Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Contrary to my last post it seems that unless the sheets on display are incomplete the W&C will NOT be running on Boxing Day although I’m pretty sure that someone told me it would.  Or maybe it’s the early onset of Alzheimer’s……

The Central Line is still suffering from a lot of train cancellations leading to a lot of overcrowding during the peaks on what is now officially the busiest Line on the network and there are an awful lot of trains in service with traction problems, I don’t think I’ve had a single day in the last week when I didn’t end up on a train with motors missing.  A recent memo from Chris Taggart, Archfiend of the Central Line, blames this on the high number of “flash-overs” but says that “Fleet” are busy trying to fix the problem and we should be back to full service soon.

The 92s have DC motors which suffer “flash-overs” but unless plans have changed since February then by 2019 these will be replaced by “flash-over” free AC motors under the Heavy Overhaul Programme (not to be confused with the Heavy, Heavy Monster Sound – the Nuttiest Sound around).  It’s a pretty extensive project and it would be easier to list what isn’t being replaced or refurbished than to list what is but when added to the "refresh" before the Olympics by the time they’ve finished the 92s will be akin to the Ship of Theseus or Trigger’s Broom.

Of course that still leaves the question of why the 92s have suffered so badly from these problems in the last few months, is it simply that the trains are getting to an age when they are becoming unreliable or does the current timetable not give the depot staff enough time to get all the necessary maintenance done?  And how would this have effected things had Night Tube gone ahead?

Friday, 13 November 2015

On Monday’s BBC London News a senior manager who wasn’t called Brown claimed that an agreement on Night Tube was close but from what the unions said after the meeting at ACAS on Tuesday it seems that either he was delusional or he was simply lying, either of which is pretty standard for LU management.  It seems that management have shifted their position slightly from ”you won’t get a pay rise until you sign the deal for Night Tube” to “we won’t discuss the deal on Night Tube until you accept the pay offer” neither of which could be described as constructive.
The big change is that rather than having an “Interim Period” where the Night Tube shifts were slotted into our roster and we’d get paid an extra £200 per shift management are now considering recruiting part-time TOps who would only work night shifts at weekends.  The general reaction from around the mess rooms seems to be positive, very few of us want to work Night Tube so if someone else wants to get paid for doing it then that’s fine with us and if management think that removing the opportunity of being paid an extra £200 per shift is going to have us demanding that our reps sign the deal currently in front of them then they truly are delusional.
Elsewhere there’s been a lot of talk about LU spending £1.5m per month on 500 staff hired for the launch of Night Tube and I can say that of the 137 extra TOps who were recruited – from existing LU and TfL staff – only nine of them were going to the Central Line.  Not that they went to the two depots who were initially planned to provide staff for Night Tube, WHC and LES have not had any expansion of their rosters, HAI has been reduced by 14 with LOU expanded by the same number while the nine extra places were at WER which isn’t going to be getting Night Tube when/if it ever opens.
Otherwise it seems that Boxing Day is back as the agreement made in 2012 isn’t working out quite as we hoped.  In 2012 LU gave us a reduced service with 28 duties at LES and we got 30 volunteers so anyone who didn’t want to work had the day off.  Last year LU went for a Sunday service minus one, there were 45 duties, we got about 30 volunteers again and the remaining places were filled by TOps who’d been on the job the shortest time.  I was one of those as I only qualified in 2003 and as you can imagine I was less than happy, especially as there were hardly any passengers around so it was obvious that we had far more trains running than we needed.
This year LU have decided to push to the maximum agreed level, the equivalent of a full Sunday service, 46 duties and so far we have only 15 volunteers with the possibility that some TOps with over 20 years in the job will have to work.  To make things even more ridiculous the W&C Line will be open despite there being no mainline services into Waterloo and virtually no one working in the City.  RMT want to change things so that TOps that worked one Boxing Day do not work the next but ASLEF are sticking with it all being done on seniority and if RMT do call a strike on Boxing Day it will be interesting to see how many ASLEF members refuse to cross the picket lines.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Yesterday's editorial in the Evening Standard plumbed a new depth of stupidity and ignorance by claiming that "The DLR is indeed something of an oddity, since it is in fact driverless, but union pressure means every train must employ a “captain” on board."  Okay. just stop and think about that; its 1986 or there about, the London Docklands Development Corporation is near to completing its new driverless railway when the National Union of Railwaymen demands that there be a human presence on the trains (all eleven of them).   Despite the fact that the NUR has very few or possibly no members on the DLR at that stage the LDDC accepts the demand, creates unnecessary jobs and hey presto when the DLR opens in summer 1987 every train has a train captain on board.  Now hands up who think that sounds like a plausible story?
The rest is equal banal, despite admitting that the strike on DLR was "the result of a long-running dispute" it accuses the RMT of being "trigger-happy", "irresponsible" and "trying to live up to its tough reputation, as maintained by the late Bob Crow".   It says that the matter should be resolved through negotiation, as if the RMT haven't been trying to negotiate a settlement all this time, and it calls on the union to compromise but doesn't seem to expect the same from KeolisAmey who've managed to achieve something Serco failed to do during its 17 year stint in charge by provoking two strike ballots in one year.  For good measure the subStandard blames the failure of Night Tube to appear last month on "union intransigence" despite LU matching KeolisAmey's achievement by managing to create the first dispute involving all four Tube unions since 1926.
At least we were spared any mention of the Delevigne sisters or "Two Beards" Lebedev's holiday snaps.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

On Monday Manuel Cortes of TSSA called on Boris to personally intervene in the Night Tube dispute by meeting with the unions and the reply of the "Mayor's official spokesman" is hilarious.  For starters the unions are condemned for not putting the latest offer to the members, the same offer management made five days before the second strike and which anyone with half a brain knows would be rejected.  Secondly it says that all negotiations should be with LU management and that any intervention by Boris "risks undermining that process" which is ironic seeing as management have deliberately undermined the process themselves by putting their latest offer directly to the employees rather than through the unions.

Finally it accuse the unions of "needless headline grabbing" which is rich considering the countless times management have gone to the press to bitch and whine about the unions, doubly rich considering that Boris would attend the opening of a can of baked beans if he thought there was a chance it would get him some publicity.  For me the most interesting piece of the statement was that "the introduction of Night Tube will not be at any cost" which sounds like Boris and management are giving themselves an escape route out of the mess they've created.

Actually its just as well that Night Tube didn't go ahead as planned, the 92s are suffering at the moment and we've had numerous cancellations due to not having enough available stock which has been most noticeable in the morning peak according to my good friend Chicago (he's not American but he is windy).   They've even begun sending trains out with little stickers in the cab informing us that one of the units isn't getting any power and won't have any motors but its okay to remain in service on just three units.  I've not spoken to any of the train technicians since the overtime ban was lifted but I'm guessing that this is just a further symptom of the same problem we've had since the latest timetable was introduced.  With more trains in service during the "off peak" and at weekends the trains aren't in the depots long enough for the maintainers to service them properly, if we were also running them two nights a week you have to wonder how many would be available on a Monday morning!

What is truly astounding is that we don't need all these trains running during the "off peak" or at weekends.  When I'm not working I'm a passenger like everyone else, naturally I avoid travelling during the peaks and I can see for myself how empty the trains are.  Now its nice to have a train every three minutes on a Saturday afternoon but when its starting to effect the morning peak surely someone should be asking if its necessary.  Instead it seems that management are more intent on being able to declare to the world that they're running more trains than ever rather than focusing on matching the service provided to the actual demand.  This certainly doesn't strike me as the most efficient way to run a railway and I doubt if its the best use of what we are constantly told are increasingly limited funds.

Rather than trying to put as many trains out as possible or introducing Night Tube perhaps TfL should spend the money running more buses at weekends outside Zone 1.  I've lost count of the number of times when I've been trying to get to work on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon I've counted around a dozen people waiting at the stop by Leyton Midland Road station, a bus has rolled up packed to the gills, the driver has opened up the middle door, a few people have got off and the bus has left without letting anyone on.  Obviously there are not enough buses to meet the demand.

Perhaps what we  need is someone at the top of TfL who will look at the situation as a whole with a Mayor whose interest goes beyond big flamboyant stunts.  Sadly for the present we have Boris and a man called Brown so its all about showmanship rather than service.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Two weeks ago LUL announced to the press that the unions had walked out of negotiations and that they’d offer a new pay deal directly to us workers.  My local rep tells me that rather than a dramatic walk out everybody left at the same time because the meeting had reached an end and it was time to go home.  As far as I can see the “new” offer is the same as their second “final” offer that came out a few days before the second strike and is no closer to addressing our grievances now than it was then.

LUL have made a big thing over “demands” for a four day week but there has been very little explanation of what they are actually asking for.  There seem to be several ideas on “flexible” working, one idea is to condense our 35 hours a week over four days rather than five, another is working a four day 28 hour week at 80% of our current salary but this would only be for those who wanted to work this way and most importantly it would only happen where there are enough volunteers at a depot to make it viable.

Surprisingly for all the fuss they’re making about this LUL say they have no objection to the idea of a four day week, the reason they offer for being unable to guarantee it at this time is that it would take months to ask staff what they wanted and then sort out the details.  This is laughable as that is exactly what is being proposed regarding how Night Tube will be run after the “interim period”, if management are going to ask us whether we want part-timers or “fixed links” then why on earth can’t they ask us if we want a four day week at the same time?

The other major sticking point is how Night Tube will be staffed during the interim period, the unions want it to be completely voluntary with extra money dangled as the carrot to attract volunteers while management say that if there aren’t enough volunteers to cover all the duties then some who don’t want to work nights will have to.  This is currently the situation with Boxing Day, last year the £300 extra failed to get enough volunteers and those who’d been in the grade the shortest time – including myself with 12 years as a TOp – had to work when we’d rather have stayed at home.

The unions certainly aren’t going to agree to another situation where people who don’t want to work nights are going to find themselves in the cab of a train at 3am on a Saturday morning and if management aren’t confident that £200 per shift is going to be a big enough carrot then obviously they need a bigger carrot but they say they can’t afford any more.  And so we are at stalemate with neither side willing to budge and management insisting that until there is an agreement on Night Tube there will be no pay rise.

What management seem to have missed is that for me a 2% pay rise – actually 1% with a £500 lump sum for Night Tube – translates as about £50 after tax per month and I’m sure that like myself the vast majority of my colleagues are prepared do without our pay rise rather than accept a deal detrimental to our working lives.  In 2009 it took 14 months to settle the pay deal and inflation was a lot higher then than it is now, we’ve got nothing to gain by accepting the current offer and we can wait until LUL come up with a better plan or abandon the whole idea.

On Friday we had a one under at MIE around 12:30, we resumed running around 14:30 but things were still a mess for the evening peak as some trains had been stabled to reduce congestion.  Between 18:00 and 18:30 there were no trains to WER from WHC, everything either went to EAB, NOA or reversed at WHC.  This was attributed to “timetable constraints”, I’m sure someone somewhere could explain what these constraints were but I have no idea and I’m reasonably sure that the station staff left to deal with the disgruntled passengers unable to get home from work had no idea either.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

At the risk of using a railway metaphor the talks on pay and Night Tube seem to have hit the buffers.  According to both unions management have adopted the tactic of discussing everything but agreeing to nothing, they are prepared to consider changes to our terms and conditions but not to actually commit themselves.  At the same time they are not prepared to discuss the pay deal as a separate issue which means that unless we agree to sign a blank cheque on Night Tube there will be no pay rise this year.

For their part management continue to put out memos repeating the mantra that they want the pay deal to be affordable and fair while emphasising that other worker haven’t had a pay rise but failing to acknowledge that in the railway industry above inflation pay rises are the norm in both private and public sectors.  Both unions are now consulting with the reps and the branches to decide what if anything to do next but frankly I don’t think management care what we do, the passengers and workers can rot so long as their extremely well paid jobs are safe.

And how safe are they?  On Thursday Mike Brown was enthroned as Peter Hendy’s permanent replacement as Transport Commissioner having stepped into the role in a temporary capacity three months ago.  His new job comes with a basic salary of £354k plus a £178k performance bonus which I’ve no doubt he will be judged to have warranted.  To counter suggestions that perhaps this was over generous Boris insists that it you want the best you have to pay for it although it would be interesting to know who else, if anyone, was considered for the job.

Mike Brown joined LU in 1989, worked his way up the greasy pole until he became Chief Operating Officer but further progress was blocked when Ken appointed an outsider, Tim O’Toole, as Managing Director.  His ambitions thwarted Brown deserted LU to run Heathrow Airport in 2008 but when O’Toole quit “to spend more time with his family” less than a year after Boris became Mayor the path was open again.  Brown replaced the Transatlantic usurper and added the title of MD of London Rail, the body that oversees all TfL train/tram operations, shortly after his return to the fold.  Finally he has succeeded to the ultimate London transport throne, living proof that persistence has its rewards.

All hail our new Dark Overlord!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

After all the turmoil of the last couple of months last week was quite placid, the only thing that stood out was the number of times I had to go into Coded Manual because ATO couldn’t cope with the rain.  Anyone who tells you that the Central Line could run driverless with the current stock and signalling system is talking rubbish.

On the subject of rubbish I’ve started moderating comments due to the number of depressingly witless and in some case downright insulting messages that have cropped up in the last few weeks.  If you are going to comment on my blog try to offer some intelligence, some wit and insight.  I’m bored with childish inanity, “you're all lazy/greedy wankers” or similar tedious nonsense isn’t going to be accepted.

Unfair?  Yes, completely but it’s my blog, as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord says “My gaff, my rules”, if you feel that the world desperately need to be told that “ASLEF are shit” then start your own blog.  Am I worried that a few individuals might stop reading because of this?  Not really, last month I received 21773 page views, my previous highest total was 16473 in July and before that 10591 in February when RMT were embroiled in the Alex McGuigan dispute.

I’m on ATOR this week, unless something develops at ACAS I’m not expecting to have much to write about and next week I’m on Annual Leave so the Central Line will have to get along without me.