Sunday 24 June 2012

Still very peaceful even though the last trains were packed and strewn with debris when I reached the end of the line, evidence of a damn good night up West. There were a few staff shortages on the station side, a couple of stations were unstaffed for a couple of nights and Sunday morning MIE was closed, hopefully that will not be the case come the end of July.

Back to the bus strike and a few more details I picked up since Friday. The bus companies tabled an offer at ACAS on Thursday, £17 extra per shift worked on routes that served Olympic venues, which if the drivers had worked for all 29 days of the Olympics and Paralympics and worked those routes every day would make just short of the £500 they are asking for.

The obvious problem with that is like us lot at LUL the bus drivers work to a rota with set rest days and like us I would imagine that there is a legal limit on how many days you can work before you have to have a day off. Another flaw is that it won’t just be the “Olympic” routes that will be busy, it hardly seems likely that the spectators are going to come to London, go to the events they have tickets for then go straight back home without doing a bit of sightseeing and shopping.

The cost of the bonuses was first estimated by TfL to be around £12m but since then various figures have been bandied about. Between them the private bus companies make around £2bn profit in London, £12m doesn’t seem much for industrial peace, “chickenfeed” as Boris would say.

Boris condemned Unite, saying “It is disgraceful that the financial package we have brokered, offering extra cash for bus drivers, has not even been put to members” while Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy declared “It is now clear that the leadership of Unite were intent on a strike all along”.

Unite first raised this issue 9 months ago and after being refused negotiations they announced their intention to ballot for strike action on May 10th. TfL and the bus operators could have talked to the union at any time in the intervening six weeks but finally chose to do so with less than 48 hours left. Even then Unite were prepared to negotiate at ACAS, to me it seems that if anyone was trying to avoid a strike it was the union while TfL and the bus operators have done as little as possible.

That’s just my opinion but it’s my blog, so there. As far as the Olympics are concerned I wish we’d never got them, what with cricket, Wimbledon and the rest I think we’ve got more than enough sport in London over the summer. I think the regeneration of the site at Stratford has been a gigantic waste of money and will do little to improve the lives of those currently living in the area. I certainly don’t want to watch West Ham from the wrong side of a running track, God help us if we do end up moving there.

I can’t wait until it’s all over and we can get back to normal.

Friday 22 June 2012

So far this week has been as uneventful as last but in transport-related news a large number of London’s 20000 bus drivers are on strike today over a bonus payment for the Olympics, something every other public transport worker in the capital is getting but they are not.

Unite have been trying to negotiate with London’s 21 private bus operators for months but they couldn’t even get them to meet to discuss matters. After he was re-elected Mayor Unite urged Boris to step in and settle the dispute but he turned down the request stating that as the bus drivers weren’t TfL employees this was between them and their employers. The bus companies countered that they paid a set fee to TfL to run the routes and that any additional staff costs should be covered by TfL. It is estimated that the bonus would cost between £12m and £14m.

With little alternative Unite balloted for a strike, on 9th June, a month after they’d asked Boris to step in, they announced the result to be 90% in favour and six days later they announced a strike for today. On Wednesday Boris announced that the ODA had suddenly found £8.3m to partly pay for the bonuses but that it would only be available if there was no strike.

Yesterday the unions went to ACAS to negotiate but apparently the bus companies failed to appear. With the strike still on Boris changed his tune, saying that the money would only be paid to drivers who worked on Friday and that the strike must be political driven by hard-line union militancy. Well he would, wouldn’t he.

So who should pay for the bonus? I would have thought that was obvious, whoever gets the extra revenue from the flood of passengers expected during the Olympics. If it’s split between the TfL and the bus companies then they should share the burden proportionally. Or am I being too logical

An interesting coincidence is that earlier this week TfL announced that the pointless cable car across the Thames at North Greenwich will open soon. When Boris first announced his plans for this he promised that it wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a penny but when private finance failed to support the scheme he siphoned off £60m from TfL’s budget. So he’ll pay for a cable car the private sector thinks is not worth investmenting in but won’t pay for London’s bus drivers to deal with hordes of extra passengers.

One of Boris’s first acts as Mayor back in 2008 was to ban alcohol on the buses and Tubes which as you all know has been a complete and utter success.


Monday 18 June 2012

Last week was totally devoid of incident which was welcome after the traumas of the week before. The only thing of note was that I was issued with an Olympics pack which consist of two booklets, a special Olympic Hi-Vi to be worn between for the duration of the Games and a limited edition badge.

One book is from TfL giving details of the services that will be running during the Games, how to get to the various venues, ticket prices and a guide to step free access while the other is from the Olympic Delivery Authority with details of the various sporting events and the venues. I’m sure these will be very useful to the station staff but not a lot of good for a TOp stuck up the front of a train and only making contact when we change ends, to the best of my knowledge there are no events at Epping or West Ruislip. As TOps rarely wear Hi-vis unless we are walking in and out of depots and sidings it’s unlikely we’ll be seen by the public in our special Olympic vestments and the badge, well, it’s a badge.

With this pack comes a letter advising us that after the Games we can keep these items as mementoes but if not we should hand them back, it doesn’t take a master’s degree to work out they mean don’t stick them on eBay. Not that I would but there’s always the possibility I could accidently leave them with the ex-Mrs.Shrugged……….

Friday 8 June 2012

The Central Line hadn’t resumed when I booked on but to my surprise they were talking about sending test trains through the section that had been flooded and around 4:30pm we were given the all clear. Considering the amount of damage the water is reported to have done the job the engineers did in getting the whole thing working again in just over 24 hours is quite staggering, not that anyone working outside the railway industry seems to appreciate that.

We continued to run shuttles between EPP-LES, HAI-WOO and WHC-WER while starting up a HAI-EAB service as all the TOps were now in the wrong place; for example had it been a normal day I should have been somewhere around MAA WB but instead I was at WOO EB. With the evening peak upon us this was no time to start the herculean task of trying to get everyone back where they should be so we stuck with what we had and got on with the business of moving people around London.

Boris apparently wants a word with Thames Water, presumably his opening sentence will be “Don’t do anything near a Tube line in the last week of July and the first two weeks of August”. I'm off until Tuesday, happy travellin'.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Tuesday was another 6-pipe monster but by the time I booked on the Jubilee celebrations had moved from St. Paul’s Cathedral and were centred around Westminster so we didn’t see much in the way of crowds on the Central. Despite that the automated PAs at STP continued to exhort passengers to use the full length of the platform and not block the entrance though there were never more than half a dozen people waiting for a train each time I went through. It rained, more people got wet and ATP/ATO did its usual thing of stopping wherever it felt like.

And so to Wednesday. I started with a trip round the loop to WOO but as soon as I got on the train there was a “platforms and hold” call from Wood Lane on the WB for signalling problems between STR and MIE and by the time I reached HAI we were shut down between LES and LIS, later ammended to LES-BEG. A water main had burst and water was pouring down the Old Ford fan shaft leaving an 800 yard stretch of tunnel under four foot of water. When I got to WOO I was told to put my train in the sidings and head back to LES for instructions.

After that I did some LES-EPP shuttles but it was obvious that there was no possibility of getting the service back before the close of traffic or beyond. I was told that they couldn’t just pump the area out as if the water has got behind the walls the pressure could cause a collapse. Obviously electricity and water are not good companions so there’s a lot of trackside equipment that will need replacing and reports were that everything in the sub-station down there went bang in a big way. Expect this one to go on for a while longer.

TfL did manage to find some spare buses to put on a rail replacement service which is quite a feat as unlike the days when the buses were publicly run the private operating companies don’t have a great deal of spares hanging around for such occasions. The last time they did was for the Millennium when spare buses would sit in Stratford and North Greenwich bus stations waiting to ferry people to and from the Dome should the Jubilee Line fail.

To compound matters there are engineering works between BEG and MAA planned for the weekend, if we are up and running by then I’d be surprised. I’ve got a four day weekend coming up and was hoping to spend some time up town getting all cultural; bloody Tube, never works when you want it to………

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Another long day and not a good one; a serious signal failure at QUE had made a complete mess of the timetable and when I booked on we were running HAI-EAB with shuttle services between EPP-LES and WER-WHC. By the time I took over one of the EPP-LES trains the Techs were on the track trying to fix things, shutting down the line between MAA and WHC. When I reached WOO EB for the second time Wood Lane proudly announced that the problem had been solved but then halfway between DEB and THB we got a noticeably sulky retraction.

Sometime while I was on “grub” the problem was finally fixed but with trains and TOps all over the place there were delays and extended intervals. At MAA EB I was told that I would be held for about five minutes by the Group Station Manager, the Station-side equivalent of our TOMs, as the next train was 15 minutes behind me and with all the extra people up in town for the Jubilee celebrations that would be long enough for the station to become overcrowded.

On the plus side it didn’t rain much but it was getting quite cold when I walked off to get the bus and we had very few trains running with a lot of people wanting to get home. Bring on the Olympics!

Monday 4 June 2012

Most weekend shifts are long ones in order to reduce the number of people working and mine was a 6-pipe eight hour job with a half hour break in the middle. While the river pageant was on it was pretty much like any other Sunday, not much going on and not many people around but afterwards it got a lot more crowded, not M-F peak levels, just a noticeable increase in the number of wet people dressed in red, white and blue, waving flags, steaming gently as they dried on the platform.

Friday 1 June 2012

Not much happening though there does seem to be a lot of trains breaking down at the moment. On Tuesday I went to LIS with a Train Tech and a TOSM to take one with suspension problems out of the sidings and round to HAI depot via GRH, a long journey when you are limited to 32kph with the EB stacking up behind you. We had delays yesterday but that was mostly down to passengers being taken ill, pulling down handles and having altercations with each other; must be the weather.

Although both TOp unions have agreed a deal for the Olympics there is still a great deal of confusion over what the situation is about working the longer and later shifts. Word going round the depot is that discussions between union and management continue in an attempt to sort out the mess. I will keep you informed as and when I hear anything definite.

Two days off and then I’m back on Sunday for the Jubilee weekend; should be a giggle.