Boris Johnson's driverless Tube trains: the oddest argument yet

Boris Johnson plans to run again for mayor of London (Photo: Paul Grover)
Boris Johnson has revived discussion of tube trains without drivers (Photo: Paul Grover)

Boris Johnson’s proposal for driverless trains provoked a very curious article in yesterday’s Evening Standard from the respected transport commentator Christian Wolmar – described on the jacket of his very good latest book, Engines of War, as Britain’s leading transport journalist.

Wolmar told Standard readers that the “idea of driverless trains any time in the near future is a ridiculous fantasy” and  “the idea of completely unstaffed trains is equally fanciful.”

For Christian Wolmar’s future reference there are, in fact, 32 cities with driverless trains in daily passenger service – not even in the near future, but right now. They are: Ankara, Bangkok, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Detroit, Dortmund, Dubai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Jacksonville, Kobe, Kuala Lumpur, Las Vegas, Lausanne, Lille, Lyon, Miami, Nagoya, Nuremberg, Osaka, Paris, Perugia, Rennes, Sao Paolo, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Toulouse, Turin, Vancouver, Yokohama… and London (ours is called the DLR, Christian – it’s been around since 1987, you must have heard of it.)

Several of these cities – including Lille, Paris, Lyon and Las Vegas from personal experience – have one or more lines with completely unstaffed trains, without even an attendant on board. Both Paris and Nuremberg are in the process of converting existing, traditional driver-operated metro lines to completely unstaffed automatic operation.

Several other cities are building driverless metro lines or planning to convert some of their existing lines. Fanciful, ridiculous, fantastic? I don’t think so.

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