Automated Trains: Good Idea/Bad Idea?

The NSW government has flagged intentions to make sections of Sydney's Cityrail network fully automated, marking the first use of this kind of automation for Australian commuters, although it's quite common in many overseas cities. What's your take on the idea?

Photo: zackary1360

I've travelled on plenty of automated train systems over the years without notable incident, and a lot of the coverage so far has focused on the jobs impact of using automated services, especially with the prospect of automation spreading out across the network. The first announced use will be for the North West Rail Link, which isn't due for completion until the end of the decade, so it's some time off yet.

Automation can be a win or a loss for commuters, though. On the one hand, there's less reliance on staff so potentially fewer delays in that aspect, but equally the use of automated gates and self-running trains can lead to commuter crushes if not carefully managed, and there's some reluctance to the idea of having computerised train systems.

I can't say I'm bothered by the prospect, but what's your view on introducing automated public transport to Australia?


    Good idea, long overdue. Job losses is never a reason to resist technological advancement.

    I believe they're going to call it the "Fully-Automated Rapid Transit System". Now that is a bad idea...

    Was in Canada over Xmas and they have them.
    They where awesome. Also meant you can sit at the front of the train and pretend you are driving!

    I've lived 4 years in Paris, France and the suburban (metro as it's called over there) had one line out of 14 automated. always on schedule and was working even when the rest of the subs were blocked by strikes (which happens often, we're talking about France here ...). The only thing is that it was underground and the stations were fully blocked to prevent unauthorized access and people doing stupid things on the rails. I'm not sure how this can be translated to trains for that security wise as they are open by design.

    Nothing like this would ever be possible in Melbourne, the condition of our track and signalling equipment is third world.

      You haven't been to Sydney I take it.

        Yeah, they've never had the trains running properly in Sydney, what makes them think this will stop the inevitable decline into delayed trains and despair.

    A lot of people don't realise that by any objective measure, the safest form of transporting people has been fully automated for about 50 years now.

    Safer than trains, less death or injuries per person or distance or energy-used or people-moved or capacity than any single segment, or all of aviation, is the humble elevator.

    There are many, many lessons already learned and directly applicable from both Elevator an aviation industries - restricting access to the tracks is certainly one - that can be easily applied to create very safe, and cheap, public transport systems.

    This is a continuation of the slippery slope that began when they got rid of lift drivers. :-)

    Uh, great. If we get it.

    Remember, this is RailCorp and Downer EDI. They promised they'd implement contactless smartcards by 1998/99 - we're only getting that now. Downer can't build a working train. Driverless trains will be a reality when other cities are using teleporters.

      How did Downer come into it? They aren't eve part of the two remaining consortia...

    London DLR is also good to pretend you are driving the train. Most of the deep lines on London are more or less automatic, all the driver has to do is press door open, door shut and away it goes. Unfortunately human's can still stuff that up.

    Only unions complain about loss of jobs....but i dont get how you can loose jobs when those jobs dont even exist in the first place.

    Works well in Singapore too.

      They were talking about this on ABC radio this week and a caller rang in, said he was a VLine driver, (blew the train horn to prove he was on-the-job during the call) many of his family were also train drivers on Metro network, and that automated trains would NEVER EVER happen in Victoria. When asked by the host why? he vehemently said "Our union will NEVER allow this to happen... we must protect our jobs from rubbish like this"

      Good luck with that tiger...

      I know someone who used to work where I do and left to join "the trains" when his mate got him a prized opening after waiting quite a few years. Basically for doing SFA for 4-5hr/day they get paid about $150K a year when the (amazing!) penalties and OT rates are added in. He calls into our work often to catch up when he's in the middle of a 12 hour shift, where it's his turn to be on-call and available. Doesn't have to do anything 95% of the time. Just gets paid up to tripple time if it's on the back of another shift within 48 hours or some crazy thing. Just clocks on at the office, goes off and does stuff for the rest of the day, and if gets a call on mobile, goes into office.

      Am I jealous... kind of, but also not really. To me that whole industry seems "proud" and "entitled" to how much they get paid for how little work they do, and their internal sport is seeing how much extra penalty pay they can squeeze without having to do anything.

      Get it while you can fellas. You're gouging is making you an absolute target for the private operators. Dock workers anyone ?

      I personally have no issues with driverless trains. Have used them in various places around the world. Reliable and safe IMO. Redeploy the drivers to be Customer Service staff, manning the platforms, guarding the passenger sections of the trains etc. Or infrastructure maintenance... fixing the rails, and tracks and switches etc.

      Or just get rid of them.. they've had their turn.

    Eh, as long as they do not replace the guard, :)

    Seriously, nobody's mentioned this?

    Even though it might be better, you still cant deny the fact that you would rather have a human driving such a thing, just like you would rather have a human piloting a plane than a computer

    The drivers in trains are just basically an interface between a screen telling them how hard and when to accelerate and brake anyway. Replacing them with a wire will only add to the efficiency.
    A camera monitored at base for emergencies and you're set.

    Automated door closing will, however, need a shift in Aussie's thinking. I remember being shocked when I thought I could just squeeze onto a train in Singapore and the door closed in my face (and would've closed ON my face if I hadn't moved!)
    When they say "the 2:13 train", they don't mean 2:14, they mean 2:13 and not one second more!

    I hope there won't be job losses, as I doubt that ticket prices are going to get any cheaper with automation and I can think of other things to do. Having recently moved back to Sydney and starting to take the train again, I can say I'm strongly considering switch back to the car and paying the parking. They are dirty, smelly and hot, especially when we are all packed like sardines. I suggest changing the jobs from driving to professionally keeping the train clean. And how much would it really cost to have spray paint ready to immediately paint over graffiti when doing track maintenance. A little bit of pride in the trains would go a long way to keeping people on them.

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