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Driver-only operation

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Driver-only operation

One-man operation (OMO), also known as driver-only operation (DOO), one person operation (OPO), single person train operation (SPTO)[1] or one-person train operation (OPTO),[2] is operation of a train, bus, or tram by the driver or motorman alone, without a conductor.(Lowe & 2002 172)[3]

On one-man operated passenger trains the driver must be able to see the whole train to make sure that all the doors are safe for departure. On curved platforms a CCTV system, mirror or station dispatch staff are required.[4][5][6][7]

Although extra infrastructure such as cameras and mirrors might require additional investment, one-man operation is usually faster and cheaper to implement than automatic train operation, requiring a smaller investment in, for example, platform intruder detection systems and track protection (fencing, bridge-caging, CCTV etc.).[8] In some cases, one-man operation can be seen as an intermediate step towards automatic train operation.[8]

While European freight trains are normally one-man operated, the larger North American freight trains are almost exclusively manned by an engineer as well as a conductor.[9]

While one-man operation is popular and on the rise among the train operating companies, it is controversial and disputed by many trade unions, who claim that it is an unsafe practice.[10][11]


One of the first examples of a public transport vehicle that was developed specifically for one-man operation is the Birney streetcar introduced in the USA in 1916.[12] The Birney was pre-equipped with one of the most important safety devices for enabling one-man operation - the dead man's switch.[12] At the time (and to a certain extent also today) one of the most cited arguments against one-man operation was the safety risks to passengers and bystanders if the driver fell ill.[12][13] The dead man switch ensured that the tram would stop in the event of an incapacitated driver.[12] For this reason, the Birneys were also called "safety cars".[12] Another critical feature of the Birney in dealing with safety issues from the critics of one-man operation was its compact size which eased the drivers view of the road and reducing the number of doors to a single one.[12]

In the USA, regardless of various technological solutions to resolve the safety issues of one-man operation, there was consistent resistance towards one-man operation among the drivers and conductors of the streetcars.[12] Whenever the workforce was well-organized in unions - with was the case in around half of all cities with streetcar companies - any proposal of one-man operation would be generally be severely challenged, regardless of whether or not the streetcar company was in serious financial difficulties.[12] In many cities, it took a municipal ordinance to authorize one-man operation, thus also politicizing the subject.[12] The end result of all this was typically strikes and other industrial action whenever one-man operation was implemented.[12]

While the Birney was one of the first public transport vehicles designed for one-man operation, it was not the first public transport vehicle to be equipped with a dead man's switch. In 1903, the Metropolitan District Railway equipped two of their A Stock trains with a dead man's switch.[14] The dead man's switch was introduced so that one man could operate in the driving cab on his own, which became standard for all train companies operating the London Underground in 1908.[14] Even though this did not make the trains one-man operated - seeing as the trains were still manned with a guard - it was one of the first steps towards it.

Besides the dead man's switch, the electrification and dieselisation of railways also helped reduce the required staff in the locomotive to a sole driver - as diesel and electric traction does not require a fireman to shovel coal into a boiler.[14]

On the London Underground, the use of multiple units ended the need for a second crewman in the driver's cab to assist with coupling at the terminal train station.[14]


The suburban railway network of Melbourne, Australia (currently operated by the train operating company Metro Trains Melbourne) started one-man operation in 1993. By 22 November 1995, all Metro Trains Melbourne trains were one-man operated.[15]


The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway and Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway are the only two railways in Canada approved by Transport Canada to run one-manned freight trains.[16]

Following the Lac-Mégantic derailment in July 2013 when a one-manned Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train was involved in a major accident, the Canadian Government issued an emergency order banning one-manned freight trains carrying hazardous cargo.[9] This move has been criticised as rash action before the cause of the accident has been uncovered. Critics of the emergency order further pointed to a 1997 "Study of One-Person Train Operations" commissioned by Transport Canada which concluded that it is unlikely that two persons in the cab improves safety.[17][18]


Passenger trains

In Denmark, the S-train system has been completely one-man operated since 1978.[19]

The trains operated by Arriva on the rural single-track railways of Jutland have been one-man operated since Arriva won a tender to operate the lines in 2003.[20] The small train company Nordjyske Jernbaner which operates in the sparsely populated most northern parts of Denmark also uses exclusively one-man operated trains.[21] The railway companies Regionstog and Lokalbanen, operating the single-track railways of Zealand, use solely one-man operated trains as well.[22][23]

As a result of several years of major annual deficits, the state-owned DSB started implementing one-man operation on several rail lines in 2013.[24] This led to reductions in staff, followed by widespread protest and some small illegal strikes by train drivers, who accused DSB of using rolling stock which was unsafe for one-man operation.[25] The Danish Railway Union stated in 2011 "that one-man operation wasn't their cup of tea".[26]

On 7 June 2013, the Danish Ministry of Transport decided to implement one-man operation on the tendered Coastal Line, which led to the sacking of 50 guards.[27] The one-man operation is set to start from 15 December 2013.[27] Meanwhile, sickness absence among the sacked guards rose to six times the normal levels, resembling "sick-out" strike action. This compelled the train operating company DSB Øresund to offer the sacked guards a "stay healthy bonus" of up to 5000 Danish kroner per month (about US$900 or UK£600).[27]

On all Danish one-man operated passenger trains, ticket inspectors still board the train now and then to perform spot checks.[28]

Freight trains

Danish freight trains are usually one-man operated.[29]


In Japan, passenger trains without a conductor are indicated by a green wanman (ワンマン?, "one man") sign, often accompanied by a pre-recorded in-car announcement mentioning that the train is a "one man train". Most buses are one-man operations, with an increasing number of subways, including the Toei Ōedo Line, which was one-man operated since its opening in the year 2000,[30] and the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line, which became driver-only operated from 2009.[31]

New Zealand

By 1997, more than 90 percent of all trains – both passenger and freight - operated by the then main freight and passenger rail operator in New Zealand, Tranz Rail, had only one person in the loco cab.[32]


In Sweden around 2 daily departures on the Swedish part of the Oresundtrain system operated by Veolia Transport is one-man operated.[33] In 2013 the company's health and safety representative - who (in Sweden) is a train driver appointed by a trade union[34] - deemed it to be an unsafe practice demanding it be stopped.[33]

All Swedish freight trains are usually one-man operated.[35]

United Kingdom

Passenger trains

As of 2011, 30% of all passenger services in the United Kingdom are one-manned.[4] The remaining 70% employ approximately 6,800 conductors.[4]


By 21 July 2010, Sir Roy McNulty, chair of the major value for money inquiry of the rail industry in the United Kingdom, tabled a scoping report titled Realising the potential of GB rail (2011 McNulty) commissioned by the Department of Transport (DfT) and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). The report recommended that "the default position for all services on the GB rail network should be DOO (driver-only operation), with a second member of train-crew only being provided where there is a commercial, technical or other imperative", in order to reach the overall industry goal of a "30% unit cost reduction" by around 2018(2011 & McNulty 6).[36] The RMT stated that "any proposed extensions of DOO would be fought by the union on grounds of safety and efficiency".[37]

First Capital Connect, operating in the eastern parts of Southern England, uses one-man operation on all trains[38]


New services such as the Javelin shuttle and the East London Line are single-manned.[4] New railway projects such as the Thameslink and Crossrail are also planned as one-man operated systems.[4]

All trains on the London Underground are single-manned.[4] Conversion to one-man operation began in 1984 and was completed in 2000.[39]

Transport for London operates 60% of its overground network as driver-only trains. Transport for London announced their intention to implement one-man operations on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line in July 2013.[10] The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) challenged the move, claiming passenger safety would be compromised.[10] Transport for London replied that the East London Line, already one-man operated, has one door-related incident for every 7 million passengers, while the section of the network which currently uses conductors has one door-related incident for every 4 million passengers.[10] On 16 August 2013, the RMT called a 48 hour strike over the August Bank holiday weekend.[40][41] According to the RMT, the proposal set forth by Transport for London would imply Driver Only Operations on the whole of the London Overground network and make 130 guards redundant.[40] London Overground Rail Operations stated in response that they had given "the RMT assurances on employing conductors in alternative customer service roles and offering a generous voluntary redundancy package to those who want it."[41] According to RMT, the proposals to implement driver only operations are in response to the 12.5% reduction in Transport for London's funding announced in Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review.[41]


More than 56% of ScotRail's trains are one-man operated.[42] When ScotRail launched a plan to implement one-man operations on the newly opened Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link in 2010, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) staged several strikes, claiming that the system was unsafe.[43][44] ScotRail replied that they had been using one-man operated trains since the 1980s, and that the Class 334 trains planned for the Airdrie-Bathgate line had not even been delivered with a conductor's door panel.[45] The strikes were ultimately ended by the unions, in part because of disagreements within the RMT about which principal stand to take on one-manned operations.[46] Other sources point to a "strike breaker" clause in ScotRail's contract, which enabled ScotRail to draw compensation from Scottish taxpayers during a strike, as another factor in the union's ending of the strikes.[47] Even though the trains are now driven without a guard, a ticket inspector is still present on every train,[43] although the ticket inspectors are paid less than guards.[37]

Freight trains

All British freight trains are single-manned.[4]


Passenger trains


On the Boston subway, also referred to as "The T", all three subway lines became completely one-person operated at the end of March 2012.[48] This marked the ending of the gradual implementation of one-man operations that started in 1996 with parts of the subway's shortest line, the Blue Line, continued with the Orange Line in 2010 and ended with the longest line, the Red Line in 2012.[7] According to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesperson Joe Pesaturo the Carmen's Union "has never embraced" one-man operation.[48]


In Chicago the city's main rapid transit system - the L - has been using one-man operation on the Yellow Line since its opening in 1964.[49] On October 31, 1993, the Orange Line began operating one-manned trains as well, and this gradually spread to the entire network.[49] As of 1998, the whole system runs with only a single crewman per train[50]

New York

In the New York City area most subway trains are operated by a two-man crew of a motorman and a conductor.[51] The Metropolitan Transportation Authority only uses one-man operation on the subway shuttle services: Rockaway Park Shuttle, Lefferts Shuttle A, Franklin Avenue Shuttle and Dyre Avenue Shuttle 5. In addition the G and M lines are one-man operated on weekends.[2]

Freight trains

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, one-man operated freight trains are "very rare" in the United States because it is hard to comply with federal safety regulations with only one person on the train.[9]

In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic derailment in July 2013, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo demanded that Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway start using two-person train crews in the US.[52] The US has however not issued a ban on one-man-operated freight trains.[53] In July 2013, the 55,000-member Canadian and American Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen stated that they were opposed to one-man trains.[11]


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