You can tell this one is bullshit because it’s a pet project of Andrew Gilligan, purveyor of bullshit to the masses (many of whose readers seem to be both racist and ignorant, judging by his blog comments.  Stay classy, Andy).

No matter.  Boris has been banging this particular drum for a couple of years now as a not particularly subtle way of bashing the unions, presumably to detract from another Great Boris Lie, the disappearance of his manifesto commitment to a ‘no strike’ deal.  As hinted in the previous Great Boris Lie the truth isn’t quite what Boris (or Andy) claims.  Let’s look at LU’s own briefing PDF again.

Train operators will be able to continue if they wish as approaching 70% of the network will be operated in conventional ATO

ATO, of course, is the system used on the Victoria Line since it opened, the Central since 2000 and the Jubilee for around a year, where the computer normally drives the train but the operator has a conventional cab and controls and is in charge of starting from stations – the primary aim of ATO is more regular operation of trains closer together and is thus a *capacity* investment rather than a way of smashing Bob Crow.  It is also therefore a highly sensible way of moving forward.  I reckon the following lines will be ATO before the end of the decade, in order of conversion:

  • Victoria
  • Central
  • Jubilee
  • Northern
  • Metropolitan
  • Hammersmith & City
  • Circle
  • District

That’s eight lines with, in point of fact, more drivers than now due to running more trains.  Hardly a driverless revolution.

What of the other 30%?  Might they be fully automated?  Well, the lines not included in that set above are:

  • Waterloo & City
  • Bakerloo
  • Piccadilly

Of these the W&C is self contained and ideal for full automatic operation, and is indeed intended as the pilot as we’ve seen.  The Bakerloo has severe difficulties between Harrow & Wealdstone and Queen’s Park at the northern end where it shares its tracks with the London Overground.  These are standard Network Rail tracks with standard NR colour light signalling and I highly doubt they’d convert that to full automatic operation any time soon.  You’d therefore need a driver to cover that section, who must sit somewhere.

The Piccadilly shares its tracks with the District west of Acton Town and the Metropolitan between Rayner’s Lane and Uxbridge and as we’ve seen the Met is being re-equipped with trains with conventional cabs and CityFlo 650 ATO signalling.  I’m 99% sure the choice of CityFlo 650 plus the desire to move the Piccadilly control room to the same building in Hammersmith as the sub-surface lines points to the same system being installed on the Piccadilly itself, which leads to the interesting prospect of automatic Piccadilly Line trains sharing tracks with ATO Metropolitan and District trains.  Using the same signalling system is, at least, a start here.  Not knowing the details of the SSL CityFlo installation it’s impossible to judge whether or not conventional train operators will be required in both types of train.

Boris has also made the rather odd claim that

..he would not buy new tube trains with drivers’ cabs.

As we’ve seen he’s not planning on buying any new tube trains for the best part of a decade (apart from a prototype around 2015/16).  Moreover he’s not exactly been Mr. Splash The Cash with public transport vehicles – I make his contribution to the largest city in Europe to be:

The last tube train order for London, so far as I can tell, was the S-Stock/09TS order in 2003, so what Boris is actually proposing is extending an already long gap in investment, as we’ve seen.

So, could 30% of the network really run with ‘driverless’ trains, or at least trains without cabs?  Well, the cabless DLR is often pointed to as the example here, but that runs with a Train Captain permanently on board who can and does drive the train manually (particularly in an emergency – imagine the result of a dozens of totally driverless Piccadilly Line trains sitting down during an evening peak and you’ll rapidly see why a manual driver backup is going to be required).  The TC can and does join unions and can and does exercise their right to withdraw their labour, so is hardly a great Bob Crow bashing exercise, either.  Moreover as Christian Wolmar has pointed out the DLR’s tunnel sections have to have a walkway throughout as a safety measure, an option which isn’t available to the rest of the tube.

Perhaps the best guide to TfL’s thinking is found in the OJEU notices asking for tenders from suppliers – you can’t spin these and European procurement rules dictate that they have to be published.  Here are a few relevant recent ones:

Seeking expressions of interest for participation in a technical dialogue to identify technologies that will support the next generation of LULs deep tube programme.

LUL is re-planning the tube upgrades, following the end of the Public Private Partnership (PPP). A Deep Tube Programme (DTP) has been initiated to address the next generation of railway systems to be deployed progressively across 7 tube lines. A strategic solution is to be developed to accommodate the rapid growth of demand on LUL’s railway network and to capitalise on advances in technology to provide a modern, world-class service.
The DTP is in its initial, foundation stage, through which it will define an optimised system design at railway level, a comprehensive set of requirements and a programme for implementation. These will meet the following key objectives:

  • a faster, more reliable train service,
  • increased network capacity,
  • energy efficiency,
  • increased levels of automation,
  • lower capital and operating costs per capita,
  • minimised disruption for day-to-day operations.
Nothing about union bashing in there, nor full driverless operation, nor is this in any sense a done deal, LU, as we’ve already seen, are going to spend some time navel gazing and really thinking it through, and are asking industry to help by telling them what the state of the market is technologically now and in the near future.  If anything this is about using technology to augment and partially replace the roles of operational staff on stations and in control rooms rather than militant drivers.

Design and development of a air conditioning concept for deep tube application.

Under the TfL’s Deep Tube Programme (DTP), London Underground (LUL) is developing its requirements for new rolling stock for use on the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Central Lines. There is a desire for the trains to incorporate an air conditioning system. LUL recognize that there are risks and integration challenges related to providing air conditioning on deep tube rolling stock. LUL wish to commission a concept design study of the air conditioning system to enable LUL to assess the suitability of such a system and confidently specify that a conventional air conditioning system is technically suitable and should be included as part of train manufacturers design for the new trains.

The concept design study is proposed to be in two stages. Stage 1 would be the design of the conventional air conditioning system and would likely be between June 2012 and January 2013. Stage 2 would relate to the ice storage concept. The decision to proceed with stage 2 would be contingent upon the success of stage 1. This design would likely be between January and November 2013. Stage 2 may require some specialist input to design the heat exchangers and storage requirements.

Normally, as we’ve seen, air conditioning on the deep tube is ruled out by the fact that any air conditioning system heats more than it cools by dint of using electrical energy to run itself.  It’ll be interesting to see if this goes anywhere, although these three lines have substantial above-ground sections you can happily run aircon on, turning it off in the tunnels.  The ice storage idea has been floated before and, speaking personally, I think it’s bonkers.  Again, this is a high level feasibility study, not a settled thing.

Railway track detection and platform train interface detection systems trial for deep tube application.

London Underground Ltd (“LUL”) is currently reviewing the possible upgrade of the whole of it’s deep tube network. As part of this process, LUL is currently undertaking a feasibility study to consider the optimum strategy for the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Central and possibly other lines to address the next generation of railway systems to be deployed. A strategic solution will capitalise on advances in technology to provide a modern, world-class service.
As part of the upgrade, LUL is seeking expressions of interest from suppliers of detection systems to operate in both deep tube and surface level environments and to tender for a trial(s). The scope of the trial(s) is/are yet to be determined but will seek to identify a system that will, among other issues:
a) automatically detect persons or objects on the track area; and
b) detect safety events associated with the platform train interface.
LUL may need to broaden the scope of the trials should this be productive to its operational and developmental requirements. In each case the intention is to use asset detection systems in an unattended operating environment. LUL is interested in receiving expressions of interest from Suppliers who work in these relevant fields but may require some development work to be undertaken on a system to meet the trial requirements. LUL is therefore interested in obtaining proposals from a range of technology providers, including (but not limited to): laser, radar, infra-red, video based and optical fibre solutions.
It is necessary to understand trends and innovation in detection systems and platform train interfaces in order to establish how best to support a railway system that is not expected to be fully operational before 2018 at the earliest.

Information about lots

  • A person stuck in the train doors external to the train, and the train borne mitigation system fails to prevent the train from moving away.
  • A person falls in the gap between train and platform when boarding or alighting.
  • A person gets onto the track area in a station. They may have accessed the track from the platform, or from the ramp at the end of the platform.
  • An object on the track that could cause derailment.

This is much more interesting – the suggestion that unattended operation (presumably meaning no platform staff) is being considered stands out, not least because LU seem to think that this implies sophisticated detection equipment to replace the Mk. 1 eyeball in the case of things (or, indeed, people) falling onto the line or getting stuck in the train doors (I seem to recall one A. Gilligan getting remarkably excited about other forms of transport with doors that trap people).  The 2018 date is also significant as this implies that it’s the Waterloo and City that’s being referred to here.  Again, however, this is a play to see what’s out there, not a firm commitment to unattended operation, nor should it be seen as such.

In short, LU are embarking on a long term fundamental rethink of the way the tube works, not committing to a firm future of ‘driverless’ trains.  Nevertheless, Boris is using this as an opportunity to bash the unions, either not knowing or not caring that even on LU’s best predictions those same unions will be representing London’s tube train operators until long after both Boris and Bob Crow have departed the scene.  I strongly suspect that, as with his previous antics, the result will be more strikes, not fewer.

 

5 Responses to Great Boris Lies #5 – Driverless Tube Trains

  1. The rumour is that LO will cease operations between Euston and Watford, perhaps even extending the Bakerloo up there. Just a rumour.

    By the way Train Captains are now Passenger Service Agents which doesn’t sound half as silly.

  2. Greg Tingey says:

    For more information on this bullshit see Christian Wolmar’s blog

  3. john b says:

    As is often the case when he talks contemporary politics rather than historical research, Wolmar is wrong on the DLR automation point. The Bank tunnel has a walkway because it’s a requirement for new-build, as does the JLE and as will Crossrail. It’s got SFA to do with automation.

  4. Peter says:

    The road into Neasden Depot is used by both Metropolitan and Jubilee trains – the former using conventional signalling and the latter using ato. The ato sections are linked to the conventional signals, so essentially you could run both trains on the same section.

    One of the problems presumably would be that far fewer Bakerloo trains would be able to run on the section with both Bakerloo and Overground trains as they would be further apart, which could cause a bottle neck – but theoretically it wouldn’t be impossible to run both systems side by side. Or alternatively the Bakerloo trains could run with both Trip Cocks and in ATO and switch over at the point where there is dual running, in a similar way to the Jubilee when ATO was being installed and we ran in ATO half the line than switched back to trip-cock mode for the remainder.

    One of the problems of having a driverless train is that as soon as a problem does occur – such as a power failure to the line, the ‘captain’ will be going straight to the front anyway to either set up emergency detrainment equipment, or attempt to drive the train manually. When this happens in the peak you’re looking at perhaps a 15 minute walk which isn’t ideal when a tunnels filling up with smoke!

    I can imagine if any lines do go ‘driverless’ it’ll end up still requiring somebody at the front, but they’ll be on half the wage with half the training – essentially doing the same role as a current ATO driver.

  5. [...] tube trains, previously touched on here and recently by Tim Fenton, Tom Edwards and a frequent hobby-horse of our old friend Andrew [...]

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