Monthly Archives: September 2017

Train Drivers are Obsolete

In the UK, train drivers get paid A LOT of money. For one company, their base salary in 2017 was £49,001 (approx $65,000 USD). As a part of a pay dispute, they were recently offered £60,683 (approx $81,000 USD) for a 35-hour, 4 day week.

For comparison, the maximum base salary for an ‘ordinary’ police officer (i.e., below rank of sergeant, no specialisation) in London is £40,374 (approx $54,000 USD), for a 40-hour week, spread over a rotating shift pattern. Both roles are eligible for overtime but, for the police, when things go wrong – like when some whack job blows up a bunch of little girls at a concert – this can become a 60-hour week, WHICH THEY MUST WORK, OR THEY WILL GO TO PRISON. Yes, unlike many countries around the world, police officers in the UK are not allowed to go on strike. They cannot even talk about going on strike!

Now, which is more difficult? Driving a train for about 7 hours per-day (after all the rest breaks they get…), 4 days a week or being a police officer?

How about, driving a truck/lorry (44 tonne HGV; 16-wheeler) or driving a train? Well, the average salary for an HGV driver in the UK is £31,787 (approx. $42,500 USD), so, driving a train, right?

Well, how many fully automated HGVs do we have? 0. Zero. NONE. Yes, people are testing fully automated HGVs, but as of September 2017, no one has completed or even applied for regulatory approval to operate such a vehicle, without human supervision.

Ask the same question about trains. Well, according to Wikipedia, there are over 50 metro rail systems with lines that are fully-automated or automated to the point where a human just opens and closes the doors (which could easily be automated if there was the political will to do so). Even if this isn’t 100% accurate, it’s pretty clear that we’ve had the technology to safely operate railways without human operators for well-over 40 years.

Yes, I did say safely. Automated rail systems are safer than human-operated ones. The Docklands Light Railway (DLR), opened in 1987 has had some accidents almost all, including its most famous, were caused by human error!

In the 40 years of operation of the DLR, as far as I can tell, there have been less than 50 fatalities, all of which have been Person Under Train incidents, which were either suicides or probably unavoidable accidents. In that time, we’ve had Ladbroke Grove (1999; 31 fatalities, driver error) and The Santiago de Compostela derailment (2013; 79 fatalities, driver error), to name just two incidents caused by human error.

And this is even before I make the assertion, that, as a computer scientist, I can guarantee to you, that if you’re even seriously contemplating building driverless cars, then you have already exceeded the technology level required to implement a fully-automated railway network. I further assert that if you ask any computer scientist worthy of the name and they will give you same answer.

Why? If the evidence I have already presented is not enough to convince you, I can assure you that the difference in difficulty between implementing a fully-automated rail network and a self-driving vehicle is astronomical. If we say that a self-driving vehicle is the computer equivalent of landing on the moon, then building an automated railway is like building a bicycle. Yes, the difference between the two is that big! So big, in fact, that it makes by cry just thinking about it!!!


or: From the Light into the Darkness

I was made redundant just before Christmas 2016. As I already had a holiday to Australia & New Zealand booked, I decided not to rush into finding a new job. Once on the other side of the world, it became clear to me that I was deeply, deeply unhappy with myself and my career. Self-loathing turned up to 11. I suppose you could call it a sort of mid-life crisis.

I’ve tried to keep myself busy over the past 9 months, with varying degrees of success, but what I have done, is re-discover myself, my sense of self and – most importantly – my love of writing software. Pretty useful when you’re a software engineer.

As well as putting myself under the microscope (not easy, even after I found one big enough…), I’ve opened my eyes to the world around me. I’ve opened my eyes and recoiled in horror – but they’re still open and now that they are, I’m clear about what I want for myself, what I want to achieve professionally and what I need to do as a human being.

It’s time to leave the ComfortZone™, pick-up my sword and my shield and go, boldly, into the darkness.

Or, to quote Austin Powers: “I’m back, baby! Yeah!”