The term DOO (Driver Only Operation) has created mayhem in railway circles recently, with much publicised industrial action taking place that has caused misery to thousands of rail travellers. Widespread comment has appeared in the national and local press, rail magazines, radio and TV programmes and indeed questions have been bandied about in parliament.

As is commonplace these days, playing the ‘safety card’ has an emotional appeal that could well sway the public to a particular point of view, regardless of the true situation. So-called ‘expert’ opinions have been put forward that might even result in changes to the law on when and how strikes can take place.

It would be good if, before pronouncing solutions, some of this ‘informed’ opinion understood what the real issues are. Unfortunately, DOO as an acronym is commonly used as a ‘catch all’ for a number of ways by which trains can be operated in a more efficient manner. None of these preclude a second person being on board for customer care purposes.

Some definitions

It’s all about automation and, in all variants, power doors are a prerequisite. But what are the actual operational methods that are often described as DOO?

  • ATO = Automatic Train Operation. The train, upon getting a ‘Go’ command, will drive itself to the next scheduled stopping place within the safety control of the signalling system. Normally, an ATO train will have a driver remaining in the front cab, the sole member of staff on board, who will close the doors and initiate the ‘start’ button.
  • DOO = Driver Only Operation (the only true use of the acronym). The driver is in sole charge of the train and is responsible for train movement control as well as door operation.
  • DTO = Driverless Train Operation. The train has no dedicated driver but retains an on-board attendant to look after passenger interests as well as door closure activation that initiates a train start command for ATO to take over. In the event of equipment failure, the attendant has the facility to move the train at slow speed to a safe stopping point.
  • UTO = Unattended Train Operation. The train has no on-board staff and train movement, as well as door opening and closing, is entirely automatic, controlled by a timed sequence. Examples of this can be found at airports for shuttle transits that take travellers between terminals, but it also exists on a number of Metro lines around the world. Paris Metro lines 1 and 14 operate on this basis.
  • DCO = Driver Controlled Operation. This is a new term, invented during the current UK disputes, that has the driver controlling train movements and door operation, and the conductor looking after passenger interests. In the event of a conductor not being available for whatever reason, the train can still run in DOO mode rather than being cancelled.

Other than DCO, none of these are new.

ATO is common place on metros and dates from the original London Underground Victoria Line in 1969. More recently, ATO has been introduced on the Central, Jubilee and Northern Lines as well as a more modern version on the Victoria Line.

DOO was negotiated in the 1980s and first introduced on the Bedford – St Pancras route in 1982. It has been extended to other inner suburban routes around London and Glasgow and is now used on London Overground and Thameslink. On London Underground, DOO (known as OPO – One Person Operation) was introduced on the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines in 1984 and was subsequently extended to all other lines by 2000 as a precursor to ATO on the lines referred to above.

DTO has existed on the Docklands Light Railway since its opening.

UTO has been in operation on the Lille VAL system since 1983, on the Vancouver Skytrain since 1985 and on Paris Metro Line 14 (a new build line) in 1999 with Metro Line 1 being converted later. An agreement is in place between Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and the UNITE union to introduce UTO on the Glasgow Subway from 2021.

It should also be remembered that the growing number of tram and light rail networks in places such as Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Birmingham, Croydon and Edinburgh plus the Tyne and Wear Metro are all operated in DOO mode.

Defining operational and safety requirements

All of these methods of operation needed to be carefully thought through before introduction to ensure a safe method of working. The basic requirements have been defined and are well known.

  1. ATO. As well as the automatic driving commands to the traction and braking systems, an ATP (Automatic Train Protection) system is required that ensures the train operates to the limits set by the signalling system. Nowadays, this is known as a movement authority. ATO permits the number of trains per hour to be maximised but it is usual for a manual driving option to be retained so as to maintain driver familiarisation and to move the train to a safe stopping place if the ATO system malfunctions.
  2. DOO. For the driver to be in sole charge of the train, the system must have:
  • A secure radio link between driver and control centre;
  • A public address system for the driver to speak to passengers;
  • Radio that can be connected to the PA system in the event of the driver being incapacitated;
  • A means by which the driver can observe all the train doors to ensure safe closure before starting away;
  • The normal driver’s DSD device (dead man’s handle in old speak) and continuous train movement detection at the control centre by either track circuits or axle counters.
  1. DTO. All of the above ATO features with the addition of the attendant having an emergency control panel to drive the train at slow speed to the next station where passengers can disembark.
  2. UTO. All of the ATO and DOO requirements plus a continuous CCTV link from every carriage to the control centre to show and record all passenger movement including activation of a passenger emergency button that will stop the train if pushed. Two-way communication to the control room between passenger and controller will be part of the emergency button housing. Platform screen doors will be a mandatory requirement in the UK.
  3. DCO. Same rules as for DOO but with the conductor having access to the train PA system.

Some of these are more challenging than others. The radio communication system was developed as CSR (Cab Secure Radio) and is now replaced by GSM-R. Train PA systems are normal practice. Well-developed ATO and ATP packages are readily available from a number of suppliers, principally for metro and mass transit systems, and both features are now part of the ERTMS/ETCS specification.Continuous CCTV coverage can be difficult because of the bandwidth required for good quality pictures and the means of transmitting these back from the train to the control room. However it is the way by which the driver observes all the doors that is the emotive issue.

The platform-train interface

This interface is recognised as having significant safety implications. Sometimes, this is described as safety critical, which can be an unfortunate term as people use it in several contexts to wrongly define system design and staff competence. Despite the billions of people that board or alight from trains every year, the general public can, on occasions, do things that result in incidents occurring. The risks and the means of minimising these are considered later on.

When DOO was introduced in the 1980s, various means were devised to enable the driver to observe the train doors. For short trains on a straight platform, dropping the cab window and looking back along the train was deemed acceptable. In similar circumstances nowadays, a platform-mounted mirror can be used, which would be slightly convex, heated and angled to minimise the impact of rain and snow from distorting the view.

Neither of these options were satisfactory for longer trains or for curved platforms, so platform-mounted cameras, with associated banks of TV monitors sited on poles at the train stopping points, have become commonplace. Great care has to be taken to ensure that both cameras and monitors are correctly positioned to minimise the impact of any vandalism and to ensure that the pictures are of sufficient quality in all lighting conditions. The equipment must always be maintained to a high standard to ensure viewing angles and picture quality are not compromised.

Photo: icsnaps / Shutterstock.com.

A variation to this arrangement is to link the cameras to a low-powered wireless transmission system and provide in-cab monitors for the driver to view. This has the advantage that the platform pictures remain viewable even when the train is moving off. London Underground employs this system on most lines, as do a number of metro and suburban lines in other countries.

Recognising that platform-mounted kit can be cumbersome and expensive, newly built rolling stock for lines where DOO is envisaged comes equipped with side- mounted train cameras linked to monitors in the cab. The viewing is therefore self-contained and is not dependent on station works for DOO to be inaugurated.

Door design and platform operation

Getting someone trapped in a door with the train moving off is the biggest risk. In the days of slam-door trains, this was always a guard’s responsibility in conjunction with platform staff where stations were staffed. Power doors have eliminated much of the risk but incidents still happen.

The public often regards train doors as being similar to those on a lift where, by sticking a hand or bag into a closing door, it will automatically re-open. Only on the most modern metro trains that have sensitive door edges will this happen – normally it will be dependent on the driver re-opening the doors. If the intrusion is very thin, there is a small risk that the door closure system will not detect this. There have been occasions when a thin wrist or the straps of a bag have been on the ‘wrong side’ with a person being dragged along once the train begins to move.

Door detection systems are improving all the time, thus reducing the risk. One example is, the development of ‘intelligent sensitive edge’ door seals by London Underground. The painting of ‘sharks teeth’ on door edges is being trialled to further warn the public of potential danger.

Another factor is the distances of the door sill from the platform edge and the step-up distance from the platform to the train floor. On a mixed traffic railway, both these potential hazards will exist as the platform position has to cater for all types of trains that stop. Some of these gaps can be significant if the platform is curved, in which case middle or end doors can be a considerable distance away dependent on whether the curve is convex or concave. Track cant angles can tilt the train away from the platform.

Not only is this gap a trip hazard, it is possible for passengers to fall between the train and platform, with potentially fatal risks. Often, ‘Mind the Gap’ announcements give warning if the step distance is unusually high or wide.

On metros and urban railways where the stock is all the same type, the current design is for the doors to be exactly at platform level as this enables easy access for people in wheelchairs, although it can cause the horizontal gap to be greater on curved platforms. London Underground users will have observed the level access on the new S Stock for the Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines. More recently, a design has emerged with a sliding step that closes the gap between train and platform when the doors are open. The new Merseyrail trains will have this facility, as well as red, amber and green door illumination to indicate the door status and when they are about to close.

So who is best equipped to monitor all of this? The Union view that it is the guard needs challenging. The guard often has to alight from the train to view the platform, which on a long train will be a considerable distance. If the platform is curved or it is a foggy day, seeing the whole train length will not always be possible.

Some train operators insist that the guard alights onto the platform first to check the correct positioning of the train before releasing the doors, all of which increases the station dwell time. Additionally, before the train can start, the guard has to re-enter the train and close their door before traction power can be applied, therefore becoming blind to any untoward happening during this period.

The driver on the other hand has a continuous view of the entire train on either platform-mounted TV monitors or TV screens in the cab. These pictures remain until the train begins to move and can be programmed to stay on in cab screens until the train is clear of the station.

As always in such situations, familiarity can be an enemy and guard or driver can fail to notice someone not clear of the doors. At busy stations, where crowds may remain on the platform for the following train, the situation is eased by having platform staff who watch the alighting and entering process.

They are typically equipped with white ‘right away bats’ that are held up for the driver to see when it is safe to leave. The latest ones are capable of being illuminated red or white, the white light giving the driver the necessary assurance. At very busy stations, there may be a second member of staff at the train stopping point to relay the ‘right away’ signal. Some stations have a RA (Right Away) indicator positioned by the platform starting signal that are operated by platform staff once it is safe for the train to move.

Tickets, fare collection, evasion and customer care

Checking tickets and collecting fares is nowadays as much a part of train crew responsibility as it is of station staff. Whilst large terminal and interchange stations still have ticket offices, at less-important stations the office may only be open in peak hours and at rural locations the station is often totally unstaffed. Automatic ticket machines are available at many places but these may only cater for local travel on that line.

Many stations now have ticket barriers but need staff in attendance for travellers who have no ticket or the wrong ticket. Often this leads to the barriers being left open if there are no staff on duty. There is an ever-growing reliance on train crew to check and sell tickets on the train, but this is a task that needs minimum interruption. The situation is further complicated with the growing advent of ‘print at home’ paper tickets and electronic tickets on a smartphone.

Image: Concept image of new Merseyrail train.

A recent journey on the line from Macclesfield to Manchester by a local Northern train was witnessed. Only Macclesfield, Stockport and Manchester have ticket offices and machines, the local stations in between being unmanned. It was late afternoon with passengers going to Manchester for an evening out.

At each local station, a handful of travellers boarded the train. The guard shut the doors and then began checking and selling tickets. With both credit card and cash sales, this can be a slow process. A transaction would typically not be completed before arrival at the next local station, with the guard having to divert for the door release and closure routine. It was obvious by the time the train arrived at Manchester that a number of passengers had not been served and would have either had to go to the excess fare window or, if the barriers were open, enjoy a free ride.

This situation is typical across suburban lines around the country. The introduction of DCO would be a great asset in such circumstances.

TOCs must surely be aware of the problem, but it is a balancing act as to how many staff to deploy against the likely revenue received. With a guard freed of door duties to concentrate on revenue collection, not only will the door opening/closure process be speeded up, the behaviour of the general public will surely improve and the temptation to evade payment reduce. DOO in its many forms has to be part of this progression.

There is considerable evidence that the travelling public like the reassurance of a person on the train to look after their interests. Antisocial behaviour, especially late at night, can be very disconcerting and a passenger taken ill needs someone on board to take charge of the situation and summon help. TOCs have a duty of customer care but some seem to approach this more diligently than others.

Looking forward

There is no doubt that DOO in whatever form is here to stay. It has been in existence for nearly 50 years in conjunction with ATO, and 30 years in true DOO form.

The safety record is good. Both the ORR and RSSB have studied the operation in depth and produced public statements that DOO in its various forms is safe and can yield safety benefits.

DOO is technology dependent, so it would be quite reasonable for the unions to press for continuing high maintenance standards on the equipment involved. Equally, management and unions need to agree a sensible way forward on the use of on-board staff to maximise assistance to the travelling public with ticket queries, train running information and general customer care.

This would be a win-win scenario for all parties.

A collaborative report by writers of RailStaff and Rail Engineer

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.com