The idea of driverless trains any time in the near future is a ridiculous fantasy and Boris’s musings about them are mere political braggadacio. Sure, as Boris said,the Central and the Victoria lines, and part of the Jubilee are operated automatically, but that’s because the signalling equipment is completely different from those on the other lines.To fit the rest of the Tube network with automatic train control systems would take at least a decade, and cost billions, money which the mayor knows is not available.
Moreover, the idea of completely unstaffed trains is equally fanciful. When the Victoria Line was completed over 40 years ago, London Transport discussed whether the trains would need to have a person in the front cab, even though all they do is operate the doors. It was decided, understandably, that the notion of a train with an empty drivers cab would be unsettling for many travellers and indeed few users of the line know, even today, that the main function of the ‘driver’ is merely to open and shut the doors. Even the DLR has a ‘train captain’ who can drive the train if there is a technical problem and ensure passengers can be evacuated in an emergency. Trains travelling through London’s Underground Victorian tunnels will always be staffed, and those people will always be able to exercise their right to strike. Driverless trains, therefore, would not solve the Tube’s strike problems and Boris’s speech must be viewed in the context of the terrible industrial relations endured by London Underground.