Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Over the last year or two I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the 97 bus which runs from the end of my road to the Westfield in Stratford.  I’m no great lover of the place unlike the ex-Mrs shrugged who regularly calls upon me to push her around in her wheelchair but it does have a Vue cinema that does early screenings.  Old Father shrugged was a cinema manager in the 50s and 60s so I grew up with films, I enjoy the experience of sitting in the dark without any distractions, just the story unravelling before me on the vast screen, infinitely better than sitting at home watching a DVD where the narrative can be interrupted by the pause button while you answer the phone or get another cup of tea. Imagine going to a gig and asking the band to stop halfway through a number while you went to the toilet or popped outside for a fag.

The obvious problem is that some cinema patrons seem incapable of simply switching off, letting go and fully immersing themselves in the experience, they need to chat, keep their mobiles on and eat the noisiest food available.  Thankfully early screenings are not particularly well attended so I am able to watch films with little intrusion from the philistine herd and there have even been a few occasions when I’ve been the only person in the room. 

But I digress, back to the 97 bus.  A while ago the route changed, rather than going east from the bus station it now goes west around the shopping centre, past the Olympic stadium (we’ll never fill it), past Stratford International station and then up to Chobham Academy, a veritable tour of area currently under development.  Sitting on the top deck looking out at the new landscape I got the distinct feeling that something was wrong and it took me a while to work out what it was.

Everything is new.

London is made up of a mixture of old and new, we’ve got buildings from the last 100 years snuggled next to the Victorian, the Georgian and in some case the Medieval but everything in the E20 postcode has been built in the last few years, not a single scrap of anything pre-Olympics to be seen over a vast area, history has been eradicated.  The roads are wide and worryingly straight, with spacious pavements and plenty of green open spaces, it just doesn’t feel like London, more like someone has dropped Milton Keynes or some other new town in the middle of East London (not the East End, it’s the wrong side of the River Lea).  It’s alien, unnatural, it isn’t London.

It’s only when the bus crosses the bridge by Drapers Field and I’m confronted by Edwardian terraces that I feel as if I’m back on native soil. There were no pubs that I could see although there are spaces for shops at the bottom of the developments around Chobham Academy, one of which was emblazoned with a banner inviting onlookers to imagine a wine bar there.  I tried and the results were somewhat less than awe-inspiring but I could imagine that the rents on those retail spaces will be slightly more than those on the High Road so we won’t see them filled by anything like Pritesh News, the Eccentric Pearl Hair, Beauty and Health Studio or the Leyton Foot Clinic.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I’ll start with an apology, writing my last post on the proposed changes to station staffing was very interesting and quite fun, it was only when I revisited it later that I realised how dull it was to read.  To my colleague who asked me if I was ASLEF shrugged yesterday please accept my assurances you have never featured in my blog, you were none of the people I mentioned in the past, possibly the lack of nicotine is making you paranoid…….

The picture on driverless trains has become a little clearer, everything seems to suggest that until all the old trains have been replaced and PEDs have been fitted where necessary and/or possible the new trains will have a temporary cab with a TOp driving.  For the Piccadilly this will mean the first new train entering service around 2022 but driverless operation not commencing for three years with a similar pattern on the other lines so the Bakerloo could still be operating with TOps in the cab well into the 2030s.

Rather than my initial idea that TOps would be displaced from the lines being converted gradually as the new driverless trains were introduced this will mean that LU will need a full roster of TOps one day and the next they’ll be surplus to requirement.  The problem is retaining staff, in order to have enough TOps to keep the service running LU will have to fill vacancies due to retirement etc. even though they’ll be going NoPO in the near future.

For those TOps in their late 50s and 60s voluntary redundancy becomes quite an attractive option but imagine you are a TOp in your 30s or 40s on a line that is going driverless in the next five years or so.  If you want to carry on working at LUL then obviously you’re going to put in a transfer request to a line that will need TOps in the future, as will all your colleagues faced with a similar dilemma.  So how does LU stop a mass exodus that would leave them without enough TOps?

The answer is that we've been in this situation before, prior to closing the East London Line management did a deal with the unions, they got the TOps to stay until the end by offering them a large wedge of cash and guaranteeing them future employment.  Shortly after the ELL closed a large number of the displaced TOps moved to LES, they were sat around doing nothing for months as none of them were licensed to work 1992 stock and we didn’t have enough IOps to train them all at once.  There wasn’t enough space for all the new arrivals so LU put some portacabins in the car park which became know as “Sangatte”.

For myself it means that I’ll probably be retiring while the Central Line is in the process of conversion so I’ll miss out on any large redundancy package but as Granny shrugged would have said you don’t miss what you never had.  What it does mean is that a year or two before I retire I will probably need to be retrained to drive a driverless train which is ironic almost to the point of peeing myself.

Friday, 10 October 2014

There have been quite a few developments over the last month and as RMT were about to go on strike again I thought I’d share what I’d discovered about the future of station staffing.  Since I started writing they called the strike off but it still gives a bit of background of what the “ticket office closures” actually means.  Here’s how the stations on the eastern end of the Central Line will be affected and this appears to be a fair example of what is happening everywhere.

Apologies if my maths is wrong at any point, that's probably why I never went into the ticket office...

Let’s start with Epping.  Its currently home to five Station Supervisor 3s, one full time and two part time SAMFs in the ticket office with two part time CSAs working the barriers but in future there will only be four CSS2s.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure if the SS3s will automatically become CSS2s, they’re on pretty much the same money so let’s assume they do so they’re staying but the SAMFs and CSAs are being moved.  Theydon Bois, Debden and Buckhurst Hill each have four SS3s who will be replaced by four CSS2s plus Debden will also get two full time CSAs where they currently only have one part timer.  Buckhurst Hill and Debden also have a part time SAMF each.   Adding those to the ones from Epping that’s one SS3, three part time CSAs, one full time and four part time SAMFs who have been evicted.

Loughton is staffed by five SS2s who would have to take a £5k wage cut if they took the CSS2 jobs that will replace them.  Those five stations will be grouped into an “Area” and will be overseen by four mobile CSM3s so for arguments sake let’s say that four of those five SS2s will now step into those jobs.  In addition Loughton will lose a full time and a part time SAMF with 2 part time CSAs.  So we have vacancies for five CSS2s at Loughton and two CSAs at Debden while we have an SS2, an SS3, five part time CSAs, two full time and five part time SAMFs displaced.  Let’s assume that the SS3 from Epping gets one of the CSS2 spots at Loughton and that both the full time SAMFs pass the training for CSS2, that leaves………..

Area Vacancies; 2 CSS2, 2 CSA1
Area Surplus: 1 SS2, 5 part time SAMF, 5 part time CSA.
Area total; -7

Let’s take the stretch from Roding Valley to Barkingside, another Area overseen by four mobile CSM3s and conveniently Hainault has four SS2s ready and waiting to fill those positions.  The other stations will remain pretty much as they are, four SS3s transform into four CSS2s apart from Grange Hill where they currently have five SS3s, one of which is no longer needed.  Hainault also has a part time SS2, a part time SAMF, three full time and a part time CSAs all of which will be replaced by five CSS2s and three part time CSAs.  Move the spare SS3 one stop to a CSS2 at Hainault and we have....

Area Vacancies: 4 CSS2, 2 part time CSA1
Area Surplus: 1 part time SS2, 1 part time SAMF, 3 CSA
Area Total: +1

Newbury Park has four SS3s that will be replaced by CSS2s with five CSAs and a part time CSA who will all be staying but we can add a full time and a part time SAMF to the list of the homeless.  Gants Hill, Redbridge and Wanstead are Section 12s, combined they are home to 14 full time and one part time SS2s which in future will be reduced to 13 full time and three part time CSS1s.  There will be four extra CSA place in addition to the existing staff but with four full time and four part time SAMFs leaving.  The Area will have four CSM3s one of which might be the left over SS2.

Area Vacancies: 3 CSM3, 2 part time CSS1, 4 CSA1
Area Surplus: 1 SAMF, 1 part time SAMF
Area Total: +7

The next Area is Woodford to Leyton, currently we have 8 SS2s, 12 SS3s, 10 full time and 2 part time SAMFs with 25 CSAs.  In future you’ll have four mobile CSM3s, 21 CSS2s with 12 full time and four part time CSAs. 

Area Vacancies; 4 part time CSAs. 
Area Surplus; 4 SS2s, 1 SAMFs, 2 part time SAMFs, 13 CSAs.
Area Total: -16

Stratford is a Jubilee Line station and its staffing level will remain mostly unchanged apart from losing 14 full time and 2 part time SAMFs so there’s no room at the inn for any of our Central Line refugees.

Mile End and Bethnal Green have 10 full time and one part time SS2s, 9 full time and 2 part time SAMFs, 9 full time and one part time CSAs.  That will become 9 CSM2s, two part time CSS1s, 13 full time and 2 part time CSA1s with 2 part time CSA2, the new “customer facing” grade.

Area Vacancies; 1 part time CSS1s, 4 CSA1, 1 part time CSA1, 2 part time CSA2,
Area Surplus; 1 SS2, 9 SAMFs, 2 part time SAMFs
Area Total: -4

Along with the rostered staff who work a specific station there is also the Group Reserves who cover holidays, training and sickness, that currently stands at 37 SS2s, 12 full time and 2 part time SAMFs, 21 full time and 1 part time CSAs.  Under future arrangements that will now be 3 CSM2s, 4 CSM3s, 5 CSS1s, 26 CSS2s and 22 CSA1s.

Reserve vacancies: 14 CSS2s, 1 CSA1s.
Reserve surplus: 25 SS2s, 2 part time SAMFs, 1 part time CSAs.
Reserve total -13

So when we put all the vacancies and surpluses together, be a little optimistic and saying that the SAMFs all qualify as CSS2s then this is what we end up with the following...

Total Vacancies: 9 CSS2, 3 part time CSA1, 2 part time CSA2,
Total surplus; 28 SS2s, 13 part time SAMF, 5 CSAs
Total -32

Obviously things aren’t going to be as simple or straightforward as I've suggested, not all the SAMFs are going to walk into CSS2 positions, we don’t know how many of the existing position are currently vacant or how many staff have taken redundancy packages but it gives us an idea of just how much shuffling around there’s going to be.  LU claims that bringing the SAMFs out of their ticket offices will mean more staff to help passengers and in this case there are 38 full time and 15 part time SAMF positions that would give us an extra 21 staff on the stations despite losing 32 staff but 35 of those new jobs are management grades who will probably spend more time in an office dealing with admin that helping with customer service.

What is noticeable is the large number of SS2s no longer required. all on £47k, unlikely to want to downgrade and take a pay cut in order to fill the CSS2 posts.  Apart from that we’re left with a lot of part timers with nowhere to go, possibly some of them can go full time but from my own experience most people go part time for a reason and if they can’t take up a full time position then they’re pretty much screwed.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

From the notices that went up yesterday it seems that management have conceded on almost every issue ASLEF raised so In future they will abide by the agreed procedures on sickness, days off and TOp errors that apply to the whole of the Tube rather than making up the rules for the Central Line themselves.  Any cases that weren’t dealt with by the proper procedures will be reviewed, the “prompt dispatch” experiment will be terminated and our refresher training will stay at five days rather than being cut to four.

We will also be getting more TOps although there’s no mention of trying to reduce the amount of unwanted overtime caused by late running which is rather strange when you consider the emphasis they’ve been putting on saving money recently.  I guess the inconvenience to passengers of having trains break down while in service and the subsequent delays isn’t as important as claiming that we’re running more trains than ever.

One interesting item at the end of the notice that caught my eye was “ASLEF have agreed a number of meetings at director level to police this agreement”.  To me that suggests if we find ourselves in disagreement we can go straight to the top which could be seen as an admission that Central Line management provoked an unnecessary strike by their dictatorial attitude and senior managers are keen to avoid any repetition.

Another view going around the mess rooms is that this was a test to see what would happen if management tried to be “flexible” with our agreements and the Central Line was a guinea pig for the rest of the Tube.  If that was the case then management have discovered this guinea pig has got bloody sharp teeth and they might need a tetanus shot.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Yesterday was a fine example of how our timetable isn’t working.  As I was waiting for my train at LES WB a train pulled into Plat. 1 with a defect and while the Train Technician tried to sort it out everything was running through Plat. 2.  That would have been fine except the TOp on the second WB train was about to start their meal break and as there was no relief available they’d been told by Wood Lane to leave the train in Plat. 2 while everything ran WB through Plat. 1, except Plat. 1 was now blocked by the defective train.

When the TT declared that the train on Plat. 1 couldn’t remain in service the TOp swapped with the train on Plat. 2 and the service started up again after a delay of about 10 minutes, which didn’t please the TOp on the train behind who I was waiting to relieve so they could start their meal break.  Needless to say that a ten minute gap in the service on a Sunday lunchtime meant that the platforms were packed which slowed things down, I only had twelve minutes turnaround at WER so by the time I arrived I should have been leaving.

Not that it mattered much, there was no one to relive me at LOU on the WB so instead of going up to EPP and back I tipped out at LOU on the EB and went into the sidings.  After my meal break I went looking on Trackernet for my second train but rather being somewhere around MIE heading EB to EPP it was in the sidings at WOO as there hadn’t been a TOp available to cover the duty that I was due to relieve.  So I rode the cushions to WOO and sat on the train until it was time to go WB.

The whole point of this timetable was to deliver a more frequent service at weekends but it is obviously failing.  Around the time I tipped out at LOU yesterday there should be one train every five minutes but the train behind me was 13 minutes away which would have left a 20 minute gap between trains and as we'd not had any delays for signal failures etc. that can only have been down to cancelled trains.  Perhaps what management need to be is a little less ambitious and a little more realistic about what the rolling stock and staffing levels can deliver.

Despite the problems with this timetable they are already working on next, to be introduced in autumn next year with 24 hour running on Fridays and Saturdays that will need even more TOps.  The original intention was to run a 15 minute service between HAI and EAB though I’ve heard that they are considering running up to EPP as well.  Considering the mess we're in I suspect that late night revellers staggering homeward in the wee small hours could find themselves waiting up to half an hour for a “Night Tube”.

You may ask why I’m bothered and part of me isn’t, I get paid the same regardless of the service although I’d rather finish my duty when I’m supposed to than have to keep claiming overtime. But there is another part that wants to be proud of the job I do, proud of the company I work for and as a Londoner, a tax payer and a regular passenger I want the Tube to deliver the best service it can.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

One of the issues we went on strike over was the current timetable which is proving to be somewhat less than workable.  Under the new timetable there are more trains running after the evening peak and at the weekends which sounds fine but because the trains are spending more time out on the line they aren’t spending enough time in the depots for the maintenance crews to carry out all the work that is needed.

Consequently trains are going into service with minor faults which develop into major faults and the number of faulty trains being taken out of service has rocketed.  For myself I’ve had to take a train empty to the depot three times this year when it used to be an annual occurrence at most.  This means all of us are spending more time stuck in the tunnels and platforms behind faulty trains which obviously leads to running late.

The new timetable also has shorter “turnaround time”, the gap in the timetable between arriving and leaving our destination which means there is more chance of us leaving late if we’ve been delayed for any reason.  What hasn’t helped is that Wood Lane seem reluctant to “short trip” in the event of late running, say making an EPP train into a DEB or a LOU to get the train back on time on the WB.  This has led to is a rise in shortened meal reliefs and late finishing, something I’ve mentioned here before as I’ve probably put in more claims for overtime in the last year than in the previous ten.

Another contributing factor is the number of new TOps that have arrived on the Central line, some from other lines, others coming up from stations as they try to prune the numbers prior to reorganisation.  What has been noticeable is that a lot of them seem to be struggling with faults and I had heard that stock training – where we learn how the train works and how to get it moving when it develops a fault – has been shortened.

If this is true it can only exacerbate the delays given the number of faults we’re getting but when you also consider the RAIB’s recent comments on training its quite disturbing; if they’re struggling with simple faults how are they going to deal with something major?  A smaller issue is that with so few trains in the depots there are times when there simply isn’t one available for our 5-day refresher and there are some things you just can’t do on a computer simulator.

Despite all the new faces around we still don’t have enough TOps to cover all the duties, I’ve worked the last three Saturdays in a row and three times I’ve been told to put my train away early as there wasn’t anyone available to take me off when I reached WHC at the end of my first half – not that I object to having an extended meal break.  What is annoying is when you have to take the train to the nearest sidings after you’re supposed to have finished then make your way back to your home depot and claim for yet more overtime.

I’m certainly looking forward to finding out what ASLEF and management agreed to on these issues.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

On Thursday things did not look good, there had been little progress at ACAS, management were still trying to wriggle out of their commitments and we were all getting ready to lose another day’s money.  The rumour was that the only thing they had agreed to was to not reduce our five day refresher course to four days which wasn’t much as only a few weeks ago the Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s report into last year's incident at Holland Park had recommended more training rather than less.

All that seems to have changed in the space of 24 hours, last night we got word that “after developments at talks” we were “in a position to suspend the strike”, although “suspend” suggests that not everything has been settled and if management try to do a “Nortious Maximus” on us the way they did on stations the strike could be back on again.  Fingers crossed.

While we’re on the subject of strikes I would urge you all to go see “Pride”, a thoroughly wonderful film about the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign back in 1984 with Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and the bloke who plays Moriarty in Sherlock.  I got terribly nostalgic, not just because I was in my 20s with hair and a waistline but also it reminded me of the sense of unity I felt back then.  It didn’t matter if you were gay, black, trade unionist, feminist, socialist or whatever, if you were anything other than “normal” Thatcher had declared war on us and we were all “the enemy within”.

I wonder if I’ve still got my “Coal not dole” badge……..