Monday 26 March 2012

Money for old cable

Cable theft has gained a fair amount of media attention recently, we’ve been told to be extra vigilant for suspicious looking types hanging around and on a few occasions over the recent weeks we’ve been asked to go Coded through an area as there are staff and/or BTP trackside investigating reports of trespassers on the line.

They’ve also reduced the amount of power supplied into a section after 10pm, feeding one end rather than both as apparently this makes detection easier though I’ve no idea how this works, I just drive ‘em. The noticeable effect is that we are moving at greatly reduced speeds, mostly out on the extreme of the EPP branch with the 3 minute trip up the hill from THB to EPP taking around 10 minutes.

All this seems to have been in vain as the ne'er-do-wells struck again Sunday morning, cutting the cable that fed Plat.1 at EPP. As all the early trains leave from Plat. 2 it wasn’t detected until one went over the rail gap at the crossover, coasted into the platform and the TOp had changed ends to find that there was no juice. The train had to sit there all day until the current was switched off at the close of traffic, the cable could be replaced and the night spare could bring it back down.

Friday 16 March 2012


Sunday the engineering works continued but this time with everything west of WHC closed down. As few passengers wish to venture beyond SHB on a Sunday things were far more relaxed and my only problem that night was getting two drunks to leave when I was about to put the train into HAI depot. The pair of them simply sat mutely smiling at each other refusing to communicate or move so in end the Super and I grabbed one each under the arm, hauled them up on their feet and ushered them out onto the platform. I left the Super herding them towards the stairs and later saw them sat on the wall outside the station still smiling and speechless.

Nothing much happened until Thursday night when I reached WER and found a bumper load of sleeping passengers; between the Super and I we must have cleared out at least half a dozen. The star turn was a Suit slumped over in his seat with his head resting on his knees and his arms hanging limp. A huge pool of liquid vomit had spread around his feet and along the carriage which I gingerly stepped around and gave him a shake. He sat bolt upright, jumped up, lost his footing due to the slippery conditions he’d created and sat straight back down again with a coccyx shattering thump.

I just wish I’d been filming it, pure YouTube gold.

Thursday 15 March 2012

The Forbidden Zone

Someone left a comment on an earlier post asking about “carry overs”; taking passengers places they shouldn’t go. In the old days carrying passengers over a shunt signal and into sidings was strictly forbidden but OSN. 101 which I mentioned a long, long time ago has made it possible though it’s done under the authority of the signaller.

On Saturday I heard a bit of chat over the radio which sounded as if there was a problem detraining a passenger at MAA, I’m assuming that they were so far out-of-it that the staff couldn’t wake them. With trains stacking up in the Pipe behind there seemed to be a plan to leave the person on the train with a member of staff to “observe”, go up the sidings and then head back EB. I guess that job would fall to the Duty Manager running things rather than some poor CSA but sadly I’ve been unable to get any details other than what I overheard on the radio.

One of the objections the unions raised on this was that we might be instructed to take a sleeping passenger over a shunt signal and then when we change ends find that they’ve woken up and have woken up aggressive; no one wants to be stuck on a train with a psycho. At MAA this was not an issue as the trains going into the siding were “double-end” which is not a deviant sexual practice, it just means we have a TOp in both cabs so no one has to walk through the train.

Other than that “carry overs” are still a big no-no though it would appear that it is no longer an excuse to add to the unemployment figures. One of my colleagues was shutting up a train to take it into WHC sidings and failed to notice that a passenger had jumped on board. They were discovered later by the cleaning crew and the TOp was duly summoned before the TOSM but rather than receiving their P45 they were told that their detrainments would be monitored for a few months. It seems that LUL have noticed the number of cancellations for lack of TOps and come to the staggering conclusion that sacking us for the smallest infringement of the rules is perhaps counterproductive.

Which is just as well as almost every TOp I’ve spoken to has carried someone over at some time, usually when Station Staff have closed up the back six cars when reversing somewhere like WOO, NOR, NEP or DEB. Some TOps admit that they failed to report the error to the Line Controller as they didn’t want to drop the Station Staff in it and if the passenger is snoring like a pig being dragged over corrugated metal and reeks of alcohol then there’s a good chance they’re not going to wake up and cause a fuss.

Not that I’d ever do that.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Communication; we suck major league.

Friday was reasonably featureless but we had engineering works shutting everything west of MAA on Saturday. There are more than enough buses trolling up and down Oxford Street already and the stations along the Bayswater Road/Holland Park Avenue are well served so rather than have replacement buses further adding to the congestion by blocking things up outside MAA they send everyone up to Willesden Junction on the Bakerloo then bus them from there the short (and comparatively less busy) ride down to WHC and NOA. They put up notices, they make PAs on the stations, we make PAs on the trains, do the passengers take a blind bit of notice? Do they buggery.

As the Piccadilly was a mess due to a one under at Wood Green several passengers heading for the western end of the District Line had decided to try taking the NHG route and were not best pleased to find their route blocked. One wanted to know why we didn’t temporarily suspend the engineering work and reopen the Line while the Piccadilly was having problems. I can only assume that they imagine “engineering works” to mean a dozen blokes with spanners tightening bolts.

Otherwise the majority of lost souls were tourists who understandably fail to grasp the complexities of the Tube, are forgivable and infinitely less aggressive about the whole deal. Fortunately I only had to endure that three times while I was between trains but having worked stations when I first joined LUL I know what it’s like doing that for 8 hours a day. In addition as there were no trains running out of WER and WHC they sent surplus TOps to help tipping out, probably a suitable reminder of what the Station side have to suffer daily while we’re safely isolated from the masses in our cabs.

As I was heading back EB the first time there was talk over the radio from Wood Lane of a train at STR WB having problems and a call for the Train Technician (TT) to go meet it. By the time it reached MIE it was smoking and the trains behind it were given a “platforms and hold”. When I reached LIS service was suspended in both directions LES to LIS so it came as a surprise when a few minutes later I was given a green signal to carry on EB rather than the shunt into the sidings to go back west.

I didn’t want go up to BEG only to find that someone was already there and end up stuck in the tunnel with a train full of passengers so I called up Wood Lane to ask them what they wanted me to do. This caused a degree of confusion and it took couple of minutes before I was informed that the Super at MIE had declared that the smoke wasn’t severe enough to warrant shutting down the EB.

By the time I handed over my train at HAI Wood Lane had given the all clear but if anything things were worse when I remerged after my meal relief. I was supposed to pick my train up on the WB at LES after it had been to EPP and back but it had only just arrived EB, going into the middle platform and tipping out.

As I made my way across the passengers were scurrying down the stairs from Plat.2 and up the stairs to Plat. 3 where there was an EPP train waiting. They’d not been told about the change of plan but then based on my own experience it’s likely that Wood Lane hadn’t told the TOp until the train had left LEY.

Friday 9 March 2012

The curse of Gordon Brown

I’m sure everyone has heard that RMT is currently debating whether to accept the £850 bonus LUL has offered to station and other staff for the Olympics but I’ve only just heard about another dispute where RMT are about to ballot for strike action.

For those of you who don’t know Tube Lines was a consortium of private companies created in 2002 under the Public-Private Partnership to handle the maintenance and upgrade of the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines while another consortium, Metronet, covered the rest of the Tube. Metronet went into administration in 2008 and the whole operation was taken back by LUL while Tube Lines lasted until 2010 before it was bought out by TfL though unlike Metronet it was not merged with LUL.

Unlike their Metronet colleagues Tube Lines staff have not been allowed to join the TfL pension scheme and they don’t get free travel. As usual RMT claim that management have refused to budge on the issue while Tube Lines say that RMT shouldn’t be balloting when negotiations are taking place.

From past experience I think it’s fairly safe to predict the following:-

Less than half the RMT members at Tube Lines will vote but the majority will be in favour of strike action.

The Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Line will suffer at least one day’s disruption as TOps refuse to take out trains that have not been checked.

Boris and other Tories will make a big thing of the low turnout, complaining that only a minority of all Tube Line workers supported the strike and call for a change in the voting system, missing the obvious irony that less than half those eligible bothered to vote at the last Mayoral election with only 19% of Londoners making Boris their first choice.

There will be a large number of comments written on the Evening Standard website and elsewhere calling for LUL to sack the lot and bring in driverless trains.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Bruce Wayne is Batman.

Not a great start to the week; on Monday I booked on to find that the Line had been shut down and my first train was running 20 minutes late due to a “suspect package” at BAN. Someone left a bag behind, someone else pulled down the handle and everything came to a complete standstill while we waited for the Police to confirm that it was not going to go boom. We’re going to get a lot more of this between now and the end of August. I was further delayed while trains were reversed at WOO in an attempt to get some of them back on timetable and ended up squeezing in a bare minimum half hour break between trains.

Tuesday I was spare but because of the number of uncovered shifts I ended up doing exactly the same shift as I did Monday and surprise, surprise my train was running 20 minutes late again. I was informed by the DTSM that a TOp had asked for a PNR at WHC, left their train on Plat 1, there was a defective train in the middle road and so the WB service at a standstill again. For some reason when the TOp returned they didn’t jump back on the train; I can only assume that they were under the impression that a spare had taken their train WB and that the train sitting there was waiting for someone else. After that was sorted out more defective trains added to the delays but this time I was turned early at NOA rather than going through to EAB so at least I didn’t have to rush my meal relief.

Thankfully Wednesday was featureless apart from one of my colleagues asking if I was ASLEF shrugged; obviously I am and I’m glad you like the blog. I'm going to spend the day hiding in the Batcave now that it appears that my secret identity is no longer secret.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Mummy, it's dark down here

There have been a lot of reports claiming that Boris has promised driverless trains within two years when actually what he said was that by 2014 the Northern should be running under ATO like the Victoria, Central and Jubilee and the sub-surface lines will follow suit in 2018.

Some people have failed to grasp the difference between automatic operation and driverless though that is quite understandable as I’m not sure Boris, who is chairman of TfL, actually understands either. Additionally no one seems to have bothered to correct the misunderstanding as I suppose to those of that inclination it appears as if he’s taking a tough stance against the Unions when in fact he hasn’t taken any stance at all and invariably leaves everything to his underlings.

Naturally the dates mentioned are subject to everything going without a hitch and you only have to look at how smoothly the conversation of the Jubilee Line went to know that likelihood of that happening. As I’ve said here and elsewhere to the best of my knowledge the driverless system is currently being developed on 4 miles of the Old Dalby Test Track in Leicestershire and will undergo trials on the W&C in about 2-3 years.

If it is successful it will be rolled out on the Bakerloo though that will take around 4-5 years before it is completed. Once they've finished installing the new signalling system they’ll move onto the Piccadilly then onto the Central but before they finish that I will probably have reached retirement age. The old trains will be withdrawn from service as the new NoPO trains are delivered and TOps displaced to the Lines where they use ATO. Who knows, I might spend my last day on the job driving the last 92 stock train on its final journey before Robbie the Robot takes over.

A few days later we received the tale of a 5-year old boy who’d fallen down the gap between the train and the platform being saved by the watchful eye of the TOp in the cab. Many made the point, ASLEF included, that if the train had been driverless he would no longer be with us while supporters of automation have claimed that had this happened in the golden future we are promised there would have been various unspecified measures to save the child.

What grabbed my attention was that the parents, who had let the boy go running of ahead on his own in the first place, didn’t want to delay their journey with any medical attention for their offspring and jumped on the next available train. With that level of parenting and inherited genetics I doubt if he will survive to see his 16th birthday. Hooray for Darwin!


Two days spare, two days down the Waterloo & City. On the second day I’d started on a trip that took me to NEP, EAB and was due to finish in the sidings at LOU but when I reached LES on the EB another TOp was waiting to take me off. Someone had SPADed down the Drain so I had to go down and finish off their turn.

The rest of the evening was spent monotonously shuttling the Walking Dead in Suits under the Thames; why some TOps love working down here is beyond me. As I was driving the last train and had never done that shift before I thought I’d better ask what was expected. The manager on the desk advised me to ask the other TOps which would have been a good idea except there weren’t any TOps to ask, they’d all finished apart from one and he was driving the other train. As the closest we ever got was passing each other at around 50kph there was little chance to discus practice.

Fortunately there were station staff on both platforms to signal me out, I offloaded my last passengers at Waterloo and waited to stable the train. After five minutes with no movement I called the signals who told me that they were waiting for a train to vacate the sidings so I could take it’s place. Ten minutes later I was still sitting there and only then did someone bother to tell me that I was supposed to leave my train on the platform for the manager to put away, walk into the sidings, take the train everybody was waiting for up to Bank, shut it down and go home.

Did I mention I hate the W&C…….

Thursday 1 March 2012

Take the 257 bus to Stratford and.....

Tuesday started well, the first day when it’s been warm and sunny enough to leave the cab door open, switch into Coded Manual and enjoy a quick trip round the HAI-WOO loop. Sadly after that it all went horribly wrong; at WAN there was a “next platforms and hold” call for all WB trains LES-LIS and all EB trains WHC-LIS for a signal failure. Now signal failures usually happen at a single signal so it’s either in one direction or the other, in order for both directions to be brought to a halt this was obviously a major malfunction.

I made my way up to LES, pulled into Plat. 2 and after about ten minutes it was announced over the station PA that the Line was suspended between LES and MAA though we didn’t receive confirmation of that over the train radio until a lot later. I spent the next hour or so explaining the situation to the passengers and trying to direct them towards their destinations. A good proportion of those I spoke to were trying to go EB; during that time three trains were reversed off Plat. 1, two to EPP and one empty to HAI depot while from Plat. 3 a solitary HAI via NEP came in from LEY.

Eventually we were given the all clear and I took the train up to WER. I had just over half an hour until my next train which was enough time to squeeze in a meal relief but obviously my next train was running very late. Fortunately the TOp on the next train in was due to get off but the TOp supposed to be relieving them was still out on the line somewhere so that train was quickly changed into mine and I was able to start my second half only a few minutes down.

I must have been one of the few TOps not claiming overtime that night.