Fully Automated Trains

Submitted by Tubeworker on Thu, 01/21/2016 - 11:54

On 18th January, LUL sent out an ‘invitation to tender’ to a shortlist of suppliers for new trains for the Central, Piccadilly, Waterloo and City and Bakerloo Lines, due to come into service in the early 2020s.

It says, ‘ When the New Tube for London enters service, it will have an operator (driver) on board’. However, it adds, ‘Given that the New Tube will serve London for around 50 years, it will be capable of full automation’. Meaning: remote operation, to be driven without a driver. It goes on to say, ‘It is likely that the trains will have the versatility of a reconfigurable cab’. Meaning: LUL might decide to remove the cab and use ‘train captains’ as on the DLR.

LUL lists the benefits that these new trains will bring to London: ‘modern’, ‘reliable’, ‘air-cooled’. Greater automation will mean trains can run closer together and Tube capacity can increase. Tubeworker is not opposed to the commissioning of new trains. We agree that new technology should be used for the public’s benefit.

But none of LUL’s reasoning explains specifically why driverless trains will bring benefit to London. LUL explains that it does not currently operate fully-automated trains because it ‘would have to upgrade the signalling to an even more sophisticated level and introduce new features to enable remote operation in all situations and automatic opening and closing of doors’. If so much investment would be needed to deliver full automation, and if LUL is unable to tell us specifically what benefit this would bring to Londoners, you have to wonder whether it would be money well spent.

Yes, invest in new trains. We are not opposed to new technology. We are concerned, though, that new technology in the hands of capitalists and employers can be used not for public benefit but to achieve anti-worker and anti-union political objectives.

Three years ago, RMT passed a policy that it would not wait until driverless trains arrived before fighting their introduction, but would act against processes such as the invitation to tender was sent out. Well here it is. The attack on drivers’ jobs may appear to be far in the future, but LUL has a long term plan. Our unions should be building a long-term fightback. In the first instance, this needs to centre on building unity between drivers and station staff on LUL, and guards on many parts of  the national rail network, whose job roles are under imminent threat of extinction.