Who needs them?

The rail union Aslef’s objections to operating the passenger doors on some routes while doing these duties on other routes is without any logical basis. It smacks more of the dinosaur view of many trade union officials rather than of any benefit to their members.

Their name, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, refers to a past which disappeared with the removal of steam traction from British Railways in 1968. Nowadays, neither firemen nor locomotive engineers are needed to drive trains.

In fact, the real question is whether train driving has a future? Since 1987, the Docklands Light Railway in London has run trains without a driver. A train captain, more like a conductor than a driver, operates the doors and manages the train. They can take over manually if required, although the only in-service accident happened when a manually overridden train collided with another in 1991.

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The DLR trains runs as frequently as 3.5 minute intervals. They are capable of over 60mph and over 100 million passenger journeys are made in a year.

The increase in automation which has replaced the many signal boxes every few miles with automated centres and where now there are no visual signals on the rail lines in parts of the Highlands, with train control being done by radio, means that replacing the driver is possible.

While driverless trains might have been unthinkable back in the days of steam traction, 28 years of intensive and expanding service by the DLR, along with many examples worldwide and the constant improvement in automation, means that Aslef members could find they are no longer required.


Strath, Gairloch

Wester Ross