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Union enraged by secret driverless Tube plan

Leaked masterplan would axe 1,500 jobs

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Unionists are up in arms today after a report showed Transport for London (TfL) investigated new technologies that would have led to job cuts.

The report, leaked by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMT), is a strategy discussion of driverless Tube trains and a 'wave and pay' ticketing system that would let commuters use their bank cards for travel instead of buying a paper ticket or using an Oyster card.

This technology would reduce TfL's operational costs by up to 20 per cent, according to the document, which is dated July 2011 and marked confidential.

The role of train drivers would be "refocused on the customer" if 80 per cent of trains go automatic by 2020, while up to 30 ticket offices would be "repositioned as Travel Information Centres, staffed by non-operational travel information specialists" and the "vast majority of ticket offices will no longer be necessary" by 2016.

The RMT slammed the plan, which if put into action would axe more than 1,500 jobs and "freeze recruitment, rip up existing staffing agreements and impose a system of overtime and part-time working".

"This document tells us everything we need to know about the operational strategy of London Underground - massive increase in fares alongside an unprecedented attack on jobs and safety," Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, fumed in a canned statement.

"This ill-conceived and finance-led document ignores reality in favour of austerity and would impact on every single staff member on London Underground. It would leave passengers stranded in tunnels with no means of evacuation and would turn the platforms and stations into a muggers' and vandals' paradise," he added.

What the softly spoken Crow forgets to mention is that the TfL plan would remove the train drivers' ability to bring London to a standstill every time they strike.

TfL is already running some semi-automatic trains on the Jubilee line, although these trains also still have a driver. A TfL spokesperson told The Register the system allowed the trains to run at an optimum speed so that they could run more trains on the line closer together.

"It's an automatic system, but the driver still has to be very vigilant for things that are ahead," the spokesperson added.

Mike Brown, managing director of London Rail and Underground, said in a statement that the leaked paper was prepared in order to "stimulate fresh thinking within the London Underground" and that it had not been adopted by the Tube's senior management, the TfL board or the mayor – but he didn't completely rule it out either.

"However, it is, of course, the case that, like all organisations, London Underground must adapt and embrace change. The Tube is now carrying a record 1.1 billion passengers a year, and this rising trend will continue as London grows. Londoners want a modern, safe, economical and efficient Underground, with a strong focus on the needs of customers. This Discussion Paper contains some suggestions as to how that might be achieved," he said. ®

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