One-man 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 engineer or motorman alone, without a conductor.[3]

On one-man operated passenger trains, the engineer 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 a conductor as well as the engineer.[9]

While one-man operation is popular and on the rise among the train operating companies as it reduces the number of crew required and correspondingly reduces costs, it is for that reason controversial and is often strongly opposed by trade unions, often claiming that it is an unsafe practice.[10][11]

Passenger trains


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 United States 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 operator fell ill.[12][13] The dead man switch ensured that the tram would stop in the event of an incapacitated motorman.[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 motorman's view of the road and reducing the number of doors to a single one.[12]

In the US, regardless of various technological solutions to resolve the safety issues of one-man operation, there was consistent resistance towards one-man operation among the motormen and conductors of the streetcars.[12] Whenever the workforce was well-organized in unions - which was the case in around half of all cities with streetcar companies - any proposal of one-man operation would generally be challenged, regardless of whether 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 operator - 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 motorman's cab to assist with coupling at the terminal train station.[14]


The Melbourne suburban railway network (currently operated by train operating company Metro Trains Melbourne) began one-man operation in 1993, as part of a wider reform of public transport by the newly-elected Kennett government. By 22 November 1995, all suburban trains were one-man operated.

Pacific National trains between Adelaide and Port Augusta are also driver-only operated.[15]


Toronto subway

The Toronto Transit Commission contains a mix of one-person train operation and two-person operation. Since its opening in 1985, the light-metro Scarborough RT line is operated with a single operator, while the heavy-rail Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines have always operated with two-person crews of a train operator and guard (conductor).[16] The guard is responsible for operating the doors, as well as observing the platform.

On October 9, 2016, OPTO was successfully implemented on the heavy-rail Sheppard line, which uses four-car sets of Bombardier Toronto Rockets. According to a 2016 presentation, OPTO is "one of the TTC's key modernization efforts"[16] as a cost-saving measure. The Toronto Rocket trains were altered to include a train door monitor system uses cameras to display a clear view of train doors while maintaining unobstructed views of the track and signals.[16]

It is expected that the Yonge-University-Spadina line will have OPTO implemented in 2019, and the Bloor-Danforth line will follow with OPTO in 2021.[16]

The TTC's future light rail lines will use one-person operation in conjunction with an automatic train control (ATC) system.

Greater Toronto Area

GO Transit in Ontario operates with a conductor and engineer in the cab, as well as a conductor called a "Customer Service Ambassador" located within the train who is responsible for controlling the doors and making announcements.[17]


Most freight trains do not allow one-person train operation for safety reasons.

Via Rail

Via Rail operates with two Locomotive Engineers and several on board staff.

Montreal subway

The Montreal subway operates with one-person crews.[18]


In Denmark, the state owned railway company DSB started implementing one-man operation on the commuter rail S-train system in 1975. The S-train system has been completely one-man operated since 1978.[19]

At the start of 2013 DSB also used one-man operated trains on the two small regional rail lines Svendborgbanen and Aarhus nærbane.[20]

As a result of several years of major annual deficits, DSB started implementing one-man operation on several rail lines on 29 June 2013.[21][22] 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.[23] The Danish Railway Union stated in 2011 "that one-man operation wasn't their cup of tea".[24]

The lines that were planned to become one-man operated were: Copenhagen-Ringsted, Copenhagen-Kalundborg, Copenhagen-Nykøbing F., Aarhus-Aalborg, Fredericia-Esbjerg and Roskild-Køge-Ringsted[25] The one-man operation of the railway line Aarhus-Aalborg was implemented using temporary and very manual safety procedures - much to the dissatisfaction of the train drivers.[26] On 17 July 2013 DSB abandoned these temporary manual safety procedures and resumed to operate the Jutlandic regional trains with guards, on the grounds that the safety of their trains was not to be cast in doubt and that this was more important than "whether or not one-man operation was implemented a month or two latter than planned".[26] DSBs preparations of the lines permanent standard procedures for one-man operation did however prove to be more difficult than first anticipated. As of September 2015 DSB is only planning to use one man operation at the local lines north and south of Aalborg - and far from all the way to Aarhus. DSB has also stated that the rest of the remaining timeline for implementing one man operations will be reevaluated[25][27][28] DSB has pointed to a bureaucratic safety approval system with an independent safety assessor as the main reason for the lack of progress.[25]

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.[29] The one-man operation is set to start from 15 December 2013.[30] 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).[31] The safety approval of one-man operation on the Coastal Line is part of a joint DSB one-man operation project, which entails that the Coastal Line will not be one-man operated before DSB has managed to obtain safety approval for other lines first.[25] In August 2015 DSB stated that they would reevaluate whether or not they would implement one man operation on the Coastal Line. DSB stated at the same time, that they did not expect one man operation to be implemented on the Coastal Line in 2015.[27]

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.[32] The small train company Nordjyske Jernbaner which operates in the sparsely populated most northern parts of Denmark also uses exclusively one-man operated trains.[33] The railway companies Regionstog and Lokalbanen, operating the single-track railways of Zealand, use solely one-man operated trains as well.[34][35]

On all Danish one-man operated passenger trains, ticket inspectors still board the train now and then to perform spot checks.[36]


In the EU, train Drivers have an EU licence, and national certificates according to Directive 2007/59/EC[37].

With ERTMS, the driver has to communicate with the signaller[38].

In the EUR, there are also other crew members performing safety-critical tasks[39].

Some of these safety task, such as passenger protection and evacuation might be harmonized, while procedure-related and rolling‑stock dependent tasks, such as door closure may vary depending on the trains operated by the company[40].

Those safety task may include, depending on the country: Check train composition, Checks and test before departure, Train departure at any station, Train run, Operation in degraded mode, Operation in emergency situations[41].

The other crew members performing safety-critical task are regulated at national level, with regulations which are not fully compliant with EU legal framework as they restrict business[42]. Thus, they should be reviewed by each member nation with the Railway Safety Directive[43].


The S-Bahn rapid transit system in Berlin and Hamburg were using platform train dispatchers to ensure all doors are closed and a train can safely start for the next section. Although there were a couple of test runs since the 1970s these mass rapid transit systems were the last train systems in Germany to be converted to a one-man operation as rapid transit requires to ensure a minimum time to call at a station especially in rush hours. In Hamburg the "Selbstabfertigung durch den Triebfahrzeugführer" SAT (self-dispatching by the train driver) was first introduced in 2000 and the last station was becoming unmanned in 2006. On the bigger Berlin S-Bahn network the "Zugabfertigung durch den Triebfahrzeugführer" ZAT (train dispatching by the train driver) was introduced in 2006. However it was only used on straight platforms so far.

Since 2014 the Berlin S-Bahn introduces a system where an electronic monitor is in the driver cab. There is a camera on the platform that transmits the images via Wireless LAN to the train and the train has a connection back to the (existing) loudspeakers on the platform. The system was tested since 2007 but due to safety concerns its introduction was held off for several years. With its introduction a platform may be served in one-man operation either by ZAT-oU or the ZAT-FM, being the old "Zugabfertigung durch den Triebfahrzeugführer ohne technische Unterstützung" ZAT-oU (train dispatching by train driver without technical support) or the new "Zugabfertigung durch den Triebfahrzeugführer mittels Führerraum-Monitor" ZAT-FM (train dispatching by train driver with driver cab monitor).[44] Officials pointed out that the one-man operation does even lower the time a train halts on a station - on the busy central lines the train on one side of the platform did often have to wait for the train in the opposite direction on the other side of the platform to be dispatched. Although most of the central lines will be converted to ZAT-FM there will be about 20 stations left in the network that will continue to have platform dispatchers.[45]


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 Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line, which was designed to operate on one-man operation, Toei Ōedo Line, which was one-man operated since its opening in the year 2000,[46] and the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line, which became driver-only operated from 2009.[47]

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.[48]


In Sweden around 2 daily departures on the Swedish part of the Oresundtrain system operated by Veolia Transport is one-man operated. This practice is however only utilized when there is an abrupt shortage of train managers.[49] In 2013 the company's health and safety representative - who (in Sweden) is a train driver appointed by a trade union[50] - deemed it to be an unsafe practice demanding it be stopped.[49]

United Kingdom

On the British railway network, around 30% of all passenger services are one-manned or 'driver-only operated' (DOO).[4] The remaining 70% employ approximately 6,800 guards.[4] The term 'guard' is the common name used for the role which in most countries is referred to as a 'conductor'; it's also the name used in the railway's rule book. Many train companies use alternative names for the role (conductor, senior conductor, train manager), but the role is mostly the same regardless of operator.

On the UK light railways and tramways, conductors have all but disappeared in an operational sense and now the term 'conductor' is commonly used for revenue and customer service staff. Historically 'operational' conductors were the 'norm' on all systems including the London Underground (who used the term 'guard' like the mainline railway). With exception to the Blackpool system, London Underground and Glasgow Subway – all current UK light rail systems are of modern construction and were built as 'new' for 'one-man' operation.

British buses also once had 'operational' conductors on most services, most buses were front engined meaning the passenger saloon door had to be behind the driver's cab. The last buses to have a conductor are in London on the remaining AEC Routemaster double-deck buses, otherwise all UK buses are 'one-man operated' or OMO.


All trains on the London Underground are single-manned.[4] Conversion to one-man operation began in 1984 and was completed in 2000.[51]

TFL now operates 100% of its London Overground network as driver-only trains. The latest conversion was announced in July 2013 on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.[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 at the time the East London Line, already one-man operated, has one door-related incident for every seven million passengers, while the section of the network which currently uses conductors has one door-related incident for every four million passengers.[10] On 16 August 2013, the RMT called a 48-hour strike over the August bank holiday weekend.[52][53]

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.[52][54] 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."[53] 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.[53]

England and Wales

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[55] 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.[55] The RMT stated that "any proposed extensions of DOO would be fought by the union on grounds of safety and efficiency".[56]

The British government has proposed the extension of driver-only trains as a part of the new Northern franchise and has left it optional to the new operators of the Trans Pennine franchise.[57] Additionally it has been proposed for the new Hitachi Super Express Trains which will be in use on the East Coast and Great Western franchises.[58]

In April 2016, drivers belonging to the ASLEF trade union refused to pick up passengers using DOO on the new Class 387 trains on the Gatwick Express route. This is the system currently used for the 10-car Class 442 used on Gatwick Express, but the union claimed that extending this to 12-car trains put too much pressure on the driver and was unsafe. The operators Govia Thameslink Railway took legal action, and the union ultimately dropped the claim.[59]

In the summer of 2016, guards working for Southern and belonging to the RMT trade union went on strike over plans to introduce DOO on more Southern services.


More than 56% of ScotRail's trains are one-man operated.[60] When First 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.[60][61] 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.[62] 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.[63] 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.[64] Even though the trains are now driven without a guard, a ticket inspector is still present on every train,[60] although the ticket inspectors are paid less than guards.[56] The RMT Union called strike action in Summer 2016 when New Franchisee Abellio ScotRail announced plans to extend driver-only operation.[65] The dispute was resolved when ScotRail agreed that a conductor would be kept on all new trains with the driver opening the doors and the conductor shutting them.[66]

Current driver-only / one-man operations

  • London Underground – Has operated an entirely driver-only or one-man operated service since 2000. Certain Underground trains (on the Jubilee, Central, Victoria and Northern lines) are driven automatically with a 'train operator' to carry out other duties such as door operation.
  • Light rail and bus – Most light rail system in the UK are 'one man' operated, although most systems employ some form of ticket examiner for revenue and customer service reasons. Incidentally, the Docklands system operates automatically with a member of staff carrying out much of the role of a conductor, but also has the ability to take manual control of the train. Nearly all bus services in the United Kingdom are one-man operated, this includes long distance coach services such as National Express. There is part of Route 15 in London that uses conductors and several other bus routes in London where a customer assistant is provided for much of the day.
  • Abellio Greater Anglia – Most trains operating out of Liverpool Street are driver-only operated as far north as Colchester, with the exception of trains operated by 'locomotive hauled' trains and some trains that operational requirements demand the presence of a guard / conductor.
  • c2c – Operates an entirely driver-only operated train service.
  • Chiltern Railways – Services operating south of Banbury towards London are driver-only operated with the exception of their 'locomotive hauled' services.
  • Great Western Railway – Most 'Networker' Class 165 and 166 and 'Electrostar' British Rail Class 387 operated services are driver-only trains, operating mostly in the Thames Valley. For operational reasons 'Networker' services to Basingstoke, Gatwick Airport and services west of Oxford towards Worcester via the Cotswolds are operated with a guard / conductor.
  • Govia Thameslink Railway – Operates an entirely driver-only operated train service on the Thameslink and Great Northern sub-brands.[67]
  • Heathrow Express – Operates an entirely driver-only operated service, they do provide a 'customer service representative' on board for revenue and customer service duties
  • London Overground – Has operated an entirely driver-only operated service since July 2013.
  • ScotRail – Most electric train services in the Strathclyde area are driver-only operated, although they maintain a ticket examiner on most DOO services for revenue and customer service duties.
  • Southeastern – Operate a large network of driver-only trains mainly around South London. The HS1 services are driver-only operated with an 'on board manager' for mainly revenue and customer service duties.
  • Southern – Operates driver-only trains in south London and on the Brighton mainline. As of 25 May 2017, Southern is involved in a dispute with both the RMT and ASLEF unions over the extension of driver-only trains across their network.


The UK rail safety regulator, the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has stated that its research found no increased risks from driver-only operation.[68]

In December 2016, the overall rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) responded by letter to the Transport Select Committee's enquiry into rail safety.[71] In their related press release an ORR spokesman said:

The RMT union disputes the independence of both the RSSB due to the involvement of train operating company representatives on the RSSB board.[73] and says that both RSSB and ORR are disregarding wider safety issues by one-man working beyond the operation of the doors.[74]

Present Southern Rail dispute

There is an ongoing dispute relating to driver-only operation on Southern Rail.[75]

United States


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.[76] 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.[77] According to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesperson Joe Pesaturo the Carmen's Union "has never embraced" one-man operation.[76]


All light rail lines, and the one subway line, operate on single person operation.


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.[78] On 31 October 1993, the Orange Line began operating one-manned trains as well, and this gradually spread to the entire network.[78] As of 1998, the whole system runs with only a single crewman per train.[79]

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, the city's rapid transit system (known as the Metro) has been using one-person operation on all of its transit lines since it began operating in 1991.

New York City

In the New York City area, most subway trains over 300 feet (91 m) are operated by a two-man crew of a motorman and a conductor.[80] On September 1, 1996, OPTO began on the 42nd Street Shuttle, Franklin Avenue Shuttle and Rockaway Park Shuttle during all times, and on the B-West End Shuttle and 5-Dyre Avenue Shuttle during late nights.[81]

The following New York City Subway services and rolling stock are used for one-man operation as of July 2018:

Full-time one-man operation:

Part-time one-man operation:

Philadelphia Area

  • PATCO Speedline, is also one-man OPTO operation from its opening in 1969, as well as
  • SEPTA's Broad Street Subway Line.

Washington, D.C

The Washington Metro has always operated under the "one man rule" from the opening of the first line in 1976.

Freight trains


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-man freight trains.[82]

Following the Lac-Mégantic derailment in July 2013 when a one-man Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train was involved in a major and fatal accident, the Canadian Government issued an emergency order banning one-man 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.[83]


Danish freight trains are usually one-man operated.[84]


Irish freight trains operated by locomotives of the 201 Class are one-man operated, however most freight trains of the 071 Class are operated by two engineers.


Swedish freight trains are usually one-man operated.[84]

United Kingdom

Most British freight trains are one-man- or driver-only-operated, but certain freight trains do have guards on board for operational or safety reasons (such as DRS nuclear trains).[4]

United States

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.[85] The US has however not issued a ban on one-man-operated freight trains.[86] In July 2013, the 55,000-member Canadian and American Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen stated that they had been opposed to one-man freight trains for safety reasons since the introduction of the idea approximately a decade ago.[11] In November 2019, eight U.S. railroads filed a federal lawsuit against the union to allow for the implementation of one man crews.


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