up for London and be honest with Londoners when the Government makes decisions that could negatively impact our city.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘This £1.08billion financial package will support London and its transport network through the pandemic, and ensure it is a modern, efficient and viable network for the future.
‘Throughout this process the Government has maintained that these support packages must be fair to taxpayers across the UK and on the condition that action is taken to put TfL on the path to long-term financial sustainability.
‘As part of today’s settlement, the mayor has agreed to further measures that will help ensure that.’
But Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, warned that its members will take ‘London-wide industrial action if necessary’ to resist the ‘disgraceful stitch up of a deal’.
He said: ‘It is completely unacceptable for transport workers who have risked and in some cases tragically lost their lives to now be asked to pay this political price for the coronavirus.
‘Attacks on workers’ pensions are wholly unacceptable while driverless trains are unwanted, unaffordable and unsafe.
‘With funding only lasting until December, London is being held to ransom with a gun to its head rather than being given the long-term, stable funding deal that is necessary to rebuild the economy as we move out of lockdown.’
And Finn Brennan from Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said: ‘Bitter and protracted industrial disputes are an inevitable consequence of the government’s decision to target London Underground workers.’
Tube drivers earn a basic full-time salary of £56,496, with most getting 43 days of annual leave and working a 36-hour week, although they have to work up to 17 weekends in a row and cannot drink alchohol for eight hours before their shift.
Transport for London has been told by the Government to produce a general plan by the end of the year for driverless trains
A leaked TfL document said the business case for driverless trains was ‘not financially positive given the high capital costs’
A DfT spokesman said: ‘The Mayor has agreed to work collaboratively with DfT on a joint programme for implementing higher levels of automatic train operation on the London Underground, as is the case on many metro systems worldwide.
‘Over the course of this funding period, the Mayor and TfL will make progress towards the conversion of at least one London Underground line to full automation but with an on-board attendant.
‘This technology has the potential to offer a more punctual, reliable, customer-responsive and safer service that is less susceptible to human error. TfL will also lead market engagement into technology for protecting passengers at station platforms.
‘The London Underground is the world’s oldest underground railway and the government is committed to supporting the capital’s transport network, ensuring that it meets the needs of Londoners as we recover from the pandemic and that it is modernised for the 21st century.’
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