Focus on cuts – 2: The rail service

RMT report: “Only a fool would suggest that drivers can drive a train while sorting out drunken and/or antisocial behaviour in the carriages behind them”

The Department for Transport wants a significant expansion of Driver Only Operation (DOO), introducing it on the Northern and Great Western franchises, with a target of around 50%.

lauraLaura Kuenssberg (impartial BBC) reports that the ambition is to bring down the cost of rail travel for the tax payer and the train passenger, whereas most will agree that the ambition is to increase shareholder dividends. Fares will continue to rise.

She asks “Why all this fuss over doors on the packed commuter lines between London and the South Coast, when agreements on the same issue have been reached in other parts of the country?”

This is about safety, Laura. The RMT report: ‘The safety-critical role of the guard: a dossier on driver-only operation’ delivers a strong argument.

Laura again: “But hang on, driver-only trains have been used on different services around the country for three decades”.

Yes, and the unions hope to make all these services safer.

Paul Prentice, in his thoughtful Rail Magazine article, debates the pros and (considerable) cons of the argument, ending, “there remain (even in the eyes of the most ardent DOO supporters) security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers”.


Read about this example of an incident on a DOO train.

Since January 2011 there have been 10 serious incidents at the Passenger/Train Interface [PTI] that have been or are being subjected to investigation by the UK’s National Investigation Body the Rail Accident Investigation Branch

80% of these incidents have involved services being operated in Driver Only Operation [DOO] without a second on-board safety critical worker, a guard or train manager.

The list of RAIB investigations in the Southern Region is as follows (a detailed description of each is also given):


Later in the report there are many accounts of serious incidents in different parts of the country.

Thousands of passengers have already opposed the government and the rail operator plans to de-skill and scrap guards. The campaign has been backed by numerous local councillors, transport bodies, passenger groups, disability groups and MPs.

At a time of increasing security threats and growing anti-social behaviour, which is reflected in growing levels of racially motivated abuse, violence and sexual assault, the presence of the guard is of growing importance not less. Some police and crime commissioners have also expressed concern about plans that could leave passengers on trains on their own – apart from the person actually driving the train.

safety-role-of-guard-coverGuards fill that important role in helping to moderate behaviour on trains. Many services, particularly during evenings and weekend have become little more than ‘bars on wheels’ and have seen a dramatic increase in drunken behaviour. British Transport Police (BTP) resources are being increasingly focused around major stations and many stations. This leads, in an emergency, to the police being called upon and they too are facing real pressure and the threat of further cuts. If there is a guard aboard they can often manage the situation without further assistance. But when operating in DOO mode this cannot happen. Without seeking either a positive or a negative view.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport minister recalls a recent incident involving a freight train driver who died: “He went into one signal section between two towns, but never came out the other end.  Found slumped alone over the controls in his cab, it took 40 minutes for paramedics to arrive. There was nobody to assist him on the train.”

RAIL asked drivers to anonymously express their feelings about DOO.

One response: “train drivers are only human and just as susceptible to sudden ill health as everyone else. And things can go wrong in the cab, in remote spots away from any other human contact”.

Another speculated on what might happen if a driver was killed or incapacitated on a busy main line service, perhaps by an object coming through the windscreen and impaling him before he has the chance to hit the all-important emergency red button in the cab:  “It won’t take long before somebody pulls an emergency door release and people spill out onto the track, only to be mown down by passing trains that haven’t been alerted because all the signaller has deduced is that a service has been a long time in section”.

As Paul Prentice says, for a range of reasons: There are security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers”. Is this acceptable?





Posted on December 18, 2016, in Corporate political nexus, Finance, Government, Media, Privatisation, Transport and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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