Pilots are still used regularly by a major operator in NSW. Route quals can expire within a year in some places. It is not feasible to have everybody qualified everywhere and to keep those quals up to date.
Is it possible for drivers who are qualified to drive a specific loco to drive along a route they have no knowledge of providing they have a qualified person accompanying them on the footplate?Agreed. Has the concept of a pilot driver been done away with?
This of course would then require more crew members, some of whom would have to travel a fair distance with the train to ensure its ability to operate, but I assume a scenario like this would be possible.
Not sure how things work these days, but in the past there were several areas, more especially Sydney Yard and the Blue Mountains in NSW that had 6 month qualification credentials, as such one had to drive over those lines at least once in that period. the whole of the metro area itself within the areas defined as Borders for train control operations was 12 months.
The Northern line to BMD was 12 months, Short South and Illawarra was 2 years, except the Illawarra Mountain which was a 6 month requirement primarily for the up graded trains.
Many of the later day steam hauled services had crews that were only ever qualified as firemen in the regular steam days, but they had enough experience from those days to work as drivers on the various operations, I know I was permitted to work on 3 such operations as a driver, thing was that each of the trains had a locomotive inspector in the cab, as was often seen with the late Ian Thornton, who also trained firemen for heritage workings and drivers.
I would imagine, with the R class, going interstate to Victoria the road knowledge component would not be an issue for Victorian crews, but familiarity with Steam another issue, although being an oil burner would make it somewhat easier in the firing area.
Having a pilot has advantages and more especially in the area of any incident happening, and an investigation reveals the crew especially the driver has no knowledge/qualification for the area he is working and controlling a train over.
Thing is, as I said things have changed.