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Driver Controlled Operation

What is ‘driver controlled operation’ (DCO)?

Driver controlled operation (DCO), sometimes known as driver only operation (DOO), 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.

It is currently in use on about 30% of the British mainline rail network, London Underground and several international rail systems including the Dubai Metro and Tokyo's Yurikamome. Parts of the Paris and Barcelona metro networks are now fully autonomous, as is the Docklands Light Railway.

Is DCO safe?

Yes, it is the view of RSSB that it is. 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. If we had found evidence to suggest that DCO was not safe when done correctly, we would say so.

Further research that we published in July 2017 looked at six years' of data and found that safety levels are as good for passengers who board and alight from trains without a 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. 

Whose duty is it to make sure it is safe?

It is the responsibility of the duty holder to carry out the necessary risk assessments for its own method of operation. Train operators will need to assess and manage a range of risks specific to their own local 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.

How frequently are risk assessments on DCO carried out to see if it is still appropriate?

This is currently covered in the Rail Industry Standard for Passenger Train Dispatch and Platform Safety Measures - Issue Two, March 2013, section 2.9 (RIS-3703-TOM), which states that;
Infrastructure managers shall review the risk assessment and train dispatch arrangements periodically, when changes are proposed or following an accident or incident occurring during train dispatch.

Such changes could be (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Introduction of new trains or changes to existing trains.
  • Variations to train lengths.
  • Changes to staffing levels.
  • Introduction of new staff.
  • Increase to staff workloads.
  • Organisational changes.
  • Alterations to signalling equipment.
  • Alterations (temporary and permanent) to station infrastructure.
  • Alterations to CCTV equipment.
  • Timetable change.

Is DCO a new invention?

Far from it. DCO was first used on trams in America in 1916 and trains have been operating under DCO 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 driver only were introduced between London Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria in the late 1980s.

How much of Britain’s rail network currently uses DCO?

About 30% of all passenger services in Great Britain are DCO. 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. Click on the maps below for more information.


Driver controlled operation routes out of London


Driver controlled operation routes out of Glasgow

Can you use DCO when the platform is crowded?

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 only 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.

Even on a 12-car train?

Yes, it is the responsibility of the duty holder (the train operating company or infrastructure manager) to carry out the necessary risk assessments for its own specific method of operation and rolling stock. Operators will need to assess and manage a range of risks specific to their own local operation, regardless of whether they are running trains with a guard or not. This will include ensuring the right technology is employed where necessary and that rail staff are competent and are following the correct procedures.

Does DCO add to the risk of people falling between the edge of the platform and the train?

If carried out properly, we don’t believe there is any increased risk from dispatching trains from a station with only the driver opening and closing the doors.

Our independent analysis shows that there has been no significant increase in the number of injuries recorded because of passengers falling between trains and platforms. While there is some variability in the numbers month on month, over the last ten years (and considering the increase in passenger numbers over the same period) the overall trend is stable. That doesn’t mean the industry isn’t concerned about these incidents. We are all working to implement the Platform Train Interface (PTI) strategy which was launched last year so that we can reduce the risks which exist at the platform edge.

Thankfully the number of people getting hurt at the platform edge remains low. As reported in the RSSB Annual Safety Performance Report 2015/16 there were only 38 major injuries which occurred at the platform edge to people who were boarding or alighting trains last year: 

  • 11 from falls between the train and platform
  • 6 from being caught in train doors
  • 16 from other alighting accidents
  • 5 from other boarding accidents

This is on a national network making 1.69 billion passenger journeys.

There were no fatalities reported from boarding or alighting over the last 5 years.

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

 *Fatality 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

Does it increase suicide risk?

We have not seen any evidence to suggest that DCO increases the numbers of suicides that take place on the railway. Sadly 252 people died as a result of suicide or suspected suicide on the railway in 2015/16. This is a reduction on the 287 fatalities recorded for the previous year. The chart below shows confirmed and suspected suicides alongside confirmed and suspected accidental deaths.

The industry works closely with the Samaritans on suicide prevention projects, but in the event of such an incident neither driver or guard (if present) would be expected to respond as the responsibility sits with Network Rail and the British Transport Police (BTP) who also provide the chain of care needed for staff and passengers on trains involved until the train operator’s staff arrive on scene.  

Does DCO disadvantage disabled people?

We don’t believe DCO disadvantages disabled people travelling. However, 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. All train operators must comply with their Disabled Persons’ Protection Policy which is agreed with the Office of Rail and Road.  

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