London Underground

Grant Shapps calls for driverless tubes

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps is calling for the London Tube to become more like its European counterparts and welcome driverless trains, coming after the recent Department of Transport bail out of the TfL.

Since May 2020 there has been more than £5bn provided in emergency funds to the TfL, leading to repeated arguments between the operators and the Government regarding the cause of the constant financial woes. Mr Shapps has stated that the recent funding pledge would be the last financial package that the TfL would receive, as the latest offer would take TfL's emergency funding since the start of the pandemic to more than £6bn, according to The Department for Transport.

The timing of this news has caused a stir as it has could be interpreted as a response to the ongoing rail staff industrial strike action, where drivers and general station staff have demanded pay increases. Shapps’ comments would seem to dispel these theories as it is claimed we need to ‘modernise’ the tube network across London to match the likes of other European countries such as France, with their system used in Paris.

Mr Shapps said:

"To give you one example, other European cities, even Paris for example, have moved ahead and now have driverless trains - the London underground doesn't.

"We do need to move forward on some of these modernisations as well and this package urges and requires TfL to do that.

"The balance we have come to here is the right one. It is the only offer which is on the table. There will not be a further one, but we will work with TfL on the technical details to assist them.

"I very much look forward to this being put to bed so that Londoners don't have to keep hearing about stories about TfL needing more money and coming out with the begging bowl."

This argument has been rejected by many within the TfL however, including Commissioner Andy Byford, as other comparable cities have underground networks that are maintained through heavy central government funding. According to TfL statistics, the Paris underground system receives 62% of its funding via Government handouts, with the remaining 38% coming from passenger fares. The TfL, compared to this, receives only 28% of its funding via Government aid, so to compare our system to that of Paris is apples to oranges.

A driverless tube system is not a brand-new experiment for the TfL, as London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is currently an automated operation. Moving the entire London Underground network to driverless rolling stock would modernise the existing framework, but with current funding related issues, accompanied with prominent industrial action, the money needed for the infrastructural requirements could be used to stabilise a fractured sector rather than rejuvenate it.

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