Driverless tube trains ruled out by City Hall

Outgoing transport boss says examining introduction of driverless trains is ‘waste of money’ but TfL set to do it anyway, reports Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter

New 'Inspiro London' trains are due to operate on the Piccadilly Line from 2025 (credit TfL)
New ‘Inspiro London’ trains are due to operate on the Piccadilly Line from 2025 and are designed to be converted for driverless operation if desired at a later date (credit TfL)

London’s transport chiefs have ruled out introducing driverless trains on the tube despite being required to investigate the idea as a condition of the government’s funding deal.

Transport for London (TfL) is obligated to work with the Department for Transport (DfT) to “develop the evidence required to make a strong case for investment in driverless trains” as part of the long-term funding deal agreed in August.

But speaking at a meeting of the London Assembly’s transport committee on Tuesday (11th), outgoing TfL commissioner Andy Byford said: “I don’t see any prospect of that happening in the short and medium term”.

Byford said: “For the cost and the time involved, a far better use of funds is to finish the job off and get the remaining lines properly re-signalled on to modern moving block signalling before you even begin to go down the road of driverless trains. To me, that would be a folly, but that is a stipulation of the funding deal, so we’ll happily have a further look into it.

“I don’t see any prospect of that happening in the short to medium term. We will fulfil our obligation to the funding deal, but to spend too much time on it or too much money on it would, in my professional opinion, be wasted.”

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While driverless trains already exist in London on the Dockland Light Railway, Byford said it would be a different prospect introducing them on the tube because of “a number of prerequisites” that would need to be in place before getting safety sign-off.

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He added that, while the Elizabeth Line has these prerequisites, driverless trains could not be introduced as it connects with the mainline railway towards Heathrow and Reading in the west and Shenfield in the east.

Seb Dance, London’s deputy mayor for transport, told London Assembly members that introducing driverless trains on deep-level tube lines would require the addition of walkways along tracks and emergency access points, which would mean “an entire tunnel widening project” that would come at “enormous scale and cost”.

Dance said that introducing driverless trains on the Paris Metro “took well over a decade” despite the city “not having the same problem that we have with deep tube tunnels”.

According to Byford, TfL sent a team out to Paris to explore how driverless trains have been introduced. The TfL commissioner told assembly members that his French counterparts said “they could not have made the case for a retrofit in the same way that is being pitched to us”.

TfL is still required to develop and test technology that could support the introduction of driverless trains in London and must work with the government to develop a business case.

New trains are set to be introduced on the Piccadilly Line from 2025 and will come with the capability of later being converted for driverless operation, if desired. The new trains will boost capacity on the line by 20%.

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