Piccadilly line london underground

TfL considers driverless trains as part of £1.08bn emergency funding

The Government has agreed a £1.08bn funding package for Transport for London (TfL) which will oblige it to develop a business case for driverless trains.

The money will go towards plugging a hole in TfL’s funds that occurred following the drastic drop in passenger numbers due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

As part of the deal, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has agreed to work with the Department for Transport (DfT) on a programme to develop higher levels of automatic train operation on the London Underground.

Over the course of this funding period, they will make progress towards the conversion of at least one London Underground line to full automation with an on-board attendant.

The DfT said the technology has the potential “to offer a more punctual, reliable, customer-responsive and safer service that is less susceptible to human error”. The funding package also mandates that TfL look again at its “generous” pension scheme for workers.

The new stipulations have angered the unions, with Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT), warning that its members will take “London-wide industrial action if necessary” to resist the “disgraceful stitch- up of a deal”.

“It is completely unacceptable for transport workers who have risked and in some cases tragically lost their lives to now be asked to pay this political price for the coronavirus,” he said.

“Attacks on workers’ pensions are wholly unacceptable while driverless trains are unwanted, unaffordable and unsafe.

“With funding only lasting until December, London is being held to ransom with a gun to its head rather than being given the long-term, stable funding deal that is necessary to rebuild the economy as we move out of lockdown.”

The new deal follows two previous emergency support packages agreed in April and October 2020. This takes the Government’s monetary support for TfL since the start of the pandemic to over £4bn.

With the number of rail passengers dropping by over 90 per cent at worst following the lockdown, TfL admitted in January that it would need at least two years of additional support from the Government to stay afloat.

“I have tried to build bridges with the Government as this is in the best interest of Londoners and our businesses, but I want to be honest with Londoners: this is not the deal we wanted, but we have fought hard to get it to the best place possible and to ensure we can continue to run vital transport services at this crucial time for our city,” Khan said.

“After some extremely tough negotiations, we have successfully managed to see off the worst of the conditions the Government wanted to impose on London, which would not only have required huge cuts to transport services equivalent to cancelling 1 in 5 bus routes or closing a Tube line, but would have hampered London’s economic recovery as well as the national recovery.”

He also expressed hope that London would “bounce back” from the pandemic, which would see income from fares continuing to increase again.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This £1.08bn financial package will support London and its transport network through the pandemic, and ensure it is a modern, efficient and viable network for the future.

“Throughout this process, the Government has maintained that these support packages must be fair to taxpayers across the UK and on the condition that action is taken to put TfL on the path to long-term financial sustainability. As part of today’s settlement, the Mayor has agreed to further measures that will help ensure that.”

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