Editor, UBM

January 26, 2017

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Southern rail: ORR report concludes driver only operation is safe

train tracksTo say that Southern Rail has had a few problems over the last year or so is an understatement.

A long-running disagreement between Southern Rail and the rail unions over the implementation of driver-only operated doors on trains has lead to a series of strikes, regular delays and cancellations across the network and a seemingly never-ending stream of customer complaints.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has written a report on the issue of safety relating to the interface between the platform and train, and the safe dispatch of trains. It focuses on Driver Only Operation (DOO) of passenger trains, where the train driver is in control of the door operation of the train.

What’s it all about?

The rail unions have argued that Driver Only Operation (DOO) of passenger trains is a safety issue, and that by introducing DOO up to 400 guards could lose their jobs and this could affect passenger safety.

The RMT website says: “Currently, both the driver and the guard protect the safety of the train.

“Guards must be fully trained in operational safety and route knowledge, including being able to secure the doors safely, protecting the train and acting in emergencies such as derailments or fires.”

It continues: “Driver Only Operation means the driver will be the only guaranteed member of staff on the train. The driver will be expected to drive the train and be responsible for passenger safety.”

A spokesperson for Southern Rail has said: “Let’s be very clear on this. We are not taking anyone off our trains… The RMT union is misleading the travelling public into believing that we are.

“The role of the conductor is evolving into the role of the on-board supervisor and trains that have a conductor today, will have an on board supervisor rostered on them going forward.”

He claimed there will actually be more people on board than there are currently and the on board supervisors will all be safety and security trained.

“Meets legal requirements for safe operation”

The ORR report has concluded that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place, the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern fully meets legal requirements for safe operation.

The ORR’s role is to ensure that the railways in Britain are safe for passengers to use and provide a safe place for staff to work, as well as ensuring that duty-holders comply with the law.

The ORR report is detailed, listing the inspections carried out on Southern Rail’s network. It includes an examination of:

  • The scope of the proposed DOO
  • Roles and responsibilities of the Driver and the On Board Supervisor
  • The ‘Change Process’ that GTR-Southern adopted in relation to this change
  • Compliance with Industry Railway Group Standards (RGS), Railway Industry Standards (RIS) and industry good practice
  • Whether the arrangements were compliant with health and safety legislation
  • If there were any safety concerns or areas for improvement.

By running tests on visibility, in-cab monitors, and inspections on newly-introduced DOO routes, as well as putting Southern Rail through a thorough risk-assessment, the ORR identifed areas for improvement but has broadly found that health and safety requirements are being met.

The report concluded: “ORR is satisfied that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern, meets legal requirements and can be operated safely.

“The onus on all duty holders is to continuously improve safety and therefore we will work with all parties to ensure they are striving for ever-safer methods of train operation, including regarding the technology that is available as part of DOO.

“As the safety regulator we will continue our inspections and we will not hesitate to take action if we have evidence there is a breach of health and safety legislation.”

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