Observations and opinions of a Central Line Train Driver
Tuesday, 18 April 2017
Seven years ago today I started blogging so it seems somewhat appropriate that I mark that anniversary by ending it. I'm all blogged out, I keep thinking I should write something, I start to write a post and then simply can't be bothered to finish it. It was fun for most of the time but from now on I will stick to posting comments on The Guardian website (mostly on London and transport issues), occasionally on the Evening Standard when I can do so without a feeling of vague disgust, District Dave's London Underground forum and WHU606.
A lot has changed on the Tube with ticket offices closing, station staff undergoing a complete re-organisation and Night Tube but my job is relatively the same as it was in 2010. They can mess around with station staff, managers (currently undergoing another change with TOSMs and DTSMs being merged back into one grade) and technical staff but they still need one driver per train. The big change will come with the introduction of driverless trains but even that will only happen if the TOps agree to it as was the case when they converted M1 in Paris. I might get to enjoy the blissful irony of driving a driverless train but it now looks as if the Bakerloo Line will get the new trains before we do so I'll probably miss out on that experience.
I've got 10 years, 8 months and 20 days until I retire (although I might go a couple of weeks early, have Christmas and New Year 2027 off), I'm going to dedicate more time to looking after Old Mother shrugged (now 87), looking after myself and getting out in London a bit more. I've got memberships for both the Tate and the National Portrait galleries but haven't used either in the last six months, I've not been to the theatre in over a year while the last film I watched was "La La Land"!
If you're ever up by the Lea Bridge Road end of Leyton High Road and fancy a drink pop in the William IV, there might be an ex-blogging TOp propping up the bar on his Rest Day.
As I said in my last post I've had a lot to deal with recently and also I had two weeks annual leave at the end of November so I've not been keeping tabs on anything that didn't directly involve me at work. That was why I wasn't aware until recently that RMT station and revenue staff have been refusing to work overtime since 23rd November with TSSA members joining them on 8th December.
Conveniently each Tube line has a Twitter accounts which records every closure
along with the reason why they were closed so it was pretty easy to scroll back though the history to check. In the last three weeks HOP has been closed ten times due to "staff absence", if the Twitter feed is accurate then the worst instance was when it closed on 17 December at 18:34 and didn't reopen until 07:21 the next morning. QUE has been closed five times, CHL four times with single closures at BOS, LIS, BAN, STP and BEG. I'm sure if anyone had the time and inclination they could check the Twitter feeds of all the other lines to record all the closures.
Of course these are all Section 12 stations with minimum staffing levels, what isn't recorded on Twitter are the non-Section 12 stations (like Latimer Road) that can be left unstaffed and still remain open. What I find utterly amazing about all this is that it is less than a year since Fit for the Future - Stations was rolled out with a complete reorganisation of station staff and the 37 station "Groups" replaced by 96 "Areas" so staffing levels shouldn't be this low this soon.
What it suggests to me is that there aren't enough Reserve staff available to cover sickness and annual leave. When I first joined the Tube as a Station Assistant in 1997 I was on the Reserve of Edgware Road Group which covered Paddington, Edgware Road and Bayswater, I was familiarised at all three stations but how it works now that Paddington is an Area on its own I have no idea.
When management announced that the ticket offices were closing they promised that all stations would be staffed at all times when trains were running but they've not even managed to last a year before that promise has been broken. RMT and TSSA are going on strike over this on 8 January and I can't say I blame them.
I’ve been rather busy with things recently and as I said in
answer to a comment left by Lime Street Lad I’ve been feeling “blogged
out”.I thought I’d check in to confirm
that I’m still alive and not retired, that’s still 11 years, 1 month and 20
days away – not that I’m counting.
When Fit for the Future - Stations was introduced TfL claimed
that closing ticket offices would mean more staff available to assist
passengers out on the stations but that didn’t seem to be the case Saturday
night.Around 19:00 we were told that
HOP was closed although Wood Lane declined to give us a reason but when I checked the TfL website during my meal break it said
that HOP was closed due to “staff absence” which made it sound as if it was all unexpected. Temple was also closed for the same reason and around
23:00 CHL followed suit.
In the past there have been instances where stations in open
section were left unstaffed if there was no Station Supervisor available to
cover the night duty, SNA, BUH and THB were often candidates but apart from
strike days I’m struggling to remember when Zone 1 stations were shut down
because they fell below the minimum staff level.So less than a year after LUL reduced station staff numbers by 952 and less than
six months after Night Tube it seems that we don’t have enough staff to
keep all our stations open, so much for promises of a world class Tube for a
world class city!
In other news I’m sure some have noticed that recently the
Central Line has got rather noisy, not with all those people listening to their
smart phones on headphones but a very loud track noise.At first
it was noticeable at LIS-BEG EB and WAN-LES Outer Rail although now the
LIS-BEG stretch doesn’t seem as bad as it was a few weeks ago. Instead in the last few weeks it seems to
have spread to WAN-RED Inner Rail and also to HOP-NHG EB where it seemed to
get increasingly worse as the week went on.Apparently there is remedial work planned involving some
sort of rubber padding, let’s hope it works and it doesn’t spread to other
Other than that I’ve had the pleasure to travel a bit and
try public transport in other cities this year.The Washington DC Metro seems quite dated and uncared for, the stations
are almost Stygian in their depressing gloominess and the entrance to Dupont Circle
station is like descending into the mouth of some benighted underworld on an
endless escalator.Some of the trains date
from the 1970s and while some are only a dozen years old their design is
virtually identical to the originals.The
brakes are savage, the seats are shiny plastic, my travelling
companion was wearing a leather coat and the first time we came to a stop she
slid off the seat.
I tried not to laugh.........
I went back to Paris in September although once again I didn’t get around
to riding the driverless M1 or M14.I
like the Metro but at some stations the distance from the ticket hall to the
platforms and the interchange between some lines can be so lengthy that you
wonder why you bothered coming below ground as it might have been just as quick
to walk it on the surface. Oh the little cardboard five day tickets seem ridiculously flimsy and eminently loseable compared to Oysters
If you want a tour bus just ride the 42 which starts from the
Gare du Nord, passes the Opera, the Eglise Madeleine, the Place de la Concorde,
the Champs Elysees, the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower although I could
live without the cobblestones on the road.
I also discovered a taxi with a glass roof which was perfect for looking up at the architecture as we drove through the streets, we could definitely use some of those in London.
Oh and if you’re going on the Eurostar book the 13:13 return from Gare
du Nord as the complementary lunch was superb. Finally I went to Manchester and was thoroughly impressed with the trams
although the Old Trafford tram stop is a long hike from the stadium, especially
after you’ve lost 4-1.
I'll be finishing before well before midnight on Christmas Eve, I'm not working Boxing Day or New Year's Eve so at least this year I'll be able to celebrate a bit.
I try to avoid reading the Evening Standard but yesterday I
neglected to take a book to work and there’s not much to do when you’re sat at
the end of the line waiting for the signal to change. I picked up a stray copy and having completed
the Sudoku in far less time than it’s supposed to take I was left with the
choice of either staring into space or reading the damn thing. Amongst the usual puff pieces about the
owner, friends of the owner and various members of the Delevingne clan there
was a small article at the top of page 4 in the “News in brief” section about
the introduction of one-hour “hopper” bus tickets next Monday. Buried right at the bottom was a rather interesting and I would say rather important bit of news.
Apparently when Sadiq Khan appoints his new TfL board it
will include a union representative, to be chosen by the unions. This is nothing new, the New York Transit Authority has representatives from three unions on its board while union representation on boards is quite common in Germany. Back in February Khan said that he’d “make sure there are zero days of
strikes” while he was Mayor, hopefully having someone from the
staff side at the heart of the decision making process will mean that in future
LU management will be less confrontational in its approach to its employees.
My apologies to Olivia, the new TOp who forgot to open the doors on the first weekend of Night Tube, it seems whoever told me the story embellished it somewhat and she never actually left the cab.To be fair at one time or another we’ve all forgotten to open the doors when finishing our shift or going on a meal break but none of us were unfortunate enough to have a BBC 3 camera crew in attendance.
I’ve not heard any entertaining stories from the second weekend of Night Tube but there was a rather unpleasant rumour going round that some female TOps were refusing to walk down Wood Lane between WHC station and the sidings under the Westfield as it was unsafe to do so alone. I've asked around - DTSMs, union reps, Night Tube TOps - and it seems it simply isn't true, it never happened, a steaming pile of grade A bullshit, complete and utter bollocks. One of the people I spoke to even gave me the name of the person who started the rumour and sadly it doesn't come as a surprise, the person mentioned has made disparaging remarks about female TOps in the past. Thankfully I've also been told they're going to be leaving soon and I suspect they won't be missed. The Notting Hill Carnival came and went, despite there being record arrests this year we didn't seem to have much trouble on the Tube apart from the overcrowding. The platform at NHG got so crowded on Sunday afternoon that we were having to hold trains on the WB, moving up one station at a time while the platform was cleared and by the time I left NHG I was 16 minutes late. Yesterday was my rest day so I went to Dagenham to see Old Mother shrugged which now takes a lot longer as the Gospel Oak to Barking Line is closed for electrification work but travelling on the District Line I saw a gentleman returning home with his costume after what appeared to have been an exhausting weekend. Must be hard work dancing two days straight, no wonder he'd dropped off!
Two more jolly tales of Night Tube, the first concerns
the much publicised simulation of vomit with vegetable soup during the test run
on the weekend before Night Tube started.Allegedly the staff given the task of applying the “vomit” were
instructed to distribute it as widely as possible and they accomplished their
task with such enthusiasm that the next morning we had to cancel a few trains
as they were still being cleaned when they were supposed to enter service.
As the first night was undoubtedly a big event there were
plenty of press and media in attendance along with more managers than you could
possibly need.One film crew was allowed
to accompany one of our more photogenic new TOps as they worked their shift,
filming events as they unfolded.As the
new TOp finished their shift at LES they closed down the train, removed their
RKL220 key, stepped onto the platform and handed over to the relieving early turn TOp,
all with the cameras recording every moment.
The relieving TOp pointed out that they’d forgotten to
open the doors so the new TOp jumped back in the cab and pressed the open
buttons.The relieving TOp then
suggested they might want to put their key back in because the buttons don’t work
when a train is closed down.
And so Night Tube has finally arrived.The predictions of trains being mobile Sodom and Gomorrahs proved to be
unfounded, perhaps deterred by the noticeable presence of the BTP who seemed to
be everywhere, desperately roaming the line trying to find a train or station
that didn’t already have BTP on it.While things seem to have gone well from the public perception there
have been rumours that things didn’t go quite so well behind the scenes and
while I would usually try to verify whether these rumours are accurate I’m
going to share them anyway simply because its too tempting not to.
The first thing I heard was that a number of the part time TOps didn’t last
long enough to even see the start of Night Tube, the numbers quoted vary but it
seems that when finally confronted with the prospect of working Friday and
Saturday nights for the foreseeable future it was too much for them. The plain fact
is that we do have a high turnover with staff, for some the reality of working
on the Tube isn’t quite as attractive as they imagined it to be, whether it be the shifts or
what the job actually entails.
As most staff start out as CSAs this usually isn't a
problem but it slightly different if they’ve spent four months training up as a
TOp only to decide they don’t want to be a TOp after all.Even if they’ve been a CSA or some other job
that involves shift work they aren’t necessarily going to enjoy being a
TOp, when I trained there I was with an SAMF
for London Bridge who was also going to WHC, they lasted 6 months after their "sweat day" before they
went back to stations because they couldn't stand the isolation of being in
the cab on their own.
Another rumour was that there was a signal failure at LOU at some point
which as I mentioned has trains moving in and out of the sidings throughout the
night, something I’m told has already been the subject of complaints from the residents in
the vicinity.Also at LOU one of the new
TOps supposedly managed to SPAD the signal on the middle platform coming out of the depot,
not easy as the signal is a long way past the stopping mark.
However the prize for most interesting rumour must go to the tale of the TOp who
went into HAI depot and seems to have got somewhat confused.From the platforms at HAI there are two ways
into the depot, either you go straight in or you go up the wash road, into the
sidings behind GRH (known as the North Neck), change ends and then into the depot
Allegedly the new TOp took the train through the wash, up into the North
Neck, thought that was where they were to stable it and started walking back to
HAI station.All ended happily but I’m
sure somebody will be checking to see which IOp signed off that particular TOp
as fully trained on their HAI depot moves.