Political Report - Driverless Trains

By RMT London transport Region's Political Officer

"When the Jubilee works are complete there will be three lines in London – the Jubilee, Victoria and Central – which will operate on an automated system and it is a fact – though not a widely known fact – that as we speak most of the Jubilee Line currently operates under automatic train operation, from Stratford to easden. In other words the driving of the train is done by computer rather than manually. "Of course there will still need to be someone aboard the train, just as every DLR train is staffed, but thanks to the advanced signalling being installed it is also a fact that anyone in this room could in a matter of a few weeks acquire the qualifications necessary to supervise an underground train and the huge potential implications of that change will be obvious to everyone...”

  • Boris Johnson January 2011

When Boris Johnson made the above statement earlier this year, many believed it was the usual Tory anti union twaddle. It’s not. London Underground senior management have informed the Tory Mayor very well actually and his statement is wrong only in one significant detail. As management progress their plans in practice after the Olympics, there will OT “still need to be someone aboard the train”.

The beginning of the end
It’s easier understood, as with our previous Special Reports, if we begin where it ends. By 2018, the first few fully remotely operated trains will enter the system. The Bakerloo Line will almost certainly be the test-bed. By 2020, the Upgrades and the Deep Tube programme will permit the introduction of new trains on the Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines without a separate cab for drivers. As the technology is proven and spreads across lines, there will be an incremental percentage move from attended trains to unattended trains.

Initially, after the Olympics, train operators will gradually, but consistently, be pressed towards an ever-increasing customer facing role. Indeed, there will be corresponding changes in the train operators title as the role evolves - from train operator to train supervisors through to train attendants. Beyond that the train-op is no more, finished, gone, kaput. There starts the era of unattended trains.

Phased out
Each title represents a new phase in attacking our job.

  • The first phase, commencing immediately after the Olympics to 2014, will be to widen the role of the train operator with an attempt to progress the role towards customers.
  • The second phase, from 2014, will see the introduction of train supervisors satisfying a job for automatic and restricted manual train operations only i.e. there will be a greater percentage of full automation releasing the train supervisor for customer facing duties.
  • In the third phase, as a train attendant you’ll be drawn out the cab completely as the shift to full automation is completed and you’ll have customer service and revenue roles – both on trains and stations.
  • The final phase, initiated from 2018, will introduce unattended trains.

For LU to proceed along this path they cannot rely on technology alone. They will require fundamental prerequisites to both raise the productivity and increase the flexibility of each train operator in order to facilitate the commencement of their plans to transform the job beyond recognition.

  • There will be continued attacks on the Training, CDP and Competence management aimed to dumb-down your role and responsibilities in a move to refocus activities away from the cab to customers.
  • OSN 101 issued recently is one of many OSN’s in the pipeline. These Operational changes to the Rules are fundamental to
  • LU’s strategy to widen the role of train ops relating to customers and incident management.
  • LU will continue to make efforts to undermine the Framework and have already initiated moves to introduce voluntary overtime as part of an overall assault on our conditions.
  • There’ll be reductions in overall cover with the removal of booking on/off restrictions for nights. They aim to remove duty and driving length restrictions.
  • There will be changes to job descriptions and all that that entails.
  • DTSM’s will be all but eliminated (from over 200 current to a maximum 50 full time posts) as their job is carved-up between Service Control and extended use of Connect technology.

When you consider the above, it becomes plain why Aslef’s recent ‘Olympic deal’ is so astonishingly short-sighted. Essentially, for a lump of cash, they’re handing over fundamental prerequisites LU require to undermine the train operator’s job. Not only that, over a short period of time, Aslef are embarking on a route that will fundamentally undermine the base of their own organisation. Think about it: no train operator – no ‘train driver’s’ union’.

Consequences and preparation
The Olympics cannot be viewed merely as an opportunity for us to strengthen our bargaining position vis-à-vis the pay deal. We must understand that the Olympics also offers LU opportunities to prepare, test and trial ideas for their inevitable assault on our jobs and conditions after the Games. This is precisely why they’re pushing for a five year pay deal. LU’s preparations even include training up ‘support staff’ to cover our jobs in the event of industrial action - the train-side equivalent of Incident CSA’s (ICSA’s). Make no mistake as to the cost of failing to resist these attacks. The train operator will first be made to move out of the cab and then hauled off the train completely as the cab itself eventually disappears from the train with upgraded rolling stock. Management are fully aware of the key obstacle to their plans: strong union and workplace organisation. United action has knocked LU plans back before. We need to organise, prepare and arrange for battle - now!

In the next Special Issue of the Political Report we assess the inevitable industrial battles to come in our engineering and fleet sectors.

First time tragedy. Second time farce?

As London Underground secretly draw up their war plans for train operators consider the safety consequences. In May 2010 Serco Limited, who run the Docklands Light Railway, were fined £450,000 and ordered to pay £43,773 costs relating to an incident where a passenger, Robert Carter, was pushed onto the track during an altercation at All Saints station and a short time later struck by a train and killed. The Office of Rail Regulation investigation found that Serco had an inadequate procedure in place for stopping trains in an emergency. The company allowed control room staff to decide whether to stop trains based partly on CCTV images. CCTV is not designed or intended for this purpose. ORR director of railway safety Ian Prosser said: “I would like to extend my sympathies to Mr Carter’s family. “ORR welcomes the verdict and today’s sentence, but his death could have been avoided if proper procedures had been implemented. “Most importantly, following ORR’s enforcement action SERCO has made changes to its procedures to ensure that such an incident should never happen again. “Ultimately safety is about people, and although risk of an accident is as low as it has ever been there is absolutely no room for complacency”.

This important case demonstrates four immediate things:

  1. Driverless trains are unsafe.
  2. What price do you put on a human life? Frankly, half a million pounds fine for a multinational company like Serco is a drop in the ocean.
  3. The ORR was right to prosecute but will only go so far. Their recommended “improvements” mean DLR trains remain driverless.
  4. We must relate to, but not rely on, the ORR. The ORR will always balance between safety and costs to business. Ian Prosser, the director of ORR is an ex-Director of Metronet. We must rely on our own industrial strength and unity to beat off the attacks on our jobs and conditions.