Driverless Tube trains proposal risks ‘mother of all industrial relations disputes’

The RMT union has warned London Mayor Boris Johnson that he faces the “mother of all industrial relations disputes” if he goes ahead with a proposal to axe all train drivers and operators on the capital’s underground system and replace them with driverless trains.

A memo from the Conservatives in the London Assembly urged Johnson to sack all 3,525 train operators on the London underground rail system, estimating that this could save £141m per year.

The Conservative group said metros including Paris, Budapest and Barcelona plan to introduce driverless trains, which provide a “safer, faster, more efficient level of service”. The Conservatives also stated trains on the Victoria and Central lines are virtually driverless and claimed train operators are being paid to open the train doors.

The memo added driverless trains would end “the strangle-hold militant unions have” on London’s tube network.

The proposal angered unions, and a spokesman for the RMT told Personnel Today the proposals for driverless tubes would be expensive and impractical.

He added driverless trains would jeopardise passenger safety, noting that train drivers helped evacuate passengers after the 7 July London terrorist attacks on underground trains.

“We want a categorical assurance from Boris Johnson that this plan has been killed,” he said. “If they move one inch towards this proposal there will be the mother of all industrial relations disputes.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow, added: “We are already involved in a battle to defend Tube Lines, station and platform jobs, and our fight for safe staffing levels across London Underground, including the use of industrial action, will continue.”

Tube Lines maintenance staff working on London Underground are due to stage two 48-hour strikes, starting next week, in a row over jobs, pay and working conditions.

Transport for London said: “The Victoria and Central line trains are the only ones currently in operation on the Tube network that are automatically operated. However, on these lines a train operator is in the cab. The Jubilee and Northern lines are scheduled to be the next two lines to have automatic operation – again with a driver on board.

“Having a member of London Underground staff on a train helps give re-assurance to passengers, ensures prompt opening and closing of doors, speedy boarding and alighting of passengers and departure of the train. They also provide information and, where necessary, assistance to passengers.”

The Mayor of London’s press office said Johnson had not yet commented on the report.

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