Driverless Tube Trains Ruled Out by TfL Commissioner

Andy Burford says no prospect of introduction in short and medium term

Docklands Light Railway trains have no drivers

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.

TfL is obligated to work with the Department for Transport 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 transport committee on Tuesday, outgoing TfL commissioner Andy Byford said, “I don’t see any prospect of that happening in the short and medium term”.

Mr 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 onto 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.”

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

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.

London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport Seb Dance told 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”.

Mr 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 Andy 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.

It is understood that driverless trains had been a favoured project of the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson who had been advocating them since he was Mayor of London despite being advised of the technical challenges. The new administration is believed to be less concerned with the idea and unlikely to insist on it being made a condition of further funding.

Joe Talora - Local Democracy Reporter

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October 11, 2022