The unveiling of the stupidly named ‘New Tube For London’ was a relief for a few reasons – first, it wasn’t designed by Thomas bloody Heatherwick, and thus looks like a thoroughly modern urban metro rather than a badly executed nostalgia fantasy, second it looks nothing like the ugly Siemens concept that was flying around a couple of years go, but also because it confirms that two of Boris’s much-vaunted RMT bashing pronouncements were as false as we suspected all along:

Boris Johnson promises driverless Tube trains within 10 years

Mr Johnson, who is standing for re-election in May, said if returned to office he would not buy new Tube trains with drivers’ cabs.

Both the promise of driverless tube trains by 2022 and no purchase of trains with cabs have now unquestionably been broken.  As we’ve seen, the capacity crunch on the Northern and Jubilee, where the new SELTRAC signalling enables more trains to run but there aren’t enough trains, will require a purchase of a considerable number of new trains in the next year or so to avoid severe overcrowding.  Modern Railways ‘London Special’ in the October 2014 issue says:

Up to 68 new trains could be bought, but this is the top end of the estimate.  Current thinking is that five will be needed for the Battersea extension, 19 for service intensification on the Northern Line and between 10 and 18 for service intensification on the Jubilee.

The OJEU notice reveals that the project is now called ‘Jubilee and Northern Additional Trains’ (JNAT):

To support the planned upgrade of the Jubilee and Northern Lines and extension of Northern Line service to Battersea, TfL currently intends to purchase between 11 and 63 tube trains in 6 or 7 car formation. It is anticipated that the trains will be required to substantially replicate the gauging and functionality of the existing Jubilee and Northern Line rolling stock in the form of a “modern equivalent vehicle”. Apart from specific differences associated with infrastructure and operating differences, the new trains are expected to be of generally the same gauge and specification for each line. TfL may also include certain upgrades to the existing fleet on the Jubilee and/or Northern Lines within the contract. The scope of the contract, number of trains required and maintenance arrangements will be further defined following completion of ongoing feasibility studies.

These trains will have to have cabs, and train operators in them, because that’s how the Northern and Jubilee operate.  They will also be ‘new’, in the sense that TfL is aware that the existing design is 20 years old, so these will be substantially new designs, but to the same broad shape as existing ones, and one presumes similar interfaces and controls to reduce training costs.  The first is intended for service in 2017, so major changes to the operation of the line are out of the question, there isn’t time, and in fact 2017 is pretty ambitious given that no one currently has an in-production tube gauge train – the most recent ones apart from Bombardier’s Victoria Line stock were the extra carriages inserted into the Jubilee Line trains in 2005, which were built by Alstom in Spain.  It would be highly odd if anyone other than Alstom got the contract for these trains, since they built them and maintain them under a PFI deal, so are pretty much on their own as far as understanding the existing trains and the interaction with the lines.  Of course, the trains need new drivers, so one presumes the prediction last year that Boris will leave office with significantly more tube drivers holds true.  In fact the number are likely to have gone up.

So, why are the Piccadilly Line trains, which are a new design restricted to one line, not driverless from day one?  The basic engineering facts are:

  1. Mixed running – the large new fleet will take several years to deliver, starting in 2022.  You can’t run driverless and non-driverless on the same line
  2. The enhanced frequencies require automated train operation – computers are better train drivers – and this will be SELTRAC as on the Northern and Jubilee and by then the SSL lines too, barring another procurement disaster
  3. PEDs – TfL now appear to accept that driverless trains require platform edge doors, which are complicated and expensive to add to existing stations, particularly given the amount of traffic on the lines – out of hours installation is also constrained by the 24 hour tube plans.
  4. The Piccadilly has 53 stations, 25 of them below ground. At any conceivable level of progress (say one a month) fitting PEDs to all stations will take several years to complete.
  5. You can’t start installing PEDs until the old trains go, as it’s unlikely the door spacings will match (unless TfL accept this as a limitation of their new design, and even if they did you’d need to equip the trains you’re about to scrap with interlocks to open the PEDs)
  6. Until you’ve got all stations PED equipped you can’t run driverless trains due to the risk of grating the customers down the tunnels
  7. There are a number of stations where PEDs are problematic due to platforms shared with the different length/different door spacings of S-Stock (Acton Town and Ealing Common plus Rayners Lane to Uxbridge).  London Reconnections covers this extensively here.

This means, regardless of what Boris and his anti-RMT cheerleaders want there’s no engineering prospect of unattended operation on the Piccadilly in 2022, nor really until around 2030, to give enough time for the new trains to bed in, old trains to be removed, PEDs to be introduced everywhere and any service changes to cope with mixed stock made.  Since there’s a train operator at the front there has to be a cab for them, so TfL’s next two tube stock purchases will be of two different designs of cabbed tube train, totalling more than 150 sets.

Even once you’ve got the engineering sorted it’s not clear that UTO will mean no staff on the trains (for evacuation assistance reasons if nothing else, as there are no walkways down the side of the train as are normally provided on new lines like Crossrail/DLR/JLE) as this RMT leaked document shows:

One of the key areas of concern for many members of our train teams is the prospect of ‘driverless trains’. However, let’s be clear – when the New Tube is introduced it will have an operator (driver) on board. No final decision has been made on the long term staffing arrangements of the New Tube

If you’re a train operator today and you’re prepared to be flexible you will continue to have a job, in the cab of a train, for your entire career at LU

In short, UTO is sufficiently far off for most RMT members to be retired and on their pensions by then, so one assumes their usual woofing is in fact hiding a large helping of ‘I told you so’ and some grins. They know that TfL are constrained by rising passenger numbers, limited funding and basic engineering facts and will be hiring large numbers of new train operators over the next decade.  In turn TfL know that they’ve got to build some industrial relations bridges after the disastrous Boris era, and the soothing tone of the briefing document suggests that they are beginning this process.  The sum total of Boris spending six years shouting about driverless trains is no driverless trains, more strikes, zero tube trains ordered and a rush to buy enough to cope with the ever-growing congestion on the network.

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