Train drivers’ union ASLEF has announced that introducing driverless trains on the London Underground would be “poor value for money” and cost up to £7bn according to a leaked Transport for London report.
According to the Labour Party-affiliated trade union, the paper suggests that the “high capital costs” of upgrading and integrating the new system means driverless Tube trains are not a “financially positive” option for London.
The finding undermines the claims of the Prime Minister, who has spoken in favour of making driverless trains a condition for any future TfL bailout from the government and pursued the policy as London mayor.
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We know that passengers don’t want driverless trains. Whenever they are asked, they always answer with a resounding ‘No!’. And now we know it is not economically feasible either.”
The leaked analysis was prepared as part of a review into TfL’s finances by accounting firm KPMG, which was mandated by the government as a condition for offering the London transport group an initial coronavirus bailout.
The news follows an ongoing dispute between London mayor Sadiq Khan and the government over a TfL bailout as a £1.7bn short-term package to maintain services during the pandemic is set to run out on Saturday.
The government has set out a variety of conditions for any future bailout package, including cutting free travel for under-18s, extending the congestion charge and raising fares, which have been rejected by Khan.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps declared last week that the government would use “reserve legislative powers” to take direct control of TfL if London does not submit to the government impositions.
The Prime Minister suggested in July that driverless trains should also be a condition of a future TfL bailout from the government and said London should “not be the prisoners of the unions any more”.
Ministers withheld support for TfL’s initial £1.6bn support package in May until the London mayor agreed to an increase in the congestion charge and an extension of the ultra-low emission zone charge to include the weekend.
In a LabourList piece on Saturday, Khan wrote: “As mayor, I simply will not accept these Tory proposals, which would hit Londoners with a triple whammy of higher costs… at a time when so many families are already struggling.
“The Prime Minister lied, plain and simple, in the House of Commons this week when he said Transport for London (TfL) only needed emergency national funding now due to actions I had taken prior to the pandemic.
“The truth is that before the coronavirus I was fixing the financial mess at TfL that I’d inherited from Boris Johnson when he was mayor. Over the course of four years, I had reduced TfL’s deficit by 71% and increased cash reserves by 13%.”
Commenting on the newly leaked report, ASLEF London Underground organiser Finn Brennan said: “These documents show that not only is there no business case for this, but it would make TfL’s financial position much worse.
“When Boris Johnson was mayor of London, his failed vanity projects cost Londoners almost £1bn. But this is dwarfed by the vast cost of his ideological obsession with driverless trains.”
The union organiser added: “ASLEF has always pointed out that driverless trains on the London Underground are a politically-driven fantasy. These documents show that we are right.
“And if the government tries to force TfL to waste huge sums on this pointless exercise, it would suck resources away from projects that could have real positive benefits for passenger safety and bankrupt the entire Tube network.”
The London Underground, which made the majority of its revenue from fares before the pandemic, has seen a 60% drop in the number of passengers using the service since coronavirus hit, according to the most recent figures.
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