Sunday 30 May 2010

The pixies of prevarication worked their mischievous magic once more and this blog is inexcusably late. My only defence is that working early shifts does somewhat disrupt my personal timetable and Friday night I was out with my best friend till the wee small hours of Saturday morning. This will be the last blog for a while as I’m off work for two weeks on my “spring” holiday. My “winter” holiday was back at the beginning of January and while it seems a long time since I’ve had a break I’ll probably be even worse when I next have time off as I swapped my two weeks “summer” in September with another TOp who needed them so they could go visit relatives overseas. I now have my “summer” and “autumn” in November/December and my winter in February next year; even the seasons are flexible at LUL.

Anyhoo back to life underground. Very little shocks me but Thursday I was officially gobsmacked. I’ve seen arms, legs, bags of shopping, suitcases, briefcases, umbrellas, even pushchairs with babies in, all used in an attempt to block the closing doors but to see a woman rush up at the last minutes dragging a child in each hand and then physical fling one of them, approx age 5/6, into the breach was truly mind-numbing. Never underestimate the stupidity or irresponsibility of the travelling public. The humanitarian side of my brain was reeling in shock but the nasty Darwinian side specualted that if the mother was that moronic then genetically her offspring are likely to grow equally stupid, so if one of them was lost in an accident I don’t think they would have grown up to discover a cure for cancer.

Other news is that I attended my first Union meeting for ages, simply because an official from head office was down to present me with my “five year” badge. It started off being as dull as I remembered Union meetings to be but later of became quite enjoyable and I think I might try too get along more often in future.

Back in fortnight, I’ll be popping in to feed Clive and if any news comes my way I will pass it on

Thursday 27 May 2010

Sitting spare in splendid isolation yesterday so we didn’t hear about the signal failure until it came up on BBC News. As with every disruption this meant that trains were delayed, others were re-numbered (or re-formed to give it the correct title), drivers didn’t get off when they were meant to and subsequently weren’t ready to pick up their next train when it turned up. This is where spares come in, filling in the gaps that are the result of any major incident.

Around 11am the DMT (Duty Manager, Trains) on the desk told to pick up Train A, take it to NeP and back, easy peasy. Train A was running very late and when I checked the “plotter” it was only at LaG, nearly half and hour away. In the time it took to arrive we’d had a change of DMT but the replacement confirmed that I was due to pick up Train A. When Train B arrived the driver called up from the platform to ask where their relief was as he was due to finish, no note of this in the book, nothing arranged, so the DMT sent one of the other spares to run it up to Epp and back.

When Train A was at Str another driver walks up, looks at the “plotter” and reveals that he is the booked driver of Train A. Oh yes, they had re-formed Train A into Train B, the DMT on earlier had managed to mix up which train was which, so I went back to the mess room.

Later I got a Woo v Hai and back, Train C. Once again I watch it on the “plotter”, when it’s at Ley I go out onto the platform but as it rolls in it is Train D bound for Lou. Apparently everyone except the driver had been told about the re-form. And obviously if you don’t tell the driver they can’t tell the passengers. So I relay the bad news over the PA and then watch a lot of very pissed off people departing onto the platform. Glad I’m not station staff.

At Woo the nice CSAs tipped me out and I took the train up the siding, 21 Road, ready to shunt across to go back to Hai. As I crossed over the points I noticed a fair amount of smoke coming from one of the sleepers in the big gap between power rails (aka a "rail gap"). After I’d changed ends I called up Control, informed them we had a bit of smouldering and they asked if I could deal with it “without putting myself at risk”. No problem, I waited till the shunt signal cleared, moved up to the smoking sleeper, secured the train, jumped down on the track with a fire extinguisher, gave it a few bursts to make sure it was out, jumped back and carried onto the platform. All those years of fire training finally got put into practice.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Apologies for my tardiness in writing recently, must be the weather. A sure sign that summer is on the way was that on Thursday we had three “platforms and hold” calls in an hour during the evening peak due to passengers “ill on train”. First bit of hot weather and they start dropping like flies, suggest carrying a bottle of water, can recommend Volvic not for any aesthetic reasons but they do a one litre bottle with a re-sealable top which you can refill from the tap while everyone else seems to limit themselves to 75cl.

While I have sung the praises of the Epping branch as a pleasant drive I have neglected to mention the Woodford Loop which I went round on my last trip Thursday. From GrH to Chi it runs down a tree lined cutting and then the SW Essex countryside opens out before you as you head down to RoV, well it does if you ignore Tottenham’s training ground and the M11 thundering beneath you. I got there just after sunset and the twilight gave it a thoroughly magical feel. Not a bad way to end the day.

Sunday and Monday were my first early turns for months but I was actually glad as starting work around 6:30-7am was preferable to picking up mid-afternoon, it’s getting very hot down there. Either it’s the heat or pigeons are generally dumber in the mornings but not having hit one for years I’ve had three slam into the front of my cab in two days. They just fly out of the trees and bushes or suicidally swerve in midflight. Not much you can do at 85kph and it makes one hell of a bang. If a pigeon makes that much noise God knows what it’s like when you have a “one under”.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Absolutely nothing of note happened Tuesday and Wednesday was threatening to be equally uninspiring until I reached BoS WB on my last trip to WeR. Just as I was about to close the doors I received a call from Wood Lane instructing me to “reverse” at MaA as there was an almighty signal failure at EaA. I made a PA to let the punters know the score and within seconds the empty platform was crowded. As I pulled into MaA I was relieved to see a CSA scurrying up the platform to close up my back 6 cars and we tipped out reasonably easily though predictably there was one woman on her I-pod who had no idea of what was going on despite everyone else getting off the train.

As I wasn’t due back at MaA for ages I was expecting to be left sitting in the siding for a while but I hadn’t got more than a few pages into the Evening Standard when I heard the unmistakeable clunk of the points going over and the signal cleared to let me out EB. MaA EB was fairly crowded and it was obvious that there hadn’t been a train through for a while due to the signal problem. Wood Lane called up and told me change the train number, make the destination Hai v NeP and to hold for an extra two minutes at BoS, so no train ahead and no train behind, lots of punters on the platform who can see from the dot matrix boards the time till the next train; this was going to be fun.

Sure enough BoS was rammed, as was Oxo and every other platform. At every station I watched as those trying to get off struggled against the mass of those trying to get on, waited until the melee had settled then closed up and moved on. Despite the obvious crowding there were still plenty of arseholes with rucksacks glued to their backs taking up the space of two people, really the time has come to authorise station staff to subject these morons to some cruel and unusual punishment. Rucksacks are the work of the Devil!

Anyhoo when Wood Lane had called me up they had also told me to hand the train over at Les and go see the DMT for further instructions. As I’d cut out the trip between MaA and WeR I arrived back about an hour early. Wood Lane’s brilliant idea was for me to pick up another train, go up to Epp and back and finish which was a fine idea except that the train they wanted me to pick up was at Hol. 20 minutes minimum from Hol to Les, 20 minimum to Epp and then 20 back again plus whatever waiting time at Epp with the additionl delay due to the platforms being packed equals a lot more than an hour. There is an agreement on overtime (LUL don’t like paying it and the Unions don’t want you working it unless you absolutely have to) so DMTs will not send anyone out if it is impossible for them to finish on time.

No more work for me that night.

Monday 17 May 2010

Two very boring nights on the Central Line, no drunks worth mentioning, the only item of note was that due to engineering work on the Sunday I had to get a cab from WhC where I finished around 1:30am over to Lou to take the first train out at 6am. Driving up through the near empty streets of London and then out through Essex as the sun came up was exceptionally pleasant.

Apparently there have been various objections from the unions to the timetable as a lot of duties have meal breaks at locations without canteens. Only WhC and Les have canteens, Hai and WeR have them in the actual depot so by the time you’d walked in there it would be time to start walking back out to pick up your next train. At least Lou has a Sainsbury’s at the top of the road from the station but all this reinforces our belief that the people who make these decisions up at 55 have no idea what is going on down here and does nothing to dispel the “them and us” feeling.

Friday 14 May 2010

Political Rant part 1

I think it’s plain that the Tories have no love of public transport, under Thatcher and Major there was a noticeable push to get us off the trains and buses and onto our own four wheels. The buses were deregulated, the railways split up and the only thing that saved the Tube from privatisation was that it was deemed too valuable to the economy of London and too politically sensitive to mess about with.

Congestion on the capital’s roads became so bad that in the late 90s and early 00s even the solidly Conservative Evening Standard was complaining that traffic was slower than it had been when we relied on actual horsepower and demanded that something be done. Something was done; Ken was elected mayor and brought in a transport policy for the whole of London that froze bus prices for four years and introduced the congestion charge for anyone driving into Central London during normal working hours. He set in motion schemes to make the Tube system more accessible and cajoled the mainline train companies into accepting Oystercards. Ken understood the importance of transport in keeping London successful.

And now, with a Tory government to back him up Boris is trying to get us off public transport again and back onto private but he thinks that two-wheels will succeed where four failed. A week after the election he’s announced that he is “determined to transform London into a city that cycles” and will spend £116m promoting cycling this year. Along with the ever increasing cost of his Routemaster replacement when taken along side the numerous schemes he has cancelled due to lack of funds it is plain that despite the claims to be all touchy feely these days little has changed in Tory thinking.

My only hope is that halfway through his term of office his ability to screw things up will be limited and that in 2012 the voters of London will recognise that Boris might know Oxford, he might know Westminster and he might know Kensington and Chelsea but he will never understand London.
Once upon a time we had drivers and guards. The driver sat at the front driving, duh, and was responsible for the safe operation of the train in motion while the guard stood at the back opening and closing the doors, essentially responsible for the safety of passengers while the train was in the platform area. With the introduction of One Man Operation (OPO) the guards’ eyes were initially replaced by either mirrors or monitors on the platform level with the driver’s cab and then by in-cab monitors connected to CCTV on the platform.

So when the CCTV isn’t working we have to have a member of station staff acting as a guard, give us a signal to confirm that no one is trapped in the doors, then watch us leave the platform safely and operate the emergency stop button if something goes wrong. Now if something like that does go wrong when drivers swap over the one leaving the train is meant to tell their replacement and even if they don’t Wood Lane Control is meant to make regular announcements keeping us informed of any irregularities.

The driver I took off said nada and there wasn’t a peep from Wood Lane but when I saw a CSA stood by the front end of the WB platform at MiE I guessed there was a problem and when the screen remained blank it was obvious why they were there. She gave me the “right”, I closed up, off we went, smooth as. On arriving at ShB WB there was also a blank screen but as nothing had been said I thought perhaps the fault was on my train or only just happened. Then I heard a male voice on the platform PA warning the punters to stand clear of the doors but when I opened my cab door and looked back for source of the voice I couldn’t see anyone giving me the “right”.

ShB is a curved platform and I wondered if he was “around the bend” but eventually after the crowd on the platform had thinned out a bit I spotted a figure in uniform stood there staring in my direction. An arm was eventually raised, I closed up and moved off.

I do wonder how well these station staff understand the importance of their role in all this as from my experience of doing that job myself I know a lot of my colleagues seemed half trained at best and from the cab it doesn’t look as if thing shave improved. If we do have a reduction in staffing levels I hope they keep the ones who seem to know what they’re doing……

Otherwise a very quiet night, only two sleepers when I reached Epp both of whom left the train, one of whom actually offered his sincere thanks for waking him up as it was his intended destination. Maybe it’s too far from payday, people looking at their wallets more and deciding not to get utterly rat-arsed on a Thursday.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Another quiet night sitting spare, I watched the two last trains come through the station on the CCTV with the DMT (Duty Manager, Trains) on the desk and sure enough the last Hai train had been graffitied while it was sat out on the other side of the points. How much must this be costing?

I'll be on the last Epp tonight so expect fun and frolics with the alcoholics

Wednesday 12 May 2010

E.O.B. has started leaving a note by the booking-on point counting down the shifts he has left to do before he flees Les for all time. I'm going to miss him, he funny.
Well we have a new Tory/Liberal government and Cameron’s comment about giving Boris “superpowers” has reminded us that when he was running for Mayor he made a few anti-Union statements, specifically against RMT but anything he does to their members he will do to all Tube staff. No doubt he will be more than enthusiastic about complying with restricting public sector employee pay rises to 0% but my bigger concern is there have been mutterings about closing entry to our current pension scheme and the concern is that eventually there will be insufficient funds coming in to pay all those drawing out. If ever Boris wanted a strike that would close down London for a whole week that’s the one to go for. Step outside, Posh Boy.

On Monday night I came back from Epp, went over the points half a mile or so W of Les, changed ends and waited for the last Epp train to go through before forming the last Hai of the night. While I was sat waiting some little scrote graffitied the back two cars of the train. This “main line shunt” move happens every night except Sundays so obviously the local spray can jockeys know it and this is not the first time it has happened to me while doing this particular shift. Last year I got three unofficial paint jobs in the space of a month and the cleaning crew at Hai depot were starting to regard me as a graffiti Jonah but this is my first one this year.

We don’t get it much in the winter and it certainly is more frequent during school holidays, no surprises there. At least this time they restricted themselves to the side of the train, once they covered the windows at the front and I had to drive into the depot with my leg stretched out across the cab to hold the front “M” door open. With the new timetable I thought that they’d run the last Hai through the pipe rather than contiinue the main line shunt but I checked last night and sure enough it’s still there. Obviously the suits who write timetables up in their ivory tower at 55 Broadway don’t get to see at the cleaning bills.

When you take a train into a depot one of the shunters calls you to let you know where to leave your train. I asked him if he’d been told about the graffiti and he said he had which was why he was sending me over in the direction of the “Acid Sheds”. Something in the way he said it sounded delightfully gruesome……..

Monday 10 May 2010

Engineering work, closed between LiS and Les so I spend the evening shuttling up and down the East end of the line. No entertaining drunks tonight as it’s a Sunday and also the replacement bus service acts as a buffer zone. Having done a few weeks of late shifts I had forgotten how cold it is at night especially when walking out of Lou sidings but it is quite nice going in there around 5am, deathly quiet, no one about, birds singing. Hope for better weather towards the end of the week, a good sunrise on the way up to Epp and the amusing antics of my late night passengers.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Saturday was a silly shift, seven hours long but two and a half hours after starting I’d had my meal break, with the last half hour of the night spent not actually driving, just waiting for a train then travelling back to my starting point. Whoever dreams up these shifts have never been near a railway in their life!

I swapped next week for night turns so expect more drunken japes from the travelling public. Rumours continue to fly around about the new timetable but until I see something in black and white I will continue to ignore them as I’ve worked here long enough to know that 99% of the talk that goes around LUL is complete and utter bollocks.

Tubelines is coming back in house which surprised no one and the word that RMT has already threatened strike action if there are any jobs cuts was to be expected. They’re also refusing to discus any changes to the Station staff levels unless it’s at the very highest level so one way or another they’re trying to engineering a strike in the summer. Still convinced that Bob Crowe can only get a stiffy when he calls for industrial action………

Friday 7 May 2010

How Central Line trains work part 1.

Central Line trains drive themselves with a system called Automatic Train Operation or Auto for short. We push the buttons to open and close the doors then push another set of buttons and bingo the train drives itself to the next station, repeat process. We can also drive the train manually, either with the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) that stops us going through red signals, know as Coded Manual or without, Restricted Manual, limited to 15kph. We get to use Coded going in and out of sidings or depots and on Sundays “upstairs” to keep us in practice. ATO is considered to be more efficient that human drivers, accelerates and breaks the optimum amount, doesn’t go through red signals, etc. And naturally we hate that we get paid for sitting there pressing buttons watching the world go by.

Auto won’t work if the cab door is open, basically so the train can’t go off on it’s own without a driver. It was a gorgeous day yesterday and what could possibly nicer than a trip up the Epping branch in “Coded” with the door open, enjoying the sunshine, the trees and flowers, scattering rabbits before me. At Epp I sat out on the end of the platform and soaked in the glory of a May afternoon while waiting for the signal to clear before heading back WB. Generally the Control Room at Wood Lane don’t mind us going Coded “upstairs” as long as we don’t delay the service but they insist on you going through the Pipe in Auto unless you are training so when I reached Les I switched out of Coded and let the train take the strain.

When I reached the other end, WhC, the blue skies had been replaced by grey cloud so I carried on up to WeR in Auto. I changed ends and when the signal cleared, closed the doors and pressed the Auto “start” buttons; nothing. Open up the doors again, trip and reset the ATO circuit breaker, wait for it to re-boot, close the doors, still nothing. Tried the back-up set of “start” button, more nothing. Chucked her into Coded, took her to RuG, tripped and reset again, not a sausage. I called Control, told them I was sans Auto and drove Coded to WhC where I picked up a Train Technician. He fiddled around, we went through the whole palaver a few more times but by MaA he had declared the ATO “well and truly buggered”.

I was instructed to take the train to Lou where I would exchange my dud for a fully working one. One of the Lou spares was then dispatched to bring a train out of the sidings and then all the punters had to do was leave my train and walk across the platform to the other one which might seem simple enough but some of our denser travellers still need a bit of ushering despite me making numerous PA announcements on the way explaining what was intended. Even though I am only human and therefore less efficient than a computer and despite having to swap trains I still reached Epp only a few minutes later than timetabled. In your face ATO.

Coincidently one of my colleagues mentioned that he had one of our big bosses from 55 Broadway in his cab who was boasting that in five or ten years time there would be no need for TOps as everything would run on ATO. Somehow I think I’ll still be needed on the front end when I get to retirement in 15 years time, technology can do many wonderful things but it us still built by humans and therefore fallable.

Today’s rucksack in door count: 3.

Thursday 6 May 2010

A fairly normal day right up until my last trip EB. Sat at NoA, just about to get the green signal when a call comes for all trains EB from Hol to NoA “platforms and hold” – basically what it says, if you are at a station stay there, if not stop at the next one you reach. Someone had pulled an emergency handle down at TCR. So there I sat watching the minutes tick away, no further instructions or explanation was forthcoming until we got the “clear signals and codes” call; all clear.

With the crowding that had developed on the platforms while the trains were held and just general delays that come with peak hour working I was fairly late when I came out the other end of the pipe and I knew there was no way I could finish on time. Obviously not wanting to put LUL to the expense of paying me the overtime I tried to call the manager at Hai to see if there was a spare who could put my train away but couldn’t get through, so I called my own manager at Les.

The one person I was hoping wouldn’t answer the phone was the manager I mentioned two posts ago, E.O.B., who never ever does anyone any favours regardless of race, creed or colour and sure enough it was his voice that I heard on the other end. I asked anyway with little hope and on arriving at Hai there was no one to be seen. I closed up my two cars while the CSA closed up the back six and was about to shoot off into the depot when I spotted a driver scurrying up the platform frantically waving; E.O.B. had got me a spare. I jumped over to the train going back WB and booked off at Les on time.

I think if I asked to be taken off at Les he’d have left me to be late but he was quite happy to use someone else’s spare. Like most managers its knowing who will do what before asking them for something.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Another “timetable” day, a few minor difficulties but nothing outstanding so today I’ll highlight one thing that is an irritating problem on the Tube; rucksacks. For whatever reason their numbers are on the rise, I assume it’s a fashion thing as once the only people wearing rucksacks on the Tube were teenage tourists and that was bad enough.

For a start they double the space you take up on a train but what makes them a real problem is that the people wearing them seem totally unaware they are doing so. You turn round with a rucksack on your back and bam, it hits anybody stood in your turning circle, not good on a crowded train or platform. And when you see a space on a train where a person could fit and jump on board the rucksack is invariably hanging out the door, result doors won’t close.

It has been suggested that all this can be avoided by removing the item and carrying it as hand luggage as there is more room down by your legs than up at torso level. Sadly this assumes that the wearer has a couple of brain cells to rub together and if I’ve learnt one thing in my years on the Tube it’s that you should never overestimate the intelligence of the punters. Once they pass through those ticket gates they switch their brains off and take on a stupidity that if described as bovine would be an insult to cows. We get many complaints that passengers are treated worse than cattle but quite frankly if they insist on behaving as such they have only themselves to blame.

Still rucksacks can be a source of amusement; I once saw a man jump onto a crowded train at Stratford, the doors close with his rucksack on the outside and then head off down the Jubilee Line. I laughed myself silly because I knew that the doors didn’t open on that side of the train till somewhere around Baker Street.

Rucksacks, great for going up Everest, shit for going down the Tube.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Bankholiday-itis part 2. Not as bad as Saturday, while I was late arriving there was always just enough time to leave to timetable. Not that anyone would have noticed; London was dead, it was quieter than a regular Sunday, where was everyone? Still it was a glorious day and the run up to Epp was quite beautiful. On my last trip back from WeR I had the sun setting behind me and everything was infused with a rosy glow, the rooftops of West London, the trees and bushes, even the ballast between the tracks looked pretty.

News that one of our managers is taking early retirement, apparently over a dispute about an allegedly racist comment. We all know he’s not a racist, he hates everyone, he’s an equal opportunities bastard and while he was unpopular he knew how to do his job from years of experience on the railways. If he is replaced it will probably be by some graduate trainee who has all the right qualifications and said all the right things to HR but won’t have the slightest idea when it comes to man management. That is if he’s replaced; with all the cutbacks it’s likely the workload will get passed on to our current managers.

And they wanted me to apply for manager. Nein danke!

Sunday 2 May 2010

Bank holiday-itis. My first train was ten minutes late to begin with so by the time I got to Epp I should have left WB and it stayed like that. We had an emergency handle pulled down, smoke in a tunnel, a stalled train, anything that could go wrong did. As I headed up to Epp for the last time it was pissing down and I knew if I was late finishing I would miss the bus, leaving me with the choice of waiting for the next one or getting soaked walking home.

On my last trip east I received a call from the Control Room at Wood Lane, which normally is bad news but not this time. We have a neat little trick called a “stock and crew”, where the driver of one train swaps with another going in the opposite direction. One of the Spares from Lou had been sent to spend his entire evening constantly swapping trains at ThB then driving them up to Epp and back just to get everyone else finishing as near to normal as possible; it saves on paying us overtime

Normally a stock and crew will be done at a station with an island platform but where that isn’t possible you have to bring both trains into the platform and then use the bridge or tunnel to get to the other platform and your new train. Some daring souls will pull one train into the platform, bring the other up so the cab doors are level and then hop across the gap, which is very naughty, thoroughly reprehensible and should not be attempted by anyone.

Anyway, I swapped trains at ThB and was running to timetable for the first time that day. And then when I got to Les they were reversing a late train on the platform I was meant to go into and I was stuck outside, making me late again. Naturally I missed the bus but thankfully the rain had stopped so I walked home.

Saturday 1 May 2010

It appears that things aren’t so bad, management have agreed to give the Pool their “duties” a week in advance rather than a few days before which means that we can join a “Mafia”. Every depot has one, my depot has two, the drivers give their work schedule to whoever’s running the Mafia and they then give everybody what they want. So if you are rostered to work earlys that week and you want lates the Mafia will arrange a swap with someone who is in the reverse situation. Similarly if you want a certain day off they will shuffle your rest days. Up until recently I’ve been independently taking night shifts from both Mafias and individual drivers as not many people like doing them but as of 4 July I will surrender my independence and become a Mafia Man. Eccellente!

Sadly Derek has gone the way of all fish. I'll miss the spotty little oik