1. Transport
November 3, 2015

This one picture from the DLR this morning shows why driverless trains won't end tube strikes

By Jonn Elledge

So you remember how literally everyone in London googles “driverless trains” during tube strikes? Because they’re convinced that the only possible explanation for tube stoppages is greedy overpaid drivers demanding yet more money for sitting on their backsides all day? So they all assume that we can just scrap the drivers and then, suddenly, magically, we’ll have no tube strikes?

The Docklands Light Railway, which serves a large swathe of east London, and which has been driverless as standard since it first opened in 1987, is almost entirely closed today.

Because its staff are on strike.

Yesterday, the RMT called a 48 hour walkout due to a row over “working practices”. In a statement, the union accused Keolis, the contractor which manages the network on behalf of TfL, of

“abuse of procedures and the adoption of a wholly cavalier attitude to the issues of risk assessment, and the safety and security of both staff and the travelling public”. 

Staff walked out; network closes down; the normally cheerful commuters of east London are all crammed onto tube, bus and boat services instead.


So how is this possible on a network that doesn’t even have drivers? Well, just because it doesn’t have drivers, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have staff. The DLR still employs conductors on trains, and station attendants at underground stations, to keep an eye on things. It can’t not. What would happen if someone was taken ill on a train? Or fell under one? Someone has to be on hand to respond in the event of emergencies.

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A driverless tube network will be A Good Thing, for all sorts of reasons. And it’s almost certainly going to happen at some point.

But what it won’t do is magically bring an end to bouts of disruption brought about by industrial action. Even the most automated of transit networks will not make human staff entirely redundant.

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