Glasgow set to be first to have driverless subway trains

Credit: Rachel Wood

Osama Abou-zeid
Writer

Osama Abou-zeid discusses the future introduction of driverless trains to the Glasgow Subway

Glasgow Subway will be the first in the UK to operate subway trains with no staff on board, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has announced.

While the inclusion of driverless trains themselves had already been revealed, it is now understood that SPT also plans to have no staff at all inside carriages, with the exception of the busiest trains. CCTV will also be fitted on those trains for the first time.

The move comes as part of SPT’s long-running Subway Modernisation Programme, after £220m of contracts for the construction and implementation of driverless trains were awarded in March 2016.

The programme began in July 2011 with the refurbishment of Hillhead Station, and since then has also seen the introduction of the Subway Smartcard in October 2013.

As part of the modernisation process, 13 trains will be built to replace the current 17. These will contain no doors in between carriages for added space, and will be fitted with windows at either end to provide views along the tunnels.

To improve safety, screens will be installed along the edges of platforms, only opening when a train is alongside.

Initially, SPT plans for the first unmanned trains to be put into action on a trial track near Ibrox Stadium at some point before the end of 2018.

They are planned for use on the current public system by the end of 2020, with fully automated trains expected to be implemented in 2021 to coincide with the 125th anniversary year of the opening of Glasgow’s subway system.

Upgrades are also being made to the subway’s tunnels and signalling, with the aim of allowing trains to run every three minutes as opposed to four, as well as every two minutes before and after football matches. It is also planned that trains will run later into the night.
Unite has spoken out against the implementation of staff-less trains, with official Pat McIlvogue citing concerns over safety.

“SPT’s future vision involves a Subway system which is ticketless, with no counter staff, no staff on platforms and no staff on trains.

“If that is to be the case, Unite has to raise the issue of what happens when something goes wrong?

“So there are remaining health and safety issues that are being avoided. For example, does the SPT vision involve staff-less trains when the Subway is packed with fans going to Ibrox for a Rangers game?”

While Charles Hoskins, SPT’s Senior Director, reiterated that “it is not our plan to have a member of staff on every train”, he has claimed that there will always be staff in the subway system.

A spokesperson for SPT said the partnership “are currently looking at how we might best utilise front-line staff following the introduction of the new system.

“Staff understand and accept that there will be changes to current working practices. However, safety and customer service will always remain a priority.”