Driver Controlled Operation

Driver controlled operation (DCO) describes a way of operating trains where only the train driver has responsibility for opening and closing the doors and dispatching the train from a station.

Train operators need to be able to staff their trains in different ways to suit different scenarios. Long distance, intercity services will typically need more staff on-board to offer appropriate customer service, such as catering, while shorter distance, metro-style services may be able to operate with just the driver.

Various terms are used to describe these different ways of operating. 

Driver-and-conductor operated

The conductor – or guard – is responsible for closing the doors and determining that it is safe to start the train. The conductor is normally responsible for releasing the doors as well.

Driver controlled operation (DCO)

The train driver is responsible for door operation and determining that it is safe to start the train, although other auxiliary members of staff may be provided on the train.

Driver only operation (DOO)

The train driver is responsible for door operation and determining that it is safe to start the train, and is the only member of staff on the train.

In DOO mode, the train driver may still interact with platform staff or indicators.

With them being similar, some people use the terms DCO and DOO interchangeably, but we make the distinction here for the purposes of our analysis and research.

About 53% of all passenger journeys on Britain’s mainline rail network are made on DCO/DOO trains and 44% of all trains are DCO/DOO. In addition, London Underground and several international rail systems including the Dubai Metro and Tokyo's Yurikamome use DOO/DCO.

Technology is increasingly automating the way railways are operated, and in some cases the movement of trains is controlled autonomously via the control and signalling systems rather than by the driver. An example of this is on the new Thameslink upgrade where “Automatic Train Operation” is due to be activated between St Pancras and Blackfriars from May 2019.

Parts of the Paris and Barcelona metro networks use automation, as does the Docklands Light Railway.

Is DCO safe?

Yes. We have published several research projects over the last 15 years on various aspects of DCO on passenger trains. None of these pieces of work has identified any increased risk from dispatching a train without a guard being present - providing the correct procedures have been followed. In fact, the removal of any possible miscommunication, which could exist between driver and guard could, potentially, deliver some safety benefits. 

Research that we published in June 2018 looked at all the key safety risks that could be mitigated by a conductor or guard – including dispatch risk, on-board assaults, protecting the line in an emergency, and uncontrolled evacuation. Our report concurred with findings from previous work, showing that train travel continues to be fundamentally safe and that the risks are extremely low, regardless of whether the train operates with a guard, other auxiliary on-board staff or with just the driver.

This work built on research that we published in July 2017 which looked at six years' of data and found that safety levels are as good for passengers who board and alight from trains without a conductor or guard being present as they are for those using other services. This looked at the risk to passengers as they enter and leave train carriages and as the train departs from a platform when no guard is present and the driver controls the opening and closing of doors (DCO). The report concludes that levels of risk across all forms of dispatch are low.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the relevant duty holder (the train operating company or the infrastructure manager) to assess the risks and put in place appropriate mitigations. Without putting suitable risk mitigations in place the operator would not be granted the appropriate safety certificate or authorisation and would therefore not be allowed to run the service.

In short, safety is not a ‘make-or-break’ issue when considering whether a train should have a second person on board.

This means train operators are free to consider the value of auxiliary staff purely on grounds of customer service. For instance, there are a range of other potential benefits of additional staff – both on trains and on stations - including making it easier to meet the legal requirements for making the train service accessible to people of reduced mobility. There are also benefits in revenue protection and providing information to passengers and other aspects of customer service. Other on-board staff may also increase the perception of safety and security for passengers, which in turn is also beneficial to both the passengers and indirectly to the operator through increased revenue.


DCO / DOO was first used on trams in America in 1916 and trains have been operating this way on the British railway network since they were first introduced on the Bedford-St Pancras (‘Bedpan’) line in 1982. Trains with 12 coaches operating as DOO were introduced between London Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria in the late 1980s.

About 53% of all passenger journeys on Britain’s mainline rail network are made on DCO/DOO trains and 44% of all trains are DCO/DOO. This method of operation tends to be more common in the south-east, operating on most commuter trains out of London Liverpool Street, King's Cross, St Pancras, and suburban services from Victoria, Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge. It is also used on some routes out of Glasgow..

DCO/DOO routes out of London

Driver controlled operation routes out of London

DCO/DOO routes out of Glasgow

Driver controlled operation routes out of Glasgow


Whether using DCO or not, all train operating companies are required to comply with legislation such as the Equalities Act 2010, a European Regulation, the Technical Specification for Interoperability on persons with reduced mobility (PRM TSI), and their franchise commitments to make the railway sufficiently accessible.

They must also comply with their Disabled Persons’ Protection Policy which is agreed with the Office of Rail and Road. This sets out the arrangements and assistance that an operator will provide to protect the interests of disabled people using its services and to facilitate use of train services.

DCO should not disadvantage people who require additional assistance from travelling – and indeed, can actually free up staff to provide more support.

The most appropriate arrangements will vary depending on the presence of one or more on-train customer service staff, on whether stations are staffed or unstaffed, and whether equipment is part of the train or has to be deployed at the station. Under DCO a member of platform staff may be needed to help people with special access needs as it is would not be expected that the driver would leave their cab to assist.

In cases where on-board staff (guards) no longer operate doors, this can free up staff to carry out more customer-focused tasks, including giving reassurance and support for customers who need additional assistance. 

Whose duty is it to make sure it is safe?

Network Rail and train companies are legally required to manage health and safety of their operations – this includes compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Railway and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS).

To meet these and other obligations, the duty holder has to carry out the necessary risk assessments for its own method of operation, regardless of whether they are running trains with a guard or not. This will include ensuring rail staff are competent and are following the correct procedures. Companies develop and maintain safety management systems, and refer to a range of relevant standards, rules and best practice.

Passenger safety on trains and stations

The train is one of the safest modes of transport for passengers, and the risks on trains and on stations are extremely low.

Model comparison chart

On trains

The risk of a train accident (such as a derailment or a collision) are very low indeed, with the last passenger fatality occurring over 10 years ago. This is down to technological improvements in signalling and protection, containment and crashworthiness of modern trains, better training and development of staff and an ongoing, sustained focus on the relevant risk data. The modern GSM-R cab-to-shore communication system enables faster and more reliable ways of drivers and signallers talking to each other, and stopping trains in an emergency.

On stations

On stations, passengers are also very safe. With 1.73 billion passenger journeys made on the rail network every year, over 3 billion steps are taken by passengers as they board or alight trains. Most of these steps are made safely, but accidents at the interface between the train and the platform, while very rare, can occur.

The chart below shows the Fatalities and Weighted Injuries (FWI) for incidents taking place at the PTI.

PTI Fatalities and Weighted Injuries

FWI shows the number of each injury type that are deemed to be ‘statistically equivalent’ to one fatality. The equivalent of one fatality is:

  • 10 major injuries
  • 200 RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) reportable minor injuries and class 1 shock/ trauma
  • 1000 non-RIDDOR reportable minor injuries and class 2 shock/ trauma

The Rail Industry Standard for Passenger Train Dispatch and Platform Safety Measures - Issue Three, September 2017, (RIS-3703-TOM), provides comprehensive requirements and guidance for the development, review and implementation of passenger train dispatch processes and measures to manage the safe behaviour of passengers at the platform train interface. These apply to all Network Rail and train operators.

Advances in technology have made rail operations even safer. For example, using cameras to view the full train length from a driver’s cab. Early instances of driver controlled operation use cameras and monitors mounted on station platforms but new trains have CCTV cameras fitted to the side of each coach and a colour display monitor in the driver’s cab. This enables the operators to consider ways of fulfilling better customer service, to assist passengers.


Safety of Driver Controlled Operation - June 2018
Risk associated with train dispatch - July 2017
RIS-2703-RST Iss 2 - Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) On-Train Camera/Monitors (OTCM)
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Ann Mills
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