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A conductor is a railway train crew member responsible for operational and safety duties that do not involve actual operation of the train. The conductor title is most common in North American railway operations, but the role is common worldwide under various job titles. Conductor job responsibilities typically include:
- Making sure the train stays on schedule
- Ensuring that any cars and cargo are picked up and dropped off properly
- Completing en-route paperwork
- Ensuring the train follows applicable safety rules and practices
- Controlling the train's movement while operating in reverse
- Coupling or uncoupling cars
- Assisting with setting out or picking up of rolling stock
- Carrying out running repairs
- Ticket collection and other customer service duties
- Opening and closing train doors
Some rapid transit systems employ conductors to make announcements and open and close doors—as opposed to a train operator performing those duties. The conductor often stays in the center of the train where they can best view the platform. While advances in automation allow most transit systems to use one person train operation (OPTO), a few, such as the New York City Subway and Toronto Transit Commission continue to employ conductors.
Conductor is also a crew member in some bus, trolleybus or tram operations.
- 1 Conductors in North America
- 2 Train guard (United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand)
- 3 Conductors/guards in Europe
- 4 Railway guards in Asia
- 5 Train (streetcar) conductor
- 6 Bus conductor
- 7 See also
- 8 Footnotes
Conductors in North America
In North America, the conductor manages a freight, passenger, or other types of train, and directly supervises the train crew, which can include a (brakeman, flagman, ticket collector, assistant conductor, and on board service personnel). All crew members work under the conductor. The conductor, engineer, and additional engine crew members (fireman, pilot engineer) share responsibility for safe and efficient train operation and adherence to railway rules and procedures. On some railroads, union contracts specify that conductors must progress to engineer.
Other conductors duties include:
- Jointly coordinate with the engineer and dispatcher the train's movement authority, and verifying this authority is not exceeded
- Communicate and coordinating with other parties—yardmasters, trainmasters, dispatchers, on board service personnel, etc.
- Be alert to wayside signals, switch position, and other conditions that affect safe train movement
- Mechanically inspect rolling stock
- Assist the engineer in testing the train's air brakes
- Signal the engineer when to start or stop moving
- Keep a log of the journey
- Check tickets and collect fares on passenger trains
- Attend to passenger needs
- Keep records of consignment notes and waybills
- Direct, coordinate, and usually manually perform, shunting or switching
Passenger trains may employ one or more assistant conductors who assist the conductor and engineer in the safe and prompt movement of the train, to share the workload, and accept delegated responsibility. If a train crew's route, or tour of duty, exceeds a single shift, or conflicts with a legal or contractual limit on the number of work hours, more than one crew may be assigned, each with its own conductor. Onboard service crew members on passenger trains normally remain on duty for the entire run, including assigned meal and sleep breaks.
Since nearly the beginning of railroading in North America, the conductor on freight trains rode aboard a caboose, along with the rear flagman and the rear brakeman, and performed duties from there. Advances in technology and pressure to reduce operating costs made cabooses redundant, and in most cases they have been eliminated. This relocated the conductor from the rear of the train to the locomotive (or locomotives) at the head of the train. In most cases, these same conditions gradually eliminated members of the train crew under the conductor—head and rear brakemen, flagmen, and others.
Most freight trains on most railroads today have a crew of two: one conductor and one engineer. Railroad companies continue to press for reduced operating and labor costs and this threatens to eliminate conductors. Railroads rationalize that since the engineer is already qualified as a conductor, he can easily assume the duties of a conductor. In fact, on most railroads, engineers begin as brakemen/assistant conductors, then become conductors, and finally engineers. Some railroads already implement such a strategy, notably the Montana Rail Link, and operate with an engineer, and an assistant engineer. However, most railroads are contractually obligated to employ at least one conductor in addition to the engineer, via crew consist agreements negotiated with the major rail unions, primarily the United Transportation Union (UTU). Therefore, eliminating the conductor position would require that the railroads and unions negotiate a new agreement. If the railroads were successful, conductors already trained and certified as engineers would be able to work as engineers. Those that have not yet progressed to engineer would have to be trained as engineers as positions became available. Others would have to accept other positions or possibly lose their jobs. The primary union for engineers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers does not support this movement, claiming that requiring its members to operate trains alone would be unsafe. The conductors' union, the United Transportation Union, also opposes this initiative, despite historical differences with the engineers' union.
Remote control locomotives
By the late 1990s, remote control locomotives were increasingly popular on North American railroads for switching duties in rail yards. This system allows the conductor to directly control the locomotive(s) via a wireless remote unit, as opposed to radioing commands to an engineer in the cab. Some Class I Rail Yards utilize RCO packs for their conductors, while others do not depending on the size and type of Yard. Class I Railroads train conductors on the use of RCO packs with classroom and hands-on instruction, culminating with on-the-job training and certification as a RCO operator. Currently, Class I railroads such as Norfolk Southern require RCO qualified conductors to work from job boards that perform RCO operations exclusively (when in a yard that utilizes RCO switching). This ensures the extra training and pay these conductors receive will provide the company with maximum value for the investment.
As there is no explicit Federal requirement for a two person train crew in the United States, the Utah Transit Authority originally planned their FrontRunner service to be operated by an operator only, with revenue collected by a proof-of-payment system. Before operation began, the FRA required FrontRunner to employ a second crewmember on each train to assist with emergency evacuation, disabled access, and other safety-sensitive situations. FrontRunner classified this job as a train host, with a focus on customer service rather than railroad operations. Some other services, such as Amtrak's Downeaster, also use train hosts (paid or volunteer) to assist the conductor with non-revenue related customer service duties.
Train guard (United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand)
In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, the person with ultimate responsibility for operation of a train is usually called the guard, a term that derives from stagecoach days.
Until the latter part of the 20th century, guards on passenger trains in these countries did not have routine responsibilities for ticket inspection or sale. Their jobs focused more on safe operation of their trains, timekeeping, handling parcels, and other consignments. A dedicated 'travelling ticket inspector' handled fare duties. In recent years, passenger train guards have been assigned more responsibility for on-train revenue collection and ticket inspection. Under British Railways, there were several grades of guard, depending on whether the guard worked on freight or passenger trains—and a purely operational guard grade worked freight and passenger trains without customer contact. When the Guard has significant customer contact, the position is usually classified as conductor-guard or conductor. Since British Rail, there have been a number of titles for a guard's grade but, with a few exceptions, all now perform some sort of customer-facing role.
On long-distance expresses, the conductor's title is sometimes enhanced to senior conductor, in line with the implied prestige of operating these trains. Historically, under British Rail, long distance intercity trains were normally worked by the most senior guards at the depot, hence the name senior conductor. Several more recent private UK passenger train operators have further renamed the senior conductor's passenger facing title to "train manager".
In the UK, technological improvements and economic pressure have made some trains lose their guards and become driver-only operated (DOO). British Rail first brought this in on some commuter services in London and Glasgow, as well as on almost all non-passenger trains. In 2003, a controversial amendment to the UK operational rule book moved part of the guard's safety and operational role to the Driver. With rail service privatisation, train operating companies (TOC) attempted to bring in DOO to other network areas—c2c operating from London Fenchurch Street is an example of this. Pressure after several fatal train crashes reversed this trend to the point that some TOCs have restored guards to services previously stripped of them, First Great Western did this to certain services it acquired when it took over operation of Thames Trains. Currently, several titles describe a guard: train manager, train host, conductor, and South West Trains and Merseyrail still use the term guard. The role of the guard is set out by a mixture of the Railway Rule Book and Train Operating Companies.
As well as ticketing and customer care, guards must be trained in "emergency protection" duties, should an emergency arise, along with other operational rules. This involves using emergency kit such as detonators, track circuit clips and flags to prevent other trains colliding with, for example a derailed train. If in a crash the driver became incapacitated, the guard is the only person left who can protect the train. Other day-to-day duties include operating the public address system and train doors.
In Australia, most inner city commuter rail networks are now operated by only a Driver. A conductor is still present on long distance services, such as on V/Line in the state of Victoria. In Australia's largest city, Sydney, all suburban and intercity trains operate with a driver and a guard. The guard is responsible for the safe operation of the train (in co-operation with the driver) in accordance with the timetable. The guard is primarily responsible for railway safe working duties, but also has a limited customer assistance role. Sydney train guards are not responsible for revenue or policing duties on trains, as NSW transit officers carry out these roles.
In New Zealand, inner city commuter rail networks are staffed by a driver, train manager (guard), and one to three passenger operators (ticket collectors), depending on how many carriages the train has. In Auckland, improved ticketing systems reduced the staff level to driver and train manager only. Auckland train managers are now not responsible for revenue on trains, as Revenue Protection officers carry out these roles.
Conductors/guards in Europe
In general, conductors in Switzerland collect or punch tickets, fine people the first charge of 100 CHF for not having a valid fare, and make announcements on the public address system. They also may fine passengers if they take a longer trip than normal. For example, if one takes a train to Bern via Biel, having departed from Geneva, which is a longer trip than taking the InterCity via Lausanne, the conductor can fine the passenger a supplementary fare. They sound a warning when the train's doors are going to close. Many conductors, especially those on night shift and on isolated regional lines, are being trained in self-defence against would-be assailants.
In Belgium and The Netherlands, train conductors have multiple tasks involving train safety and customer services. Belgian/Dutch train conductors are responsible for the departure of the train. In each station they give the permission to move on by giving a ready signal to the train driver. Therefore, train conductors in Belgium always close (and in some scenarios also open) the doors. They are also responsible for performing safety tasks in case of an emergency or accident, such as fire, evacuation, etc. Because of these tasks, there has to be at least one conductor on each passenger train; a train without a conductor is forbidden as only the train's conductor has the right to give the departure signal. Belgian trains always have one conductor who is conductor-in-chief. He is responsible for the entire train, the on-board crew and the passengers. Some longer trains may have additional conductors who are under command of the conductor-in-chief. Besides the safety tasks, conductors also collect and punch tickets and make announcements to the passengers.
Railway guards in Asia
In India guards are posted on all passenger trains and goods trains and no passenger-carrying train is allowed to move without a guard. The passenger train guard, generally called a mail guard, is completely responsible for the train, its schedule, and safety of passengers and the locomotive pilot. These guards wear a specific uniform (generally white).
During the day, the guard uses the traditional green flag to signal the pilot to depart, and the red flag to stop, assisted by two-way radios. After sunset, the guard uses lamp signals in place of the flags. A couple of minutes before signalling departure to the pilot, the guard blows a whistle to warn passengers to board the train. After ensuring all passengers are safe to travel, the guard signals the green flag by waving it from the brake van. In an emergency, the guard uses the red flag to indicate a stop, and may directly apply brakes to stop the train. The pilot is not allowed to move the train without a signal from the guard, as the guard is in charge of the train.
Passenger guards also accept heavy parcels and luggage boxes that passengers cannot carry in coaches. Some perishable goods like vegetables and milk are also transported under the guard's supervision, and he is responsible for their proper loading and unloading.
Keeping the passenger train on schedule is an important guard function. Guards carry a first aid box with their belongings, along with other important items, all in a medium sized duty box (generally painted red). The name, designation and base location of the Guard are printed in white on the box. A designated passenger train, halting at all stations, carries a large heavy cast iron cash safe in the guard's brake van, where cash receipts from ticket sales is deposited in a leather pouch by the station manager (earlier called the station master). Since the late 1990s, all guards are provided with two-way radios so that they can communicate with the locomotive pilot, and other trains if required. The radio has not yet replaced the traditional red and green flags.
Train (streetcar) conductor
Many antique or heritage trams (streetcars), which operated through the earlier part of the 20th Century, were designed for operation by a crew of two or more. The conductor primarily collected fares and signaled the driver when safe to depart from stopping places. The conductor also assisted with shunting when necessary, changing the trolley pole and attended to passengers' needs.
Modern vehicle design and ticketing arrangements have largely eliminated the need for conductors on street railways and Light Rail systems. In recent years a number of modern tram or Light Rail systems have introduced (or re-introduced) conductors to minimise fare evasion and to provide customer care, supervision and security functions, even in situations where a second crew member is not strictly needed.
In Britain, The Midland Metro and Sheffield Supertram modern Light Rail systems have both started using conductors due to problems with ticket machine reliability. Nottingham Express Transit started with conductors. Manchester Metrolink and Croydon Tramlink both rely on ticket machines at stops.
Systems of ticket checking and selling by a conductor:
- takes place while entering, the vehicle cannot leave until this is (almost) finished
- takes place after entering an entrance lobby, while the vehicle already moves, after which the passenger moves to the seating area of the car
- the passengers get seated and the conductor comes to them
Until the 1970s and early 1980s, conductors, or clippies, were a common feature of many local bus services in larger towns and cities in the UK and Ireland. Conductors were portrayed in the British TV series On The Buses.
The main reason two-person crews were needed was that most towns and cities used double-decker buses for urban services. Until the 1960s, all double deck vehicles were built with front-mounted engines and a "half-cab" design, like the familiar Routemaster London bus. This layout totally separated the driver from the passenger saloons. The conductor communicated with the driver using a series of bell codes, such as two bells to start (the well-known "ding-ding").
Many half-cab double-deckers were boarded from an open platform at the rear, while others were equipped with a forward entrance and staircase and driver-operated doors. Each case required a conductor to collect fares and, especially on the rear-entrance design, supervise passenger loading and unloading. Some bus services in the late 1960s and early 1970s experimented with later-model forward entrance half-cab double-deckers—removing the conductor and having the driver sell tickets, as on the rear entrance buses that were common by that time. The hope was to have the benefits of one-person operation without the cost of replacing vehicles that still remaining service life. This idea was soon scrapped and the buses reverted to conventional conductor operation.
In the late 1950s, new double-decker bus designs appeared that provided higher capacity, with the engine compartment at the rear and the entrance by the driver. From July 1966, UK transport regulations were changed to allow operation of urban double-deck buses by the driver only, who could now collect fares and supervise all passenger loading and unloading.
Some municipal operators adopted rear-engine bus designs and "one-person operation" quickly, others more slowly. More conservative municipal operators continued to order new half-cab buses through the 1960s, but this type of vehicle ceased production in the UK by about 1970. This was accelerated by a UK Government grant that supported the purchase of "one person operated" vehicles, but was not available for purchase of traditional half-cab buses.
Through the 1970s, the proportion of urban bus routes operated with conductors declined, as older vehicles were steadily replaced with new buses equipped for one-person operation, and operators grappled with staff shortages, rapidly increasing costs and falling ridership. By the early 1980s bus conductors were largely obsolete in all cities except London and Dublin. London was a special case. Two-person crews continued to operate a number of bus routes in central London until late 2005, well beyond their demise in the rest of the country. This reprieve for conductors was due to continued use of the famous Routemaster bus.
The Routemaster was purpose-built for London conditions and remained well suited to the busiest routes in the most congested parts of central London. This was because of its maneuverability, fast passenger loading/unloading capability, and fare collection by the conductor instead of the driver. The Routemaster construction was of high quality, the design robust, and mechanical and body parts could be easily rebuilt and refurbished. Importantly, the "traditional red bus" is also a unique tourism icon for London, instantly recognisable around the world.
Though the majority of bus services in the London metropolis (and all routes outside the central area) have been operated by modern driver-only vehicles since the late 1980s, 20 regular routes retained Routemasters and conductors in 2003. Between 2003 and 2005, each of these has been progressively converted to modern vehicles and one-person-operation. The process was largely driven by political views on disability-accessibility, and assisted to some extent by the increase in litigious passengers claiming injuries due to the Routemaster's open rear platform. There were also increasingly frequent robberies and attacks on conductors, who could find themselves working in an isolated and vulnerable environment. The last "regular" (as opposed to tourist-oriented) Routemaster-operated service was the 159 from Marble Arch to Streatham. Conductor operation finally ceased on the 159 on 9 December 2005.
A revival in conductor operation on buses in the UK has occurred with the development of the ftr routes in York, Leeds and Swansea. Stagecoach Strathtay still uses conductors on service 73(A) from Arbroath, Carnoustie and Monifieth to Ninewells Hospital. Quantock Motor Services, Somerset, operates the service 400 'Exmoor Explorer' using crew-operated vintage open top buses.
In India and Pakistan, bus conductors are almost always present inside the buses throughout the journey. Government bus conductors may communicate with the driver via a bell, whistle, or by shouting, "right!" (Aa right in south India). Private bus conductors use whistles or just shout to the driver. Also its quite common practice for conductors to clap their hand firmly on the outside of the bus as a signal to the driver that all passengers have boarded and the bus is good to go.
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