Oh dear.  Boris’s tube strike strategy appears to be this:

  1. Invent a strike
  2. Get it in the papers
  3. Spout off in a carefully-leaked speech at the Mansion House, promising what every dim Tory in the Assembly’s been talking about for years, driverless tube trains!

What he has failed to do here (other than talk to his own damn staff) is learn some basic facts about the system he’s nominally in charge of.  Let’s look at what Benedict Brogan (the Deputy Editor of the Telegraph, for crissakes, being taken for a ride like a cub reporter on a local rag) has been spun by Team Boris.

Fighting words from Boris Johnson tonight. He’s giving his “State of London speech” later

No, that was in the middle of last year.  This, according to Mayorwatch, is the ‘Government of London’ speech.  Not an auspicious start.

Hizzoner is threatening the unions with the introduction of driverless trains on the Underground

‘Driverless’ trains, note.  I take that to mean ‘trains without a driver’, as in the Copenhagen Metro.  How Boris intends to do this is unclear.

Boris is locked in a war of attrition with the RMT and others, who are threatening to follow up their Boxing Day strike with one on April 29th

Untangle that.  The RMT didn’t strike on Boxing Day, ASLEF did, but Brogan doesn’t once mention ASLEF, nor does he mention the TSSA, thus neatly establishing a ‘strikes = Bob Crow = political action by Communists’ narrative.  Neither has he caught up with the complete absence of a solid basis for the ‘April 29th’ story, merely parrotting the received wisdom from Boris Spin Central.  Finally the RMT are striking over station staff, not drivers – every train on the network could be driverless but you can’t open the stations without staff.  Top notch churnalism, with added total failure to do any bloody research.

He has proposed a change to the law on strike ballots to require a minimum 50pc turnout, and signed a joint piece on the issue with David Cameron in today’s Sun

Boris only ever goes to the Sun when he’s trying to spin something, such as postponing the low emission zone or pretending to be tough on crime. Watch this one.  Remember the Mayoralty itself was set up on < 50pc turnout, let alone the scrapping of the WEZ.  Democracy is not enhanced by making it harder for your opponents to prove they’ve got support.  The use of lashings of spin is magically erasing any reference to the manifesto commitment to keep ticket offices open, using a bucket of UNIONS UGH!! rhetoric. Classy.

Boris says that unless they back down, he will start recruiting attendants for driverless trains

He’ll do what?  There are no driverless trains on the Underground.  The unions know this, and thus know Boris is bluffing, as well as refusing to meet them face to face.  How this is expected to make them kowto is, also, unclear.

When the Jubilee works are complete there will be three lines in London – the Jubilee, Victoria and Central – which will operate on an automated system

This is what he thinks ‘driverless’ is, and he’s wrong.  The Central, requipped with new stock from 1992, operates mostly under ATO (Automatic Train Operation) where the driver (yes, driver) presses a button at each station to start the train.  He/she is also able to take control and *drive the actual train* manually in case of system failure, or even just for practice (under a mode called, dead giveaway, ‘Coded Manual’, which is much like the way TGV and Eurostar trains operate – the driver in charge, but following guidance from the computer).  The Central Line is not driverless and there are no plans to change this:

ATO is normally used at all times. However, to “keep their hand in”, drivers should run in Full Speed Coded Manual in the open-air sections on Sundays; in addition, the Line Controller may ask specific trains (or all trains in a given area) to come out of ATO mode for various reasons including crowded platforms and slippery rails.

Repeat: this is not ‘driverless’, this is ATO, and the primary purpose is to increase capacity (which is why Crossrail’s so important, the Central can’t operate any more frequently).  Note that Boris had nothing whatever to do with this, it was started in 1996 and completed in 2002.

The Victoria Line, on the other hand, has always been ATO run since 1967, when Boris was 4, and thus is ‘driverless’ in the sense that the person in the cab isn’t called a driver, they’re a ‘train operator’.  They still sit in the front of the train and join unions and go on strike and even drive the train in an emergency, however, and an entire new fleet of expensive trains and entire new signalling system have been procured and expensively commissioned with consequent early life unreliability, all with the whole ‘person-at-front-of-train’ thing going on.  In other words, no change unless Boris wants to reengineer the control system for his entire fleet of trains before they’ve been in service a year.  Yeah, right.

The Jubilee is the only one which is actually being converted to ATO at the moment, and that’s only because the original Jubilee Line Extension scheme (kicked off under Boris mate and TfL Board Member Steve Norris) ballsed up the signalling work and had to install a lower-capacity manual system in a hurry.  This is why the Jubilee, uniquely, is, actually going to see a capacity upgrade as a result of ATO allowing the trains to run closer together, although occasionally it’s meant no trains running at all…

Of course, since all current Jubilee train operators really are drivers, driving on sight with old-school tripcock train protection, if Boris wants to replace them with ‘attendants’ he’s going to have to sack them, in addition to the whole reengineering of a system that’s taken years to install and been dogged by failure and unreliability.  Yeah, double right.

So, if Boris really wants his three ATO lines to have DLR-style remotely operated trains, he’s going to have to lose the manual driving mode of the Central that’s used in emergencies, sack all the drivers on the Jubilee and rengineer the signalling systems and control centres on three lines, two of which are brand new and re-engineer the control systems of three dissimilar fleets of trains.  This while simultaneously upgrading the Northern, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle, District, Piccadilly and Bakerloo and delivering Crossrail.  Am I just a little pessmistic if I conclude that this is not really a goer?

it is also a fact that anyone in this room could in a matter of a few weeks acquire the qualifications necessary to supervise an underground train

This is what happens now, suggesting about 22 weeks starting from scratch.  Quite how this is supposed to stop you joining a union at the end is unclear.  I’ll leave it as an exercise to work out which bits of the training (dealing with live rails, the compressed air supply, passenger illness, suicides etc.) Boris feels can be safely left out to bring this down to ‘a few weeks’.

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