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ORR joins RSSB in saying DOO services ‘can be operated safely’

The ORR has concluded that Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR’s) proposed use of driver-only operation (DOO) on its trains will allow services to operate safely, albeit once the plans have undergone slight improvements.

DOO has been at the centre of attention of late due to its role in the current industrial action afflicting Southern Rail, with the rail unions RMT and Aslef claiming that GTR’s proposed model is unsafe and will threaten the jobs of train guards.

The news came as a boost to GTR who urged the unions to admit that they now have ‘no credible argument’ to resist the TOC’s proposals.

“Industry standards, Railway Group Standards (RGS), Railway Industry Standards (RIS), are the minimum requirements that have to be met. ORR is satisfied that these requirements and those from good practice guides, in relation to DOO operation, are being adhered to,” concluded the ORR’s report.

“ORR’s view is that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation.”

The report came following site visits by an ORR railway operations specialist, who carried out an inspection on Southern’s recently launched DOO service between Horsham and Bognor Regis.

The specialist found during his inspection that the quality of CCTV varied but images were satisfactory for the driver to provide an adequate safety check prior to departure, with CCTV coverage proving a particular sticking point in the dispute.

However, the inspector also noted that planning and notification ahead of the route transferring to DOO did not appear to be well communicated by GTR, who accepted a number of recommendations for further improvement such as better quality in-cab CCTV.

Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR, welcomed the ORR’s findings on its DOO roll-out programme, as the report echoes the conclusion made by the RSSB on the issue last year.

“The RSSB and now the ORR has confirmed that this is a safe method of operation and the unions must now acknowledge that they have no credible argument that it’s an unsafe method of operation,” Horton said.

GTR used the findings to repeat their call for an end to the unions’ “unjustified and pointless” industrial action, saying that they must now halt the misery of the travelling public affected by the ongoing strikes.

Today the operator confirmed that it wrote to Aslef earlier this week setting out a formal offer to settle the dispute. The offer included an upgrade programme to upgrade in-cab CCTV systems, no further extension of DOO without the union’s agreement and a programme to support driver job security. GTR said that it has not yet received a formal response from Aslef to the offer.

However, RMT general secretary Mick Cash argued that the report issued by the ORR is a complete “whitewash that proves conclusively that the ORR is no longer fit for purpose and is nothing more than an arm of government, wholly committed to propping up the train companies and the DfT”.

He added that the union has no confidence in the regulator “whatsoever” and will continue the “fight for safety on Southern and across our railways and genuine, independent scrutiny free from the stranglehold of central government”.

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Richard   05/01/2017 at 23:21

I do find it rather unsettling to witness this headlong rush to eliminate guard's duties on trains. OK it may be possible to run a train with one man, but is it a real benefit other than financially? People like to see the visible presence of staff, especially late at night and when trouble brews, whether fellow passengers or service disruption. Same at stations where staff are slowly being displaced by barriers, which in my view do nothing more than cause congestion and are very unreliable. There seems to be an obsession to do away with physical jobs by investing a fortune in replacement technology, much of which is overkill, un-necessary and wasted.

Tothehills   06/01/2017 at 09:29

Richard, There is a difference between getting rid of the "guard" and having pure DOO (as per a number of commuter lines). I think the TOCs should retain on-board staff on long distance trains and their focus should be on passenger care and the safety of said passengers in the event of an emergency (this is what I believe GTR/HMG is offering). I would rather the on-board staff focus on getting disabled people on/off trains than pressing buttons to satisfy Mike Cash's ego. General security on trains is better managed by CCTV as it provides courts with evidence and can be everywhere on a train (much to Mr Corbyn's recent discomfort). On-board staff can only be in one place and generally shy away from dealing with low-level crime (Why should they get their faces smashed in). Crime prevention is based on the chances of being caught. As for Mr Cash's ludicrous statements about passenger safety. I think the last passenger murdered on a main line train was in the 70's; and the only person to be killed with sliding doors in the country was by the actions of a guard probably trying to teach a drunk young woman a "lesson".

Interestedobserver   06/01/2017 at 12:34

Couldn't agree more Tothehills. Staff are needed for customer service on longer routes but DOO is safe and in place across the network. London Underground has been DOO since what, 1990ish? They carry more passengers than the whole of the national network combined and have some nasty curved platforms and their safety record is enviable. We shouldn't forget the point that you raised which is that the only boarding death in recent years was on a train with guard-operated doors.

John Grant   06/01/2017 at 13:08

According to the RSSB website and there are several "train-platform interface" injuries each year, but I can't find any analysis of how many of those are with guard-controlled vs driver-controlled doors, compared to the total number of passengers getting on and off each type of train. Does anyone have access to those figures?

Dave The Brave   06/01/2017 at 17:04

I was looking at the railway incident records for the last 10 years. The average no of platform train interface incidents has hardly varied over the period whilst I would imagine DOO has increased over the same period.

Jerry Alderson   07/01/2017 at 21:16

As Tothehills pointed out to Richard, GTR says it has no intention of reducing staffing - every train that currently has a second person will continue to have one *rostered* and hence *funded* (if the train goes without an OBS it will be for reasons such as the OBS being stuck on a delayed train, not because jobs have been axed and theffore not because money has been saved [other than during a strike]). Of course we can't foresee the future and admittedly the change to OBS would make it easier to remove staffing in the future but just because something becomes easier doesn't mean it will happen. That's not being naive. The OBS will have job security because there is no economic reason to reduce the number of trains with an on-board supervisor. People who lack business acumen assume that cutting staff increases profit. It does not if it has consequences for turnover. Only a fool cuts staff who generate more revenue than they cost if that revenue will fall if they are axed. Barriers at stations largely prevent ticketless travel but they do not prevent people paying a far lower fare they should. Neither do barriers check eligibility for discounts. Only the OBS can do that. The OBS role will increase revenue because more time will be spent checking and selling tickets. There should be no justificaiton for that person to 'hide' in the rear cab, as so many currently seem to do. The OBS will be better value for money than the guard/conductor because they will be much more productive. The change to an OBS is a good thing for staff in the sense that the revenue they help to generate will increase so the overall profitability of the railway will increase, creating a virtuous circle. The worse thing for railway staff is an increasingly unprofitable railway - that does cause jobs to be lost. The jobs that will be axed - and should be, in my opinion - are the drivers, but it will be decades before that becomes the case on the mainline. It will happen in 2020 on the Glasgow Subway, and commence during the 2020s on the London Underground, but the Victorian nature of it will make any transition to GoA level 4 very slow indeed. The newer Paris Metro will be able to convert lines to GoA level 4 faster than LUL ever could despite Boris's claims in the past.

Martin T   08/01/2017 at 16:22

"RMT general secretary Mick Cash argued that the report issued by the ORR is a complete “whitewash that proves conclusively that the ORR is no longer fit for purpose”. He added that the union has no confidence in the regulator “whatsoever." So, anyone who says something that does not help the RMT's case is not fit to do their job. How stupid can Mick Cash be? How can such an attitude possiibly make RMT look anything other than extreme - and extremely stupid?

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