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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Driverless Trains Hope In Vain

In the spirit of open-minded enquiry, the BBC’s Tom Edwards has ventured to Paris to see a driverless Metro line in action, and in doing so, has shown very clearly why it isn’t going to happen in London within the next decade, and most likely the decade after that. RATP, who operate the system, have automated Line 1, and this seems to work well. But the detail should be carefully examined.

Back to the press release drawing board, chaps! Yikes!!

The trains are built for automatic operation and have no cabs, unlike all those in service or on order for London. “Barriers similar to those on the Jubilee line protect all of the platforms” Edwards tells, meaning that part of the Jubilee Line between Westminster and North Greenwich, which has platform doors – and, moreover, was designed from the start to work with them, unlike older Tube lines.

Ligne 1 is not a deep line, the tunnels are well lit and they are very wide” Edwards continues. Stations are also very close together, and all of that will make ventilation easier. And the idea of full-size trains and platform doors has also been utilised on Lines 9 and 10 in Barcelona, new build routes with full automation. Paris’ Line 1 was an existing route, but had to be adapted with platform doors before automation.

So the lesson is that there have to be platform doors. Moreover, Line 1 in Paris is almost totally below ground, and 9 and 10 in Barcelona completely so. Apart from the Waterloo and City and Victoria Lines, no London route shares this attribute, and that is why, even with Automatic Train Operation (ATO), manual intervention is so often required – surface running means weather and potentially trespass.

And no London Underground route suitable for automatic operation will have new trains for many years: the Victoria has just bedded in a new fleet, so the Waterloo and City would be first. Platform doors should not be a problem, as there is little potential problem ventilating tunnels (trains approach Bank slowly, so there is little air circulation effect, and Waterloo is not in tunnel).

As for other Tube lines, the passage of the trains keeps the system ventilated. With platform doors, this could be seriously disrupted. So that would have to be proved. And those routes that currently have those “wide” tunnels are in the midst of receiving a fleet of new trains – with cabs – that will be expected to remain in service for another 35 years or so.

The Paris example, as Edwards points out, has been ten years in gestation. And it has required an investment of €1 billion to get to where they are today: London does not, at present, have any funds for new fleets of any kind. All of this means that there will not be any driverless trains on the London Underground while Bozza is around, and more than likely for many years after that.

Not that the usual suspects will stop and think before churning over his propaganda.


Anonymous said...

I agree that there are many obstacles to overcome before we can operate driverless trains on the London Underground. Perhaps some of them will prove insurmountable - we will see.

As a London resident, however, I would like to see more technolgy put in and labour taken out. As it is we are regularly threatened by militant trade union whose leaders, we sometimes might be forgiven for thinking, have an agenda that is not entirely wholesome.

Tim Fenton said...

Any labour relations problem is exacerbated by Bozza and his pals also having a less than entirely wholesome agenda, as you may have seen from all the Police and Fire service cuts.

plcd1 said...

I'm a bit unclear on why you are making such a point about ventilation. The Line 1 platform doors are not full height and there is no reason that such a design could not be deployed in London thereby maintaining air flow. Similar designs are used in Singapore and Tokyo where they have retrofitted. I agree brand new systems typically have full height doors installed from day one.

On future line upgrades ventilation will have to be tackled anyway in order to deal with heat generation from new stock and enhanced power supplies. It was certainly done for the Vic Line upgrade. LU might be able to get a train design that generates less heat but, of course, the demands for air con are not going to go away anytime soon.

A greater issue for London is the prevalence of curved platforms with irregular stepping distances and heights. These pose issues for safely managing the platform / train interface although Paris seem to have managed at Bastille Stn. RATP, though, doesn't have compromise height platforms as we have in London.

I agree there are significant hurdles for London to achieve fully unmanned operation but financial pressures and external demands for "efficiency" will not go away. The biggest test is whether the unions can "terrify" the public sufficiently that public opinion is inplacably against unstaffed trains. Public opinion turned into political pressure is the thing most likely to stop any change. A serious accident / incident is the other.

Tim Fenton said...

Ligne 1 in Paris has full size vehicles and therefore tunnels, and isn't a deep tube.

Ventilation and tube tunnel size will stop air-con (apart from for drivers' cabs) dead in its tracks. My concern is also that platform doors will detract from the ventilating effect of tube trains, even if they aren't full height.

Dave H said...

Build for driverless trains from new or spend ages changing the system. Biggest driverless system is Dubai Metro, which is both above & below ground.

Dave Eyre said...

Lille also has driverless trains for its Metro with platform doors as does the system at Atlanta Airport


Piers Connor said...

The real issue is nothing to do with unions, ventilation, platform doors or new trains. It's about rescue. In Paris, Ligne 1 has twin track tunnels and stations are close together. A rescue for a stuck train is easy - get another train into the tunnel using the other track or even walk it from the next station. RATP say they can get to a failed train in 5 minutes.

In London, the deep level tube lines all have small, separate single track tunnels and the stations are often a long way apart (e.g Finsbury Park to Highbury). A rescue would require a long walk from the station behind or another train to come up from the rear. The fear is that passengers will try to evacuate themselves while rescue is being arranged. Some places would only be accessed after a 30-minute wait.

Anonymous said...

Yawn* irrelevant discussion. It ain't coming in for decades folks, thankfully!

Anonymous said...

BoJo and MB can pose and posture all they like with their propaganda, fact remains that while the UK exists within the EU, driverless trains will remain a nice to have. Too many hoops for them to jump through and not enough money to do it with.

I could go into the minute detail with regard to bore widths, and splitting the whole system and the £20+billion it will cost, but that's never stopped the media from claiming its going to happen real soon!

Anonymous said...

I agree, it's not gonna happen any time soon, except in the mind of His Worship and of course poor old Tom who appears somewhat desperate to have his Parisian style robo trams on the tube.

There has been a consultation document "leaked" onto the web, signed off by all the head honchos of TFL. In it, there are no plans whatsoever for platform edge doors. Too expensive and difficult to fit on curved platforms such as Bank. Their answer is for sensitive edge doors, like the ones that have given so much trouble on the new Victoria Line trains, and unproven object detection should someone fall onto the track. The driverless trains will have no staff on board. Repeat, no member of staff on board. After all, where is he gonna go when it's sardine city down there? Should a train stall between stations, it is hoped that it would be moved remotely from a control centre somewhere. A stalled train, with no one on board to fix/move it manually stuck in a twelve foot diameter airless sewer pipe with up to and over one thousand on board doesn't bear thinking about. If the remote technology fails and the train is unable to move itself, then we're talking body bags. One of the many reasons London tube trains have a driver/quick fix bod on board to keep the thing going to at least the next station. You cannot compare the tram like rubber wheeled cut and cover double track mostly in tunnels Paris Metro to the deep level heavy gauge London Tube. It's quite possible there are people not yet born who will be working as train operators on the Tube. Driverless trains on the Drain, maybe, but until a complete rebuild is planned for the rest of it - emergency walkways alongside the trains, platform edge doors and the like, the media will continue to stir it up about "overpaid", lazy, strike prone yada yada yada troublesome tube drivers for quite sometime. Well, at least it gives em something to do, like a jolly to Paris.