Mike Brown, London Underground's MD, spoke to The Financial Times a few days ago to dispute the number.
“I have no idea where they get that figure,” he said “A machine can never properly replace a person. I just need to be able to ensure that people are doing the right roles fit for the future not some role in a ticket office that sits more comfortably with the Railway Children film.”
Steam trains fine as heritage but Railway Children image shouldn't apply to current staff
Mike Brown has been with London Underground for the past 20 years. He started working as a manager of a team of cleaners at Neasden depot in 1990, and made his way up the ranks to become chief operating officer. Brown left in 2008 to run Heathrow Airport but returned to London Underground last year to take the MD role.
Brown admits that he faces a challenge convincing the Tube's 21,000 staff about the possible moves to driver-less trains but is adamant that the changes will not affect interaction with the public.
He claims it would not take much to upgrade the system now to driverless trains and added “what I’m not going to do, because it wouldn’t be the best way to spend public money, is to take a sledgehammer and start knocking down driver’s cabs on existing trains. And that is why this is about the train procurement after the one I am in at the moment.”
This implies that changes will come towards the end of the decade when work starts on upgrading the Piccadilly & Bakerloo Lines. But obviously there is still a lot of work to do before that with 70% of the network due to be modernised, leading to a 33% jump in capacity.
“Look the technology does exist, Paris is running with a fully automatic line, line 14, and line 1 in Paris is being converted as we speak. I was in São Paulo a few weeks ago on a deep tube line that is fully automatic. I don’t believe [driverless trains] are less reliable, I don’t believe they are less safe.
“When the Tube was first invented we had steam trains, we don’t have steam trains any more. Progress happens and nobody would believe me if I said there wasn’t the prospect of change in the future.”
We do have steam trains - just not in regular service!
What do you think? Do you think he's correct about it "not taking much" to upgrade the system, I've heard some people say the cost will be very high - would you like to see this reflected in your fares? Will the RMT have to come kicking and screaming into the 21st Century? Are we likely to face more strike threats as Brown's latest comments acknowledge that driverless Tube trains will happen reasonably soon?