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When I reached the other end, WhC, the blue skies had been replaced by grey cloud so I carried on up to WeR in Auto.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.

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