Boris Johnson has said driverless trains should be a condition of a future bailout of Transport for London.

The Government gave TfL a £1.6 billion package to continue running services after a collapse in revenue in May due to the coronavirus lockdown, but that funding will run out in September.

On a visit to a site in Goole, East Riding of Yorkshire, where Siemens will open a rail manufacturing facility in 2022, the Prime Minister said:

You can run these trains without the need for somebody to be sitting in the driver’s cab the whole time. So what I will be saying to the London transport authority is let’s take advantage of this technological leap forward let’s not be the prisoners of the unions any more, let’s go to driverless trains, and let’s make that a condition of the funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister
Passengers wait to board a Tube train in London Credit: PA

Finn Brennan, organiser on London Underground for train drivers’ union Aslef accused the Prime Minister of "talking nonsense".

Slashing Government funding to TfL means that they cannot afford the signalling upgrade and other technology that would be needed for driverless trains. While pretending to support a ‘great leap forward’, the Prime Minister’s policies are actually preventing any progress with transport in the capital. They mean that Londoners will suffer years of delays and overcrowding in the future.

Finn Brennan, Aslef

During his time as Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, Mr Johnson was involved in a series of bitter disputes with trade unions in relation to London Underground services.

In 2011, Mr Johnson claimed that “virtually anybody” could drive a Tube train as he gave his support for more automation, adding:

I hope the unions will recognise that the patience of Londoners is not endless.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister

  • There are currently no driverless trains on the Tube network

  • Some trains are operated in semi-automatic mode, which means drivers still have to operate doors but they are not responsible for acceleration or braking unless problems occur

  • TfL’s Docklands Light Railway does not have drivers in cabs but uses onboard attendants who control the doors.