“Let the train take the strain”. Remember that decidedly iffy slogan? I do. In fact I’m reminded of it as I sit on the train and my blood pressure begins to feel the strain. I’ve a 4-hour journey and the train is running 4 minutes late within the first 40. This makes me uneasy. I like to be punctual.

The reason for finding myself in this overly-warm, bordering clammy, corridor of misery is the same reason that I often find myself relying on Britain’s public transport network: to buy another car. That’s not a very good advert for rail travel. Especially when I’m buying an additional elderly V8.

We’re supposed to catch more trains, apparently, yet I’ve found services to have become more expensive, dirtier (I’m sitting uncomfortably to avoid a questionable stain). and no more punctual. I notice that the slogan’s been killed off, much like any hope I once had of reaching my destination on time.

If we’re being railroaded into public transport, then I’m not sure of the role autonomous driving is supposed to play.

If full autonomy is supposed to take the strain then I’m not altogether comfortable with that, either. Technology is fantastic, it can achieve more than we could have ever imagined only a handful of years ago, yet it is still defined by one decidedly limiting factor: us. I’m not the biggest fan of gadgets, usually because I cannot work them properly and something gets broken by an overwhelming ham-fistedness. However, people like me still have to operate, or at least hail, semi- or fully-autonomous vehicles. Not only that, they have to take responsibility for doing so.

For me, the most effective way of reducing strain is by lessening any reliance on third parties.

Running late? Train’s fault. Drive down a dirt track and to the bottom of a reservoir? Sat-nav made me do it. Have an accident while reading the FT and your car is piloting you down the M1? You can see what I’m alluding to, even if I’m being facetious while doing so. Technology is advancing at an incredible, inspirational rate, but there remain some serious questions that need answering before we’re all buzzing about in plug-in pods.

Autonomous trains could be an answer? The rail network provides a predetermined path and designated stops, there are fewer traffic considerations and the technology already exists. Not sure it would go down well with the thousands of train drivers, but it’s the same uncertain future facing truckers and their circuit-board successors.

What’s wrong with the good old-fashioned car*? Yes, I know, I’m a luddite, but assuming I arrive before the seller has got bored and gone home, I’ll be driving back using cruise control, listening to a stainless-exhaust-enhanced V8 soundtrack with my double-glazed window down, having a massage in my Nappa leather seat and, if it’s still hot, enjoy ice-cold air conditioning and a gentle breeze through my ventilated seats. Now that’s my idea of a relaxing journey.

I’m sure autonomy is the future, it’s just a shame we can’t sort the trains out in the meantime.



*Lower emissions vehicles are available.