Saturday, 29 September 2012

London was heaving last night, I had to wake a few sleepers up when I reached WER on my first trip and there were even more when I reached EPP. I must admit I sometimes feel as if I’m missing a great party out there, I’m seriously thinking about having a word with the Mafia and ditching the night shifts, the new timetable will mean more lates so that shouldn’t be too much trouble.

For all the praise we received over the Olympics some of my colleagues seem not to be as customer focused as they could. Recently when I was on a last train and was changing ends I could see the Station Super making himself busy waking people up. When I passed him he was rousing a gentleman, not too gently either, informing him that this was the end of the line and that he had to leave the train as it wasn’t going any further. I interrupted him to point out that I was going back a few stops before stabling if the passenger needed to head back the way they’d come and this was overheard by a couple who I’d seen the Super usher off the train earlier. They asked me if the train went to the station they’d missed, I confirmed that it did and they got back on.

The Super didn’t seem particularly pleased with my intervention, maybe he’s on commission from the local minicabs or simply that he gets a sadistic pleasure from stranding passengers when they could travel back at least part of their journey. I guess he must be one of the 20% who doesn’t want to give London a “World Class Tube”.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Ok, I’ve had a quick shufty on the RMT website and initially the call for a ballot comes from the LU Fleet Branch which is made up of staff employed by Metronet and TubeLines including the Test Train Drivers. I still can’t find any source that actually says that driverless trains will be tested on the Jubilee at any time but that isn’t to say they won’t despite LUL’s denials back in July.

When the Deep Tube Railway document first surfaced LUL said it was a paper exercise for middle managers, a bit of “blue sky” thinking, quite believable when you read some of the proposals regarding staffing at stations, obvious that those who drafted the document have never worked down here with our passengers. It was only later they admitted that it was indeed their plans for the future of the Tube, little wonder 67% of staff think that management are being less than honest with us.

So the ballot will initially be restricted to those Test Train Drivers who are asked to work on the driverless trains over on the Jubilee or wherever and then will spread to any other grades that LUL asks to, er, drive them. I assume that infers that they haven’t set things up so the trains can get in and out of the depots on their own or that maybe it’s just they know that as with everything at LUL it will inevitably break down at some point and need a human presence to move it.

While were on the subject of RMT they’ve just announced that the joint working party that was set up after the strike at TubeLines over pensions and free travel back in May have failed to come to an agreement. While they now have their staff and family Oystercards the matter of parity with Metronet staff is unresolved and as a result RMT members will refuse to do any overtime over the first weekend in October.

Colour me confused. According to the BBC and just about everyone else the RMT are about to ballot over the testing of driverless trains next month on the Jubilee Line which was first reported back in July and strenuously denied by LUL at the time. According to the Deep Tube Railway Document, which RMT have provided online, the focus of driverless trains will be the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, W&C and Central Lines, no mention of the Jubilee which only started using ATO last year. I appreciate that the system there is far more sophisticated than the one we have on the Central but considering the problems they had ever since it was introduced I’d be very surprised if they were going to let trains run on their own. I wonder if they have the sort of problems we have when it rains?

The absence of the TOps that arrived for the Olympics is starting to be noticeable, once more there are NCAs on the booking on sheets, how long before we start cancelling trains for lack of drivers?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A bloody awful night and a bloody awful train on which neither end liked the rain so I ended up driving Coded on all the open sections. We received a memo last week telling us that we’re going to have a new timetable in June next year with more trains running in the peaks, in the evenings and at weekends along with a later Saturday service and a Sunday service on the W&C. As long as they send us more TOps, most of those who were sent to the Central Line for the Olympics have already left for the Northern.

There is one disturbing little line in the memo which states that there will be “No detrainment on 'siding reversing' trains”. Now I’m not 100% sure what that means but I suspect it infers that rather than us or a member of station staff physically checking that the train is empty and using the porter buttons to close up when we reverse at DEB, NOP, WOO and NOR we will be expected to close up from the cab. At the moment if a member of staff is not available it causes a delay while we close up all 8 cars on our own and then walk back to the front end so obviously dispensing with the need for station staff will save money and delays.

Some of you may recall the hoo-ha caused by OSN 101 back in March and the rule change that allows us to carry passengers over shunt signals, maybe this is what LUL may have had in mind all along. The obvious worry is that we close up, go into the sidings then discover that we’re not alone, that we've inadvertently taken Mad Derek with us and he’s less than pleased to wake up to find himself trapped on a train. Now I’m a bit of a lump and can handle the occasional psycho (growing up in Dagenham helps) but a lot of TOps are smaller than me and an increasing number are women who might find the idea of being alone on a train with a possibly aggressive member of the public somewhat alarming.

If management think that either of the Unions are going to agree to this they must be mental, this stinks of a safety issue and whichever retard tried to stick this line in hoping that no one would notice deserves firing out of a cannon in the general direction of the Thames. All this does is reinforce the impression that LUL don’t give a rat arse about its employees’ safety, making a mockery of all the thanks and praise we’ve received from Boris downwards for our performance over the Olympics. If they’re trying to win our hearts and minds then they’re still failing miserably.

Monday, 24 September 2012

A event free night on the Central though autumn arrived with much rain. In the absence of any Tube news my mind has turned to other Transport/London issues.

Daniel Moylan interests me. He was appointed Boris’s aviation bod two weeks ago and has been in the press regurgitating Boris opposition of the third runway at Heathrow, calling anyone who suggests this “deluded” while celebrating the merits of Boris Island. Before that he was at the new London Legacy Development Corporation that replaced the Olympic Park Legacy Company in the summer and while he was only there for four months it proved long enough to get Baroness Ford, the previous chair who everyone seems to have thought had done a good job, to quit prematurely.

Obviously as a lifelong West Ham fan the comings and goings amongst the people who will decide the fate of the Olympic Stadium is of great interest to me. While I think moving to a 60000-seater stadium when we only get crowds of around 35000 and will be watching football from the other side of a running track is a pretty sad prospect Boris taking over is pretty good news for the Two Davids, West Ham’s porn baron owners Sullivan and Gold. If they’re lucky we’ll see his huge face on TV saying that the plans for the Olympic Stadium are “a fantastic idea”, that it will be “iconic” and that it “won’t cost the tax payer a penny” which from past experience translates as the tax payer will end up footing the bill for everything while West Ham get full naming rights for very little; see Boris bus, Boris bikes, cable car.

Before the LLDC Moylan was vice chairman of TfL, quite an important job as the chairman was absent most of the time getting his face in front of any camera that pointed his way. Moylan was at TfL at the time the decision was made to give the design of the Boris bus to Heatherwick studios. When Boris became Mayor he said there would be a competition to design the new bus, various designs were submitted and while joint winners were announced neither of two winning designs or the associated bus manufacturers were awarded the contract. Heatherwick hadn’t entered the competition and had never worked on bus design before but they had done some work with Kensington & Chelsea Council at a time when Moylan was head of planning. Surely not……….

Away from the past and back to the future, Boris Island is a complete non-starter as the DfT’s own research says that London does not need two hub airports so Heathrow would close or be drastically reduced in scale. There are over 75000 people working at Heathrow and perhaps three or four times working for the businesses that rely on it. Thousands of companies have moved to West London and along the M4 corridor to be near London’s main airport and none of them would be particularly happy with the prospect of relocating to Kent.

All those people and their dependents would need homes and amenities, shops, schools, hospitals and everything else, a massive new town would have to be created on or around the Isle of Sheppey. Apart from the much touted high speed rail link from Boris Island to London other transport links would need to be expanded to deal with the mass influx of population. An airport isn’t just a few runways and the terminal buildings, Heathrow has grown over the years and the area around it has grown with it, moving London’s main airport 50 miles the other side of London would be an economic and logistical nightmare, costing far beyond the few billions casually mentioned.

The problem with the aviation debate is that just about everyone offering an opinion stands to profit from whichever scheme they are supporting. Obviously the owners of Heathrow want a third runway, the owners of Gatwick and Stansted each want a second runway, the architects and developers want Boris Island, the TOCs and ASLEF say HS2 will reduce domestic flights, everybody has a vested interest.

The Green Party don’t have much vested interest which is perhaps why they’ve suggested that the current situation could be eased by making more efficient use of the take-off and landing “slots” and by moving more short haul flights to the three other major airports serving London, something that makes neither Boris or Heathrow happy. Rather than HS2 cutting a big, noisy path through the Chilterns I suspect that demand for domestic flights could be greatly reduced if rail were made more attractive by cutting fares and the money spent on upgrading the current infrastructure. There was also a proposal to build a High Speed link between Heathrow and Gatwick with 180mph trains running alongside the M25, covering the 45 mile journey in not much over 15 minutes. A second runway at Gatwick would also cause far less disruption as the area around it is far less densely populated than West London.

Perhaps what we need more than anything is to view transport as a single issue rather than slicing it up into road, rail, air and the rest. No doubt I’ve missed some highly relevant point in all this which is why I’m just a train driver and not some senior civil servant at the DfT earning £150k pa. I’ll be flying to Charleston, West Virginia in October to visit a friend and go see Morrissey in Pittsburgh which is the extent of my interaction with air travel. If you think the security checks at Heathrow are bad you ought to try Dulles.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

When I arrived to book on Friday I knew something was up as there were four managers stood around the desk all with Connect radios clutched to their ears. There’d been a one-under at OXO but happily the person had come out in one piece and in comparatively rude health. Service was about to resume after 20 minutes or so but when I checked Trackernet to locate my train I discovered that it had been put away in a depot somewhere. I also noticed that on the EB there was nothing between BEG and HOL and the train behind that was at SHB, it was going to take a lot of work at Wood Lane to get the service back to anything like normal for the evening peak.

Ten minutes after I was due to pick my train up the DTSM told me to go to HAI where one was waiting for me in the depot. Unfortunately the nearest train going to HAI was a good half an hour away at TCR so in order to get me back on time they decided that a spare would work the train out onto the platform while I travelled on the cushions to meet it.

Sadly something went awry, my train came out late, I got held at BEG and LIS to regulate the service and there was blocking back from WHC to NHG. By the time I reached NOA I should have been heading back EB from EAB and by the time I was supposed to be going into HAI depot I was only just pulling into LEY over 20 minutes down. And it was raining.

Fortunately the DTSM had been keeping an eye on things and calculated that by the time I got to HAI, stabled the train, walked out and then made my way back to LES there was the distinct possibility that there wouldn’t be enough time for me to have my meal break and then pick up my second half. So rather than have to send a spare to EAB and back I was taken off at LES by a spare with an umbrella. Which was nice.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The evening peak was busy last night, perhaps a little more than usual, with the WB platforms from LIS onwards packed out. When I closed the doors at OXO I could see people still pushing on and as expected I didn’t get the blue door closed visual. I hit the “re-open” button which opens doors that aren’t closed but not those that are but before I could try closing them again the PEA alarm started squawking. I tried to talk to whoever had pulled the handle down but got no reply so I opened up all the doors and checked DTS which told me that the handle was down in car 1. I made a PA to inform the passengers what was going on and jumped out to check what the problem was.

I was pointed towards a young lady stood at the back of the platform who I was informed had got her head caught in the doors. She didn’t look badly injured so I said I'd get the station staff to come and deal with her. As she was off the train my responsibility was to the thousand or so passengers who were still on board along with the thousands more on the trains behind me so I reset the PEA and went back to the cab.

When I checked at the CCTV the SATS was still stood where they’d been when all this started so I made a PA asking them to come and speak to the driver, I even said it twice just to be sure, slightly hypocritical considering my last post. When he finally battled his way through the crowd to the front of the train I explained the situation and left him to deal with it while I got the service moving again.

I realised that the one thing I hadn’t done was contact Wood Lane to tell them what was going on; big error on my part. What brought me to this realisation was the wonderfully sarcastic tone of the Line Controller giving a “platforms and hold” for a problem at OXO, adding that he had no idea what the problem was. By the time I got through I was already on the move WB again and I was met at WHC by a DRM who asked me to give my account of the incident.

Now I worked stations for nigh on 5 years and when I was doing platform duties if a train wasn’t moving for no apparent reason I’d automatically make my way to the cab to ask the TOp if there was any problem and if I could offer any assistance. Station Assistant Train Services; SATS, that's what it means, you are there to assist the trains. There’s more to it than standing in the same spot for two hours sticking a baton up in the air and saying “stand clear of the doors” on the PA. If Station Staff are going to be any use then they need to be trained and understand their role in all this. Once again I thank the day I made the decision not to pursue a career on the Stations side and become a Super. Rant over.

Other than that we had a shut down between LES and HAi on the Inner rail later in the evening peak due to a “person taken ill on a train” at NEP. Most of the time this is someone fainting and that is quickly dealt with but when Wood Lane suspended service we knew it must be serious. All was revealed when I was taken off at the end of my first half by a HAI TOp, his wife had been on the train involved and had texted him to say they’d all been tipped out and sent to the buses as some poor soul had a suspected heart attack.

Enjoy life while you have it, folks, every day is a day closer to the grave.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I have complained in the past about some of the announcements Wood Lane have made but yesterday had me screaming abuse in the cab, Lord alone knows what the passengers sat the other side of the J door thought.

A PEA was activated at BOS WB and the news was conveyed to us by someone at Wood Lane who shall be referred to as Mumbles. When Mumbles said “BOS” he sounded like he was saying “WAN” and it was only a short while later when Johnny Two Times repeated the announcement I realised what he’d actually been saying.

Johnny Two Times was a character who appeared for a few seconds in “Goodfellas” who gained his nickname by repeating everything twice; the example given being “I’m going to get the papers, get the papers”. This particular member of staff has the same habit, example from a few days ago “Will the east end DRM please contact the control room, will the east end, east end DRM please contact the control room”

Last night we got “all westbound trains, westbound trains between LES and BOS platforms and hold, this is due to a PEA on a train at BOS” and he then repeated the whole phrase again. It got worse when we were given the “clear signals and codes”, he repeated the same message three times with variations each time as to which phrase or words he doubled up, like some freestyle railways obsessed rapper. A good few minutes later Mumbles repeated the “clear signals and codes” though I doubt if anyone would have missed J2T’s announcement as it went on for well over a minute, the Ramones would have had enough time to play one song and for Joey to count "1-2-3-4" for the next. And even then his BOS sounded like WAN!

Now J2T is annoying but with a little therapy I’m sure his verbal diarrhea could be treated however one has to ask how Mumbles and the equally bewildering Nasal, who sounds as if he's dealt with a chronic nosebleed by inserting a tampon up each nostril and whose announcements are sometimes unintelligible, managed to get the job making announcements over the radio to the whole Central Line. What next, Line Information Assistants with Tourette’s?

I often heard the phrase “a good face for radio”, I think I’ve invented another; “a good voice for silent movies”.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Boris is at it again, slagging off the Unions in the Mail on Sunday saying that 50% of members balloted rather than 50% of those who bother to vote should be in favour of a strike in order for it to be legal, happily ignoring the fact that only 16.8% of Londoners eligible to vote made him their first choice for Mayor in May.

Somewhat bizarrely he claims that ballots "put a terrific psychological burden on people who don’t want to take strike action” though what can be so intimidating about getting a form through the post, putting a cross next to "yes" or "no" and then sticking it in a pillar box is beyond me. He went on to say that his proposals would “take away unions’ power to cause endless grief and stress by threatening strikes and causing endless disruption and buggeration”.

It is true that strikes have been mentioned on the Tube and in a few cases ballots have been held but most of the stress has been generated by the Tories and their supporters in the media. ASLEF have only held one strike in the last twelve months, our traditional Boxing Day walkout, while apart from a bit of trouble over at Tube Lines earlier in the year and a strike by the cleaners RMT haven’t done much since 2010.

To me it seems that all of our problems could be settled around the conference table but obviously Boris is trying to portray himself as the man to carry on Maggie Thatcher’s anti-Union policies in his poorly disguised effort to oust his fellow Old Etonian and Bullingdon Club member from the party leadership. Sadly it will probably work, the voting public seem to have reduced politics to a sub-X Factor celebrity contest and in ten years’ time I will not be surprised if the General Election debates included a swimwear section.

At next months’ Tory Party conference Boris will address a Conservative Home fringe meeting to divulge how we won the Mayoral election; I’d be fascinated to know just how he drove the people of London to such a level of apathy that the turnout dropped from 45.33% in 2008 to 38.1%.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Not much happening again, things pretty much back to normal. I did notice that the Boris Bus has returned to the news, as expected the bus operating companies have declined to buy them so TfL plan on purchasing 600 at £160m between now and 2016. Normally bus operators buy or lease buses and can move them around the country or even abroad, some of the bendies ended up in Malta, but with no demand for the Boris Bus outside the capital (or City Hall to be precise) TfL will be stuck with them until they fall apart.

In addition the bus operators have refused to fork out for the second staff member needed to use the rear platform so TfL will fund that at an estimated cost of £37m per year. As owners TfL will be liable for any claims for injuries suffered falling from the rear platform and as the bus operators don’t want them it seems likely they will ask for larger payments from TfL to run them on their routes. All of which points towards higher fares in future, not that I care as I get free travel with the job.

Don’t blame me, I voted for Ken.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Back from a wonderful weekend at Bestival and back on the Tube things have got back to normal pretty quickly. The evening peak felt like a normal evening peak, the commuters have returned, the tourists have subsided and there is a distinct absence of purple and red volunteer uniforms. The big noise appears to be about whether the wheelchair access ramps which were introduced at 16 stations will be kept, whether they will be introduced at more stations and what plans TfL have for increasing step-free access across the Combine.

The problem with the ramps is that obviously it takes longer than the 30 second “dwell time” factored into the timetable to set them up, use them and then remove them afterwards. During the peak we only have 20 seconds and when you are trying to keep trains running at roughly one every 2-3 minutes every little delay mounts up. Another problem is that during the Olympics there were plenty of extra bodies drafted in from the non-operational parts of LUL/TfL to deal with the extra workload but they’ve all gone back to their regular jobs and Stations are now back to the normal level of staffing; would we have enough people on hand to deploy the ramps when needed?

As far as making the Tube more accessible currently out of the 270 stations only 66 stations are step free down to the platform and only 33 are fully step-free on to the train. Back in 2006 LUL promised that by 2013 a third of stations would have step free access but in 2009 lift installations were cancelled at six stations after some £20m had been already spent claiming that there wasn't enough money to finish the job. In addition at SHB £39m had been spent sinking two lift shafts and moving gas and water pipes before unforeseen complications were discovered and the project was abandoned.

The likelihood of the Olympics and Paralympics leading to a legacy of greater access to the Tube seems slim, Boris seems happy to throw money at big high profile projects which he’d initially declared wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a penny like the cable car or his bloody bus, especially if there is a decent photo opportunity to be had, but not something as mundane as making the Tube more disabled-friendly.

Meanwhile over at the TUC conference some cheeky chappy has caused some outrage by selling T-shirts bearing the messages “A generation of trade unionists will dance on Thatcher's grave” and “Hey Ho The Witch is Dead" beneath a picture of Maggie’s Spitting Image puppet.

Quite frankly I’m appalled; everyone knows it’s “Ding, dong, the witch is dead”.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A beautiful summer’s day meant that I spent all my time in the open sections (as opposed to tunnel sections) driving in Coded with the door open. Two things of note yesterday, first the points failure at LES which left us with only one WB platform in the middle of the evening peak and queues of trains backing up along the EPP and HAI branches. I joined the queue on the approach to LOU and ended up finishing 20 minutes late.

The other thing was the lady who came up the stairs to the EB platform at EAA and seeing the cab door open asked me if the train went to TCR. I confirmed that it did and she walked off down the platform making no attempt to board the train. As I pulled out she was still walking along towards the back end of the platform which is odd as the exit to TCR is at the front.

Anyway that’s me done until Tuesday, I’m off to Bestival for four nights of music, merriment and Merlot. Have a nice weekend, folks.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Sometimes the announcements from Wood Lane are clear, precise and understandable, sometimes they just spout garbage. Yesterday we were told that a passenger had collapsed on the WB platform at PER, that staff were dealing with the situation and that we should approach with “more caution”. About 20 minutes later we were told that the ambulance crew had removed the passenger from the EB platform and that we could resume “normal speed”.

Now I’m sure you all know that normally the trains on the Central Line drive themselves in Auto and they will run at whatever speed the system tells them to; in Auto there is “normal speed” and nothing else unless Wood Lane put in a “temporary speed restriction”. If they wanted us to reduce speed while going through PER then usually we would have been instructed to switch into Coded Manual between HAL and GRE or GRE to HAL depending on which side the passenger was; maybe the passenger was in such agony they rolled from one side to the other

All I can assume is that this particular bod has come over from another line that doesn’t use ATO and forgot that here we don’t normally drive “on the handle”. Or perhaps we just need a bit more training on announcements.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Paralympics continue with little noticeable effect, just the usual ATP/ATO failures, driving round in Coded with the door open when it’s sunny, people jumping onto trains while the doors are closing without understanding that the rucksack suitable for going up Everest makes them that bit bigger, waking up sleepers at the end of the line, etc, etc.

The only thing of note was that on my last trip back yesterday I was told at WHC to go Coded to SHB as they needed to retrieve something from the track. When I got to SHB a member of station staff was stood less than a car’s length into the platform with a hand lamp showing red, I drew up to it, secured the train and handed them my keys. With the train immobilised and providing protection the Station Super could retrieve whatever it was that was on the track after which I opened up again and brought the train fully into the platform.

Obviously when the train is in Auto the only way to stop it short coming into a platform or anywhere else is to activate the emergency brake by knocking out the TBC or hitting the big red button on the dashboard but this does make me wonder how they’ll deal with these sort of situations when the trains are driverless. I guess the Train Attendant will have to fight their way to the front and drive it manually, not something I’d want to attempt at 08:30 on a Tuesday morning. Like I care, I’ll be retired by then so it won’t be my problem.

Two more days and then I'm off to the Isle of Wight for four nights in a tent with New Order and Stevie Wonder.