Driverless trains

Driverless Nightmare

Published on: Sat, 31/08/2019 - 14:02

Lest we forget, while we continue our day-to-day battles with management, behind the scenes they continue to prepare to introduce driverless trains.

And in case anyone believes the hype that they are 'safe', read this report of a toddler being separated from his mum on a driverless Metro train in Sydney last week.

Incentivised by a financial squeeze on operating costs while government grants remain available for capital investment, TfL top bosses have their eyes on a future without those pesky drivers. We have heard little of it over the last couple of years, but we can be sure that the Tories will make more and more of an issue of driverless trains (and nicking our Nominee Passes) in the run-up to next year's Mayor and GLA elections.

The daftest thing for us to do would be to hold off on fighting driverless trains until they have been designed, manufactured and delivered. Let the shocking incident in Sydney remind us of the need to fight this now.

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Stuck Under the River

Published on: Wed, 25/01/2017 - 08:05

The delights of driverless trains were plain for all to see as a DLR train got stuck in the tunnel under the river for over an hour yesterday.

It was undoubtedly a deeply unpleasant experience for the passengers, packed like sardines during the morning peak when it may have been freezing outside but it was sweltering in the train.

It took an hour for engineers to reach the stranded passengers and for a rescue train to get them out.

DLR management said that the rescue happened as quickly as it could have done, and we have no reason to doubt that. The point is that no amount of superhuman effort by other staff is going to make for a speedy rescue from a stalled train without a driver.

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More Secret Trials On The Jubilee Line?

Published on: Thu, 25/08/2016 - 13:15

New equipment has been put on some Jubilee Line trains that allows management, controllers and maintainers to get near live info from the trains equipment. It is transmitted via station WiFi. It would probably feel less like being spied on had we been told what was being done, before it was done.

Did bosses not think that when a new MCB appeared in our cabs, that professional and diligent train drivers would not want to know what it was for and whether we should use it?

This follows last month’s discovery of a secret "driverless" trial which took place on the Jubilee Line.

All of this points in the same direction: driverless trains. This tech could and should be a positive addition to the train ops essential safety role. But the truth is it’ll be used to remove drivers and in the meantime speed up the service the cost of safety once more.

Tubeworker topics

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Fully Automated Trains

Published on: Thu, 21/01/2016 - 11:54

On 18th January, LUL sent out an ‘invitation to tender’ to a shortlist of suppliers for new trains for the Central, Piccadilly, Waterloo and City and Bakerloo Lines, due to come into service in the early 2020s.

It says, ‘ When the New Tube for London enters service, it will have an operator (driver) on board’. However, it adds, ‘Given that the New Tube will serve London for around 50 years, it will be capable of full automation’. Meaning: remote operation, to be driven without a driver. It goes on to say, ‘It is likely that the trains will have the versatility of a reconfigurable cab’. Meaning: LUL might decide to remove the cab and use ‘train captains’ as on the DLR.

LUL lists the benefits that these new trains will bring to London: ‘modern’, ‘reliable’, ‘air-cooled’. Greater automation will mean trains can run closer together and Tube capacity can increase. Tubeworker is not opposed to the commissioning of new trains. We agree that new technology should be used for the public’s benefit.

But none of LUL’s reasoning explains specifically why driverless trains will bring benefit to London. LUL explains that it does not currently operate fully-automated trains because it ‘would have to upgrade the signalling to an even more sophisticated level and introduce new features to enable remote operation in all situations and automatic opening and closing of doors’. If so much investment would be needed to deliver full automation, and if LUL is unable to tell us specifically what benefit this would bring to Londoners, you have to wonder whether it would be money well spent.

Yes, invest in new trains. We are not opposed to new technology. We are concerned, though, that new technology in the hands of capitalists and employers can be used not for public benefit but to achieve anti-worker and anti-union political objectives.

Three years ago, RMT passed a policy that it would not wait until driverless trains arrived before fighting their introduction, but would act against processes such as the invitation to tender was sent out. Well here it is. The attack on drivers’ jobs may appear to be far in the future, but LUL has a long term plan. Our unions should be building a long-term fightback. In the first instance, this needs to centre on building unity between drivers and station staff on LUL, and guards on many parts of  the national rail network, whose job roles are under imminent threat of extinction.

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DLR Shut Down as Solid Strike Bites Back

Published on: Tue, 03/11/2015 - 08:25

Nothing is moving on the DLR this morning as workers hit back against their new employers' clampdown.

Pickets at Beckton and Poplar have kept the strike solid and cranked up the pressure on management to back off from their attacks on the workforce. Since taking over the contract, Keolis Amey Docklands (KAD) has stepped up disciplinary action against staff, casualised working conditions by using agencies, and risked safety by licensing managers to work in the control room.

But after a thumping ballot result and a determination not to settle for small movements by management in negotiations, RMT members are out on strike. The action is all the more effective because nearly all DLR staff are union members, and are in one union - RMT - rather than being divided into several.

Oh, and you know the right-wing's plan to defeat Tube strikes by bringing in driverless trains? That's looking rather silly this morning as the driverless DLR trains sit idle in their depots.

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Movement on Fleet and M Door issues, plus a new dispute on the Piccadilly Line

Published on: Tue, 28/07/2015 - 00:37

The dispute over the use of agency labour on LU Fleet has been resolved, with the company agreeing to take on the agency trainers on standard LU contracts, for periods of at least one year.

This is a significant victory against LU's drive to outsource. The principle of "sack the agencies, not the workers" has been won here, and hopefully the spirit of this dispute can be developed in other areas where the company has outsourced various aspects of the job. Getting agency trainers on Fleet taken back in house could be the first step towards blocking other attempts at outsourcing and getting other workers taken back in house too.

In the dispute over M Door operation on the Jubilee Line, RMT's Trains Health & Safety Council reps report that LU have agreed not to impose new procedures. The imposition of LU's new rule would have de-skilled the role of driver and helped pave the way for driverless trains. It's important that it's been staved off for now.

RMT is also making preparations to ballot Piccadilly Line drivers for strikes against authoritarian disciplinary practises, including the unfair sacking of driver Paul Okoro. Paul allegedly answered his phone while driving, even though the main evidence given against him, by a trainer who accompanied him in the cab, clearly stated "he did not answer his phone till he was in the [passenger] saloon”. (For more on Paul's case, see here.)

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Obstruction On the Track?

Published on: Sat, 23/08/2014 - 20:07

London Underground tried to trial front facing cameras on Victoria Line trains - to detect obstructions on the track, to help it eliminate the need for a driver on the front. But Vic Line drivers were having none of it.

Train ops have been refusing to allow this equipment in the cab, knowing it will bring LU a step closer to its long-term desire for driverless trains. It's been good to see members of RMT and ASLEF working together on this at local level.

It would be good to see both drivers' unions carry this firm stand to LU management - especially ASLEF, which has been reluctant so far to join RMT in declaring a serious fight, hoping instead that technological difficulties will scupper these plans.

Tubeworker is not opposed to technology that detects obstructions on the track; in the hands of workers, it would be used to make us all safer. But LU isn't interested in safety; it's invested in this technology for the pure purpose of removing jobs. It's interesting to note what our bosses are prepared to spend money on in times of high unemployment and supposed austerity.

That is precisely the reason that all unions should fiercely oppose driverless trains and combine the fight against driverless trains with the fight against LU's austerity agenda.

Tubeworker topics

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Major safety incident at Mile End

Published on: Mon, 28/07/2014 - 13:16

On Saturday 26 July, the Central Line was suspended after masonry fell on the track at Mile End.

Yep, that's right, masonry. Large, heavy, blocks of concrete. There is some indication the incident was caused by vibration from work being done on the track.

RMT's Trains Health and Safety Council has written to the company demanding urgent answers on how this major safety incident happened, and why union health and safety reps weren't contacted (instead having to find out via social media!). One senior LU manager made the ludicrous claim that, because the masonry fell into the pit, and not onto the actual track, safety was never an issue anyway!

Fortunately, no-one was injured in the incident. But what if such an incident took place in a dystopian future where the company has won all its battles - so there's no driver on the train, and the station is staffed by a skeleton crew of semi-casualised CSAs (if at all)? Who'll be there to deal with safety incidents like this, to evacuate stations if necessary, to help and reassure passengers?

Local union activists say that service was resume with only a cursory inspection by structural engineers, with no input from health and safety reps, again showing management's readiness to cut corners when it comes to safety.

This also happens to be the same stretch of track where a derailment took place in 2007, following several other safety incidents in the same area. Health and safety reps' warnings were consistently ignored then, too.

Proper safety standards need more staff, not fewer, and for elected health and safety representatives to be on the frontline and listened to by the company.

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Unattended Train Operation

Published on: Tue, 27/05/2014 - 14:24

LU has formally invited companies to bid for the contract to "design, manufacture, test and commission" new Tube trains.

LU has specified that it wants companies with experience of delivering unattended train operation (UTO), i.e. not just no driver in the cab, but no crew on the train at all!

Would LU specify this if it was not serious about removing staff from trains? It’s good that RMT is already in dispute over driverless trains and that it’s launching a "train drivers’ charter" to recruit and campaign.

ASLEF needs to wake up. If you’re in ASLEF, ask your union what it’s doing to safeguard your job.

Tubeworker topics

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Trains Hit Each Other: Management Talk It Down

Published on: Sat, 10/05/2014 - 13:19

On 1 May, between East Putney and Southfields, two District Line S stock trains clattered into each other - or, in management-speak, "came into slight contact".

The cause? The tracks in the area had moved. Again in management-speak, this was a "slight movement", but if it was enough to cause two trains to hit each other, then even if it is "slight", it is very very serious.

You may wonder how an incident like this would have played out if there had been no drivers on the trains. And you may wonder why track is moving and whether this might just having something to do with management reducing the frequency of maintenance and checks.

Management should stop talking down serious incidents of this type and instead reverse their cuts in track maintenance frequencies and abandon plans for driverless trains.

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