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Driver-only operation: the complicated challenge dividing the nation’s railways

“We will not accept driver-only operation [DOO] in any company without a fight,” the boss of the biggest rail union said last week.

Mick Lynch, basic secretary of the RMT, advised MPs on the Transport Select Committee: “We will never sign up to accepting DOO.

“It will never happen while I am general secretary. It will never happen as long as the RMT exists.”

That would possibly give the impression the idea is new. In truth, many trains have been operated by a sole member of workers for the reason that Nineteen Eighties. Every day, thousands and thousands of passengers journey on trains the place the one member of workers on board is sitting on the entrance – primarily on short-distance journeys in larger London, but additionally on journeys of over 100 miles.

There is, although, no coherence. From Brighton to London Bridge, for instance, Thameslink trains have solely a driver on board, however Southern trains serving precisely the identical stations at all times have an on-board supervisor as effectively. They are each operated by the identical organisation, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), however with completely different staffing agreements.

These are the important thing questions and solutions that can assist you perceive this complicated and contentious challenge.

What is driver-only operation?

Strictly, when the one workers member engaged on a practice is the driving force. He or she opens and closes the doorways, with cameras put in to make sure that the operation might be carried out safely.

It is a subset of driver-controlled operation (DCO), the place the driving force opens and closes the doorways on trains however a number of members of workers can also be on board. This is the association on, for instance, Lumo trains linking Edinburgh and Newcastle with London King’s Cross.

Where does DOO exist at current?

It is in impact on 45 per cent of UK trains, carrying 55 per cent of passengers, in keeping with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing practice operators.

On Britain’s largest rail franchise, GTR, all Thameslink and Great Northern trains are driver-only operation, together with routes from Peterborough to Horsham (118 miles), Brighton to Bedford (103 miles) and London King’s Cross to King’s Lynn (99 miles).

Within the identical franchise, Southern trains largely inside Greater London are DOO, however longer-distance providers – and Gatwick Express trains – at all times have an on-board supervisor.

The blended sample is repeated elsewhere. On Southeastern, linking central London with Kent and East Sussex, metro providers are driver-only whereas longer-distance trains (together with the high-speed) line at all times have an on-board supervisor or conductor/guard.

What’s the distinction between an on-board supervisor and conductor/guard?

An on-board supervisor doesn’t open or shut the doorways. They are liable for customer support on board and have security coaching in case of emergencies.

A conductor/guard opens and closes (or generally solely closes) the doorways in addition to offering customer support.

On South Western Railway, linking London Waterloo with Surrey, Hampshire and past, presently the guard opens and closes the doorways however when new “Arterio” trains are introduced in later this 12 months they are going to have DCO with a second member of workers on board all trains.

So there are some trains the place the driving force opens the doorways however the conductor/guard closes them?

Many. “Driver opens, conductor closes” (DOCC) is normal on all Great Western Railway high-speed providers linking London Paddington with South Wales and the West of England; shorter distances to and from the capital are driver-only.

DOCC applies on ScotRail trains linking Glasgow and Edinburgh by way of Falkirk; different electrical trains on the Scottish community are DCO, however the quick hyperlink between Scotland’s two largest cities is roofed by an outdated settlement relationship to when it used diesel trains.

LNER, which runs from London King’s Cross to Yorkshire, northeast England and Scotland, has DOCC on its new Azuma trains, however on older 225 rolling inventory the practice supervisor opens and closes the doorways.

What is the considering behind ‘Driver opens, conductor closes’?

The idea is that the driving force has a transparent view arriving at a station that every one is effectively, and she or he can safely open the doorways. But by having a guard closing the doorways permits them to get a greater view, up and down the platform.

Is driver-only operation protected?

Not in keeping with the rail unions. Mick Lynch of the RMT says enlargement of DOO “will make our railways less safe, secure and accessible”.

Mick Whelan, basic secretary of the practice drivers’ union, Aslef, says “The train drivers who do it, hate it, feel it’s unsafe. We believe it’s inherently unsafe.”

But in 2018 the Rail Safety and Standards Board concluded :”Driver dispatch of trains is definitely protected in keeping with all standards.”

The Office of Rail and Road additionally investigated the apply in 2017 and concluded it “fully meets legal requirements for safe operation” – as long as “suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff” are in place.

What about security for ladies travelling alone and passengers who want help?

Public safety and incapacity entry are extraordinarily necessary points that want wider dialogue.

In 2013 the Transport Select Committee stated: “We are very concerned that proposals to reduce staffing at stations and on trains could make the railway less safe, particularly at night, and deter women and vulnerable users from travelling by train.

“We recommend the government develops a strategy for improving the security of the rail network, as well as perceptions of how safe the network is.”

Ideally each practice would have on-board workers and each station can be staffed. This would undoubtedly enhance passenger confidence and enhance provision for much less in a position travellers.

But the rail trade is presently dropping billions of kilos annually and is being propped up by taxpayers’ money.

The view from successive governments has lengthy been {that a} stability must be struck between look after rail customers and the fee to public funds.

Do the federal government and practice corporations need to make issues worse?

That is actually the message from the unions. But when the RDG introduced its pay provide to the RMT in December 2022, contingent on wider acceptance of DOO (a situation imposed by ministers), it appeared that in truth it was urging DCO. The organisation harassed: “It does not mean removing staff from onboard trains. It allows staff on board to focus on other safety issues and looking after customers on board with journey advice, selling tickets etc.

“A move to DOO – where drivers operate the doors on all carriages – will lead to greater punctuality and reliability, particularly during disruption when staff can be delayed on incoming trains, stopping other services departing.”

What does the opposition say?

The Labour Party has pledged to deliver the rail trade into public possession, saying: “We don’t want the government to be putting tens of millions of pounds into the pockets of operators who then pass it on to shareholders.”

The Independent has requested the get together for a response.

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