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Study of one-person train operations (TP 12974E)



This report presents the findings of a review of one-person and driverless train operations. The objective of the project was to identify and characterize one-person and driverless train operations.

For the purposes of this study, a one-person train operation is defined as a train operated by one driver only and, when there is other crew on board the train, that crew has no normal role in running of the train.

One-person train operations have not gained large-scale acceptance by North American railways. The greater part of this study therefore relates to railways outside of Canada. Railway officials around the world were approached by telephone in order to gather information on their operations.


While all the railways contacted operate one-person trains (i.e., with only one driver in the locomotive), none of them operates driverless trains over the road.

Most railways do not impose any restriction on the use of one-person operations. British railways do not permit one-person operations for transport of toxic and flammable substances, for particular types of freight equipment, and where certain track and communication requirements are not met. Tranzrail of New Zealand does not permit one-person operations in areas where full and continuous radio communication is not available.


Both passenger and freight trains are operated with only one person in the locomotive. Freight trains have no other crew on board. Most passenger trains, however, have other crew on board for passenger service and security with the exception of suburban, local, and regional trains, where suitable equipment can be deployed to permit the driver to operate and supervise the doors.

All types of freight trains are run as one-person operations. These trains include mixed freight, industrial freight, intermodal freight, block trains, and heavy haul trains. Passenger one-person trains include suburban trains, local trains, regional trains, intercity trains, and long-distance trains.

Cab Technology

Some railways such as the Danish and Swedish railways use sophisticated ATC technologies to enforce signal and speed regulations.

British railways use an audio-visual driver safety device called an AWS (Advance Warning System) which warns the driver of signal aspects. A driver's failure to acknowledge the restrictive signal warnings results in automatic braking of the train. Tranzrail uses only a vigilance device which sounds an alarm and stops the train if the driver fails to respond to its demands.

Communication System

Most railways provide a radio communication system to permit continuous and direct speech communication between the driver and the controller. British railways permit use of a telephone connecting with the controlling signal box every 3.2 km along the line in lieu of radio communication.


The driver has the primary responsibility for safe operation of the train. They are required to attend to problems arising with the trains en route, deal with emergencies, and call for assistance where necessary. Generally, the drivers follow specified rules when leaving the cab and while outside.


The drivers work in shifts ranging from 7 to 10 hours, for a total of 35 to 50 hours per week. Some railways allow longer shifts. The drivers are allowed a minimum of 10- to 12-hour breaks between shifts. The German Railway requires a break of at least 5 hours between shifts at an out-of-tour location. Most railways allow a minimum of a 30-minute break after a maximum of a 5-hour run. The break is taken at the driver's discretion.

Most railways are concerned about the driver fatigue problem and relieve drivers when they are tired or sick. Tranzrail is presently developing a crew alertness education program which will educate drivers on how the body functions and on how to organize work, sleep, etc.


All new drivers undergo a year to eighteen month training period. Following the initial training and certification, driver competence is assessed periodically and action is taken to correct any deficiencies.

When one-person operation was introduced, Tranzrail ran special two-day training courses on new operating rules and a radio communication system.


The drivers are trained in procedures to protect the train and can request emergency assistance when necessary. On the other hand, if the train is delayed or stopped en route without apparent reason, and the driver cannot be contacted within a given time, an emergency is assumed by the controller and appropriate procedures are initiated.


All the railways found the one-person safety record to be excellent and do not believe that two persons in the cab improves safety. The drivers were initially opposed to the concept but the system now has gained wide acceptance.

Project description

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This research report is available in Portable Document Format (PDF). File size is 3,998 Kb.

This report reflects the view of the authors and not necessarily those of the Transportation Development Centre.

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