ORR looks at train dispatch


In light of the ongoing union disputes over driver only operation, the Government asked for a review of who controls train doors at stations.

THE ongoing and highly debilitating strikes taking place on Govia Thameslink Railway’s Southern-operated services, staged by the RMT and ASLEF unions, are continuing into 2017 despite the Office of Rail and Road declaring that driver controlled operation (DCO) is safe.

As a result, the Government has asked the independent Office of Rail and Road, as part of its ongoing work as the independent rail regulator, to draft a national safety framework to further improve the way trains are dispatched across the country. It expects the unions to be fully involved in this process.

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In a report published on January 5,
the Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser confirmed that DCO on trains on the Southern network is safe with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place.

The ORR made some recommendations for further improvements, including ensuring that CCTV image quality is consistently high, which GTR-Southern has accepted and is in the process of implementing.

The report also suggested some further minor improvements that are required before DCO is introduced at a small number of stations, for example improvements to station lighting.

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The RMT and ASLEF unions have been taking strike action over plans to introduce trains where the driver controls the operation of the doors, which the unions claim is unsafe.

The RMT’s stance is: “Driver and conductor operation of trains means that a safety critical conductor, in addition to the driver, will always be on the train and the train is not allowed to leave without both the driver and conductor.

“This means that passengers are guaranteed there will always be a conductor to protect the safety of the train and passengers and also assist passengers in the event of an incident, accident or emergency.”

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The dispute has arisen because GTR, which is part-owned by French State Railways SNCF, wants to end driver and conductor operation and extend DCR to all GTR services.

The unions concede that DCO has been in operation since the 1980s and applies to approximately a third of all services operated, but points out that passenger numbers have increased enormously in recent decades, and thus there is a need for a conductor.

“In the last 15 years alone, passengers numbers on Southern have increased by 64% from 116 million to 191 million a year,” said an RMT spokesman. “This huge rise in passenger numbers inevitably increases the risk to passenger safety at the platform and train interface and with more passengers, we obviously need more staff not less.”

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