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……..

Monday, 1 September 2014

Rather than going on strike RMT has called on station staff to stop doing overtime and to refuse any further training.  Now the intended effects of the overtime ban are pretty straight forward, in advance of cutting 953 jobs some positions have become vacant when staff retire or leave but until the proposed changes come in they still have to be filled.  If those duties aren’t covered then some stations could be left short-staffed, if those stations are Section 12s and they fall below minimum staffing level they’d have to close.  That sounds quite serious but there have been overtime bans in the past and while they’ve led to some of the smaller open section stations being left without any staff I can’t remember a single Section 12 shutting.

I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure what effect the refusal to carry out training will have although I think the idea is that the SSs, SACRs and SAMFs who are supposed to mutate into CSMs and CSSs won’t be licensed to carry out the duties required of them when the proposed changes are introduced.  The only thing I can think of is a farmer unharnessing a horse from a plough in order to harness it to a cart but instead of obediently walking across the farmyard the horse lies down and refuses to move.  Does the farmer just keep pulling on the reins while repeatedly telling the horse that it needs to be “flexible” or does he have the brains to offer the horse a rather large bag of carrots?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

It seems that Central Line senior managers are still away on their hols as so far there’s been no further attempt to avert another strike, hopefully between unpacking their bags and shaking the sand out of their shoes they'll make time to talk to ASLEF over the next three weeks.  In the meantime there's trouble a-brewing over on the Northern Line where a TOp with 29 years on the job has been sacked for failing a breathalyser test.  Now that in itself wouldn’t be a big issue, we’ve lost a few TOps on the Central for breaches of LUL’s drugs & alcohol policy and while their departure was sad we all accepted that their dismissal was inevitable but in Alex McGuigan’s case there’s a twist.

Like a growing number of people in the UK he suffers from type 2 diabetes which the Tube’s own Occupational Health department admit can lead to a false reading on a breathalyser, making it appear that someone had alcohol in their system when they’d not been drinking.  LUL could have tested his urine sample which is used to look for substances other than alcohol but instead they’ve sacked him on the basis of the flawed breathalyser evidence.

Obviously RMT are fighting his corner but if management follow their usual policy of pig-headed inflexibility then we could see a strike on the Northern Line sometime before the end of the year.  We could see one over on the Piccadilly Line a lot sooner; RMT are holding a strike ballot over “cross line working” although I have no idea exactly what that means or whether ASLEF are also in dispute.  It certainly seems that at this moment a lot of TOps on a lot of lines are not happy bunnies.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

It seems that there was a belief among management - and from comments made on here certain RMT members - that ASLEF TOps were somehow adverse to going on strike, that many of the members who had defected from the RMT in order to avoid going on strike would also cross the picket line on this occasion and that as ASLEF TOps had worked when RMT were on strike in the past RMT TOps would do the likewise on Friday.  If that was the case then on Friday we disabused the hell out of them. 

During the RMT strikes apart from a gap from MAA to WHC we were running a service, on Friday at best there was WHC to EAB in the west with EPP to MIE in the east but that later shrank to EPP-LES and finally there were no service on the east end of the line at all.  One explanation of why so many RMT TOps worked during their own strikes is that they weren’t prepared to lose a day’s pay when the number of stations open suggested that plenty of station staff were unwilling to go on strike themselves whereas Friday’s strike was over issues that affected all Central Line TOps regardless of their affiliation. 

Okay, let’s get this straight, no one on our side wants a strike, we don’t actually want to lose a day’s pay, we’d be a lot happier if we could just get on with things but as management seem unwilling to negotiate we are left with little choice, the only alternative is accepting that management can change our terms and conditions whenever they feel like it.  We don’t want anything extra, we’re not striking for more money or more days off or free caviar and  chips at the canteens, we just want management to honour the agreements they made with the unions on a whole raft of issues.  We have a system, it wasn't broken but they chose to fix it. 

From mess room whispers it seems that one of the problems with the negotiations is that most of the senior managers responsible for this mess aren’t actually directly involved in the talks as they’re off on holiday.  When an agreement was reached the managers had to call someone on a beach somewhere who would then say that it was unacceptable.  Allegedly our new General Manager Chris Taggart doesn’t like unions and thinks all agreements should be discarded, like the new sheriff riding into town declaring that there was going to be a change around here, somehow forgetting that in those movies the townsfolk invariably descend on the sheriff’s office with flaming torches and a noose. 

Hopefully the effectiveness of Friday’s strike gives management cause to soften their hardline attitude, we held a strike on the Friday before Bank Holiday when plenty of our regular commuters were off, the next one will be on a Wednesday when everyone will be back.  Another thing to consider is that the strike may spread, the Piccadilly, District and Jubilee Lines all have their own separate grievances, they could also ask for a strike ballot and it wouldn’t be too hard to arrange all the strikes on the same day.  With RMT and TSSA increasingly unhappy with the negotiations on station staffing this could just keep getting bigger and bigger, perhaps this might not be the best time to prod the sleeping bear with a stick.

Hopefully over the next three weeks someone suddenly has a serious attack of sense but that doesn’t seem to be high on the list of attributes required for LUL managers compared to the ability to bury one’s head in the sand on a beach in Cancun.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Between endless free publicity for Cara Delevingne and regaling us with Evgeny Lebedev’s latest adventures someone at the Evening Standard finally noticed yesterday that there was trouble brewing on the Central Line.  Not that they did much more than regurgitate the Newham Recorder’s piece which was itself filched from the Morning Star whose current circulation consists of the members of the Communist Party of Britain and a dog called Kevin although I’m told it actually sells more on a Thursday thanks to its poetry column.

Yesterday's talks at ACAS seem to have been as unproductive as at previous meetings so both parties are back around the table again today with the clock ticking and I’m certainly getting the feeling that tomorrow I’m going to lose a day’s pay.