Metro system unlikely to get driverless trains, say transport chiefs as strikes wipe out services

The Tyne and Wear Metro is unlikely to be upgraded to driverless trains after Nexus bosses said it would require a ‘very big change’ to the service, transport chiefs have said.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 10:09 am
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 4:50 pm
An artist's impression of how the new Metro carriages may look

Passengers are coping with two days of strikes over two of the busiest days of the year this weekend, with drivers set to walk out on strike on Friday, December 20 and Saturday, December 21.

Transport chiefs have already been dealing with industrial action throughout December in the form of an overtime ban which has seen services cut or reduced across the network all month.

Philip Meikle, transport strategy director: “The specification of the rolling stock predates my time at Nexus, but went through a lot of public consultation and through the Tyne and Wear Sub Committee.

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“I’m unable to answer whether or not [driverless trains] were ever considered, but technologically it would be very difficult.

“We would need a lot of changes to lineside equipment, changes to level crossings – moving to a driverless system is a very very big change.”

Mr Meikle was speaking at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the afternoon of Thursday, December 20. He was responding to a question from North Tyneside councillor Sandra Graham, who said her constituents had asked about a change to driverless trains in light of industrial action on the network.

Mr Meikle added the transport operator was working on the ‘assumption’ that ‘industrial action will go ahead’ – the strike has been called over a pay dispute related to the new Metro fleet which is due to enter service from 2021.

The panel was told London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which uses driverless trains, was ‘built from scratch’ with that purpose in mind.

It is hoped the first of a new, modern-style Metro fleet will be delivered in 2021 with a “smooth transition” between the old and new fleet between 2022 and 2024.

The new carriages will feature WiFi, back-up batteries and Tube-style sideways seating.