Friday 31 October 2014

The Standard, LBC and other news sites are making a lot of noise over the forthcoming RMT strike ballot on the Northern Line in support of the TOp who got sacked for drinking even though his type 2 diabetes could have produced an inaccurate reading.  What they all seem to have missed is that only Morden depot will be balloted, the three depots at the top end of the line will be working normally so apart from a few cancelled trains the strike might go largely unnoticed, especially if the ASLEF TOps at Morden aren't supporting their RMT colleagues.

Saturday 25 October 2014

To the tune of "Blue Moon" by Rogers and Hart, Man City's "Bubbles"

We went and won 2-1
We went and won 2-1
We went and won 2-1

Alternate with this, to the tune of Dean Martin's "Valore"

oh oh oh
oh oh oh
He couldn't score a goal
Cost more than Carlton Cole

Sometimes it's great being a Hammers fan...

Friday 24 October 2014

I had a rather worrying experience last month, as I was booking on the DTSM on the desk gravely informed me that the TOSM wanted a memo explaining why I’d refused to allow a cleaner on my train when I went up the sidings at NOR one evening the previous week.  This came as a bit of a shock as I’ve never refused a cleaner at NOR or anywhere else, quite the contrary I welcome them as some passengers treat the cars like the local tip.  Once I even complained when a cleaner had been lax doing their job, picking up the newspapers but leaving a half eaten box of Kentucky Fried Chicken on the ledge behind the seats.

So we checked to see which duty was driving the train involved at 22:30 and sure enough I was doing that particular duty on that particular day but according to the timetable I would have been somewhere between CHL and STP on my last trip, finishing at LES on the EB around 22:50.  There were no reported delays and I’d not booked any overtime that night so there was no possible way I could have been the guilty party at NOR.  A further inspection of the timetable revealed that there were no booked reversers at NOR at that time of night, the last one is about four hours earlier so any cleaners should have gone home by then.  When we checked that particular train’s schedule in the timetable it does indeed reverse at NOR, at 10:30 in the morning.

You'd think that on a railway the one thing managers should be able to do is tell the time......

Thursday 23 October 2014

TfL have been very busy announcement-wise recently, as well as the driverless trains we’ve had the Bakerloo extension, the Silvertown tunnel and the cycle superhighways.  The Bakerloo extension seems like a reasonable plan, a new tunnel from Elephant & Castle to Lewisham then running over Network Rail’s Hayes Line but there are a couple of points that stood out.

Some questioned why it wouldn’t happen until after 2030, demanding that it should be done earlier but the reason why is quite simple, the Bakerloo doesn’t have enough trains to cover an extension that would nearly double its existing route and they won’t be getting replacements for the 1972s until after 2030.  There’s also the question of signalling, the Bakerloo operates on the most basic coloured light and trip cock system, why build a brand new section of line with outdated signalling that would be replaced in a matter of years?

Another twist is where to put the new trains, there’s about a dozen spaces at London Road next to Lambeth North station, another three in the sidings at the Elephant and Castle – which would probably be lost when the extension was built - but everything else is up at Queen’s Park or Stonebridge Park, if they’re going to extend the line an extra 12 miles or so into South East London then you’re going to need extra sidings down there somewhere.

And then there was the claim that the estimated £3bn cost wouldn’t be shouldered by the tax payer, one of Boris’s most regular jokes that gets rolled out almost every time he announces something.  He claimed that the extension could be funded in the same way that the Northern Line extension to Battersea was but what seems to have slipped his mind is that the only reason the Battersea extension is being built at all is that the developers offered to pay for the Northern Line to come to them.   To the best of my knowledge there currently aren’t any developers offering shedloads of cash for the Bakerloo Line to come to Lewisham or Catford Bridge, we’ve been on the receiving end of Boris’s hopeful punts for private funding before with the cable car and the public ended up forking out £65m for the pleasure.

Rather than jam tomorrow the Bakerloo extension is jam next Tuesday if someone else can afford it so why announce this and all the other future projects?  I believe the answer is legacy; Boris is set to make the move from City Hall to the House of Commons with possibly a view to a future move into No. 10, he desperately wants something that he will be able to parade as a positive result from his eight years in office because nothing he’s done so far has been an unqualified success.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Over the last year or two I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the 97 bus which runs from the end of my road to the Westfield in Stratford.  I’m no great lover of the place unlike the ex-Mrs shrugged who regularly calls upon me to push her around in her wheelchair but it does have a Vue cinema that does early screenings.  Old Father shrugged was a cinema manager in the 50s and 60s so I grew up with films, I enjoy the experience of sitting in the dark without any distractions, just the story unravelling before me on the vast screen, infinitely better than sitting at home watching a DVD where the narrative can be interrupted by the pause button while you answer the phone or get another cup of tea. Imagine going to a gig and asking the band to stop halfway through a number while you went to the toilet or popped outside for a fag.

The obvious problem is that some cinema patrons seem incapable of simply switching off, letting go and fully immersing themselves in the experience, they need to chat, keep their mobiles on and eat the noisiest food available.  Thankfully early screenings are not particularly well attended so I am able to watch films with little intrusion from the philistine herd and there have even been a few occasions when I’ve been the only person in the room. 

But I digress, back to the 97 bus.  A while ago the route changed, rather than going east from the bus station it now goes west around the shopping centre, past the Olympic stadium (we’ll never fill it), past Stratford International station and then up to Chobham Academy, a veritable tour of area currently under development.  Sitting on the top deck looking out at the new landscape I got the distinct feeling that something was wrong and it took me a while to work out what it was.

Everything is new.

London is made up of a mixture of old and new, we’ve got buildings from the last 100 years snuggled next to the Victorian, the Georgian and in some case the Medieval but everything in the E20 postcode has been built in the last few years, not a single scrap of anything pre-Olympics to be seen over a vast area, history has been eradicated.  The roads are wide and worryingly straight, with spacious pavements and plenty of green open spaces, it just doesn’t feel like London, more like someone has dropped Milton Keynes or some other new town in the middle of East London (not the East End, it’s the wrong side of the River Lea).  It’s alien, unnatural, it isn’t London.

It’s only when the bus crosses the bridge by Drapers Field and I’m confronted by Edwardian terraces that I feel as if I’m back on native soil. There were no pubs that I could see although there are spaces for shops at the bottom of the developments around Chobham Academy, one of which was emblazoned with a banner inviting onlookers to imagine a wine bar there.  I tried and the results were somewhat less than awe-inspiring but I could imagine that the rents on those retail spaces will be slightly more than those on the High Road so we won’t see them filled by anything like Pritesh News, the Eccentric Pearl Hair, Beauty and Health Studio or the Leyton Foot Clinic.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

I’ll start with an apology, writing my last post on the proposed changes to station staffing was very interesting and quite fun, it was only when I revisited it later that I realised how dull it was to read.  To my colleague who asked me if I was ASLEF shrugged yesterday please accept my assurances you have never featured in my blog, you were none of the people I mentioned in the past, possibly the lack of nicotine is making you paranoid…….

The picture on driverless trains has become a little clearer, everything seems to suggest that until all the old trains have been replaced and PEDs have been fitted where necessary and/or possible the new trains will have a temporary cab with a TOp driving.  For the Piccadilly this will mean the first new train entering service around 2022 but driverless operation not commencing for three years with a similar pattern on the other lines so the Bakerloo could still be operating with TOps in the cab well into the 2030s.

Rather than my initial idea that TOps would be displaced from the lines being converted gradually as the new driverless trains were introduced this will mean that LU will need a full roster of TOps one day and the next they’ll be surplus to requirement.  The problem is retaining staff, in order to have enough TOps to keep the service running LU will have to fill vacancies due to retirement etc. even though they’ll be going NoPO in the near future.

For those TOps in their late 50s and 60s voluntary redundancy becomes quite an attractive option but imagine you are a TOp in your 30s or 40s on a line that is going driverless in the next five years or so.  If you want to carry on working at LUL then obviously you’re going to put in a transfer request to a line that will need TOps in the future, as will all your colleagues faced with a similar dilemma.  So how does LU stop a mass exodus that would leave them without enough TOps?

The answer is that we've been in this situation before, prior to closing the East London Line management did a deal with the unions, they got the TOps to stay until the end by offering them a large wedge of cash and guaranteeing them future employment.  Shortly after the ELL closed a large number of the displaced TOps moved to LES, they were sat around doing nothing for months as none of them were licensed to work 1992 stock and we didn’t have enough IOps to train them all at once.  There wasn’t enough space for all the new arrivals so LU put some portacabins in the car park which became know as “Sangatte”.

For myself it means that I’ll probably be retiring while the Central Line is in the process of conversion so I’ll miss out on any large redundancy package but as Granny shrugged would have said you don’t miss what you never had.  What it does mean is that a year or two before I retire I will probably need to be retrained to drive a driverless train which is ironic almost to the point of peeing myself.

Friday 10 October 2014

There have been quite a few developments over the last month and as RMT were about to go on strike again I thought I’d share what I’d discovered about the future of station staffing.  Since I started writing they called the strike off but it still gives a bit of background of what the “ticket office closures” actually means.  Here’s how the stations on the eastern end of the Central Line will be affected and this appears to be a fair example of what is happening everywhere.

Apologies if my maths is wrong at any point, that's probably why I never went into the ticket office...

Let’s start with Epping.  Its currently home to five Station Supervisor 3s, one full time and two part time SAMFs in the ticket office with two part time CSAs working the barriers but in future there will only be four CSS2s.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure if the SS3s will automatically become CSS2s, they’re on pretty much the same money so let’s assume they do so they’re staying but the SAMFs and CSAs are being moved.  Theydon Bois, Debden and Buckhurst Hill each have four SS3s who will be replaced by four CSS2s plus Debden will also get two full time CSAs where they currently only have one part timer.  Buckhurst Hill and Debden also have a part time SAMF each.   Adding those to the ones from Epping that’s one SS3, three part time CSAs, one full time and four part time SAMFs who have been evicted.

Loughton is staffed by five SS2s who would have to take a £5k wage cut if they took the CSS2 jobs that will replace them.  Those five stations will be grouped into an “Area” and will be overseen by four mobile CSM3s so for arguments sake let’s say that four of those five SS2s will now step into those jobs.  In addition Loughton will lose a full time and a part time SAMF with 2 part time CSAs.  So we have vacancies for five CSS2s at Loughton and two CSAs at Debden while we have an SS2, an SS3, five part time CSAs, two full time and five part time SAMFs displaced.  Let’s assume that the SS3 from Epping gets one of the CSS2 spots at Loughton and that both the full time SAMFs pass the training for CSS2, that leaves………..

Area Vacancies; 2 CSS2, 2 CSA1
Area Surplus: 1 SS2, 5 part time SAMF, 5 part time CSA.
Area total; -7

Let’s take the stretch from Roding Valley to Barkingside, another Area overseen by four mobile CSM3s and conveniently Hainault has four SS2s ready and waiting to fill those positions.  The other stations will remain pretty much as they are, four SS3s transform into four CSS2s apart from Grange Hill where they currently have five SS3s, one of which is no longer needed.  Hainault also has a part time SS2, a part time SAMF, three full time and a part time CSAs all of which will be replaced by five CSS2s and three part time CSAs.  Move the spare SS3 one stop to a CSS2 at Hainault and we have....

Area Vacancies: 4 CSS2, 2 part time CSA1
Area Surplus: 1 part time SS2, 1 part time SAMF, 3 CSA
Area Total: +1

Newbury Park has four SS3s that will be replaced by CSS2s with five CSAs and a part time CSA who will all be staying but we can add a full time and a part time SAMF to the list of the homeless.  Gants Hill, Redbridge and Wanstead are Section 12s, combined they are home to 14 full time and one part time SS2s which in future will be reduced to 13 full time and three part time CSS1s.  There will be four extra CSA place in addition to the existing staff but with four full time and four part time SAMFs leaving.  The Area will have four CSM3s one of which might be the left over SS2.

Area Vacancies: 3 CSM3, 2 part time CSS1, 4 CSA1
Area Surplus: 1 SAMF, 1 part time SAMF
Area Total: +7

The next Area is Woodford to Leyton, currently we have 8 SS2s, 12 SS3s, 10 full time and 2 part time SAMFs with 25 CSAs.  In future you’ll have four mobile CSM3s, 21 CSS2s with 12 full time and four part time CSAs. 

Area Vacancies; 4 part time CSAs. 
Area Surplus; 4 SS2s, 1 SAMFs, 2 part time SAMFs, 13 CSAs.
Area Total: -16

Stratford is a Jubilee Line station and its staffing level will remain mostly unchanged apart from losing 14 full time and 2 part time SAMFs so there’s no room at the inn for any of our Central Line refugees.

Mile End and Bethnal Green have 10 full time and one part time SS2s, 9 full time and 2 part time SAMFs, 9 full time and one part time CSAs.  That will become 9 CSM2s, two part time CSS1s, 13 full time and 2 part time CSA1s with 2 part time CSA2, the new “customer facing” grade.

Area Vacancies; 1 part time CSS1s, 4 CSA1, 1 part time CSA1, 2 part time CSA2,
Area Surplus; 1 SS2, 9 SAMFs, 2 part time SAMFs
Area Total: -4

Along with the rostered staff who work a specific station there is also the Group Reserves who cover holidays, training and sickness, that currently stands at 37 SS2s, 12 full time and 2 part time SAMFs, 21 full time and 1 part time CSAs.  Under future arrangements that will now be 3 CSM2s, 4 CSM3s, 5 CSS1s, 26 CSS2s and 22 CSA1s.

Reserve vacancies: 14 CSS2s, 1 CSA1s.
Reserve surplus: 25 SS2s, 2 part time SAMFs, 1 part time CSAs.
Reserve total -13

So when we put all the vacancies and surpluses together, be a little optimistic and saying that the SAMFs all qualify as CSS2s then this is what we end up with the following...

Total Vacancies: 9 CSS2, 3 part time CSA1, 2 part time CSA2,
Total surplus; 28 SS2s, 13 part time SAMF, 5 CSAs
Total -32

Obviously things aren’t going to be as simple or straightforward as I've suggested, not all the SAMFs are going to walk into CSS2 positions, we don’t know how many of the existing position are currently vacant or how many staff have taken redundancy packages but it gives us an idea of just how much shuffling around there’s going to be.  LU claims that bringing the SAMFs out of their ticket offices will mean more staff to help passengers and in this case there are 38 full time and 15 part time SAMF positions that would give us an extra 21 staff on the stations despite losing 32 staff but 35 of those new jobs are management grades who will probably spend more time in an office dealing with admin that helping with customer service.

What is noticeable is the large number of SS2s no longer required. all on £47k, unlikely to want to downgrade and take a pay cut in order to fill the CSS2 posts.  Apart from that we’re left with a lot of part timers with nowhere to go, possibly some of them can go full time but from my own experience most people go part time for a reason and if they can’t take up a full time position then they’re pretty much screwed.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

From the notices that went up yesterday it seems that management have conceded on almost every issue ASLEF raised so In future they will abide by the agreed procedures on sickness, days off and TOp errors that apply to the whole of the Tube rather than making up the rules for the Central Line themselves.  Any cases that weren’t dealt with by the proper procedures will be reviewed, the “prompt dispatch” experiment will be terminated and our refresher training will stay at five days rather than being cut to four.

We will also be getting more TOps although there’s no mention of trying to reduce the amount of unwanted overtime caused by late running which is rather strange when you consider the emphasis they’ve been putting on saving money recently.  I guess the inconvenience to passengers of having trains break down while in service and the subsequent delays isn’t as important as claiming that we’re running more trains than ever.

One interesting item at the end of the notice that caught my eye was “ASLEF have agreed a number of meetings at director level to police this agreement”.  To me that suggests if we find ourselves in disagreement we can go straight to the top which could be seen as an admission that Central Line management provoked an unnecessary strike by their dictatorial attitude and senior managers are keen to avoid any repetition.

Another view going around the mess rooms is that this was a test to see what would happen if management tried to be “flexible” with our agreements and the Central Line was a guinea pig for the rest of the Tube.  If that was the case then management have discovered this guinea pig has got bloody sharp teeth and they might need a tetanus shot.

Monday 15 September 2014

Yesterday was a fine example of how our timetable isn’t working.  As I was waiting for my train at LES WB a train pulled into Plat. 1 with a defect and while the Train Technician tried to sort it out everything was running through Plat. 2.  That would have been fine except the TOp on the second WB train was about to start their meal break and as there was no relief available they’d been told by Wood Lane to leave the train in Plat. 2 while everything ran WB through Plat. 1, except Plat. 1 was now blocked by the defective train.

When the TT declared that the train on Plat. 1 couldn’t remain in service the TOp swapped with the train on Plat. 2 and the service started up again after a delay of about 10 minutes, which didn’t please the TOp on the train behind who I was waiting to relieve so they could start their meal break.  Needless to say that a ten minute gap in the service on a Sunday lunchtime meant that the platforms were packed which slowed things down, I only had twelve minutes turnaround at WER so by the time I arrived I should have been leaving.

Not that it mattered much, there was no one to relive me at LOU on the WB so instead of going up to EPP and back I tipped out at LOU on the EB and went into the sidings.  After my meal break I went looking on Trackernet for my second train but rather being somewhere around MIE heading EB to EPP it was in the sidings at WOO as there hadn’t been a TOp available to cover the duty that I was due to relieve.  So I rode the cushions to WOO and sat on the train until it was time to go WB.

The whole point of this timetable was to deliver a more frequent service at weekends but it is obviously failing.  Around the time I tipped out at LOU yesterday there should be one train every five minutes but the train behind me was 13 minutes away which would have left a 20 minute gap between trains and as we'd not had any delays for signal failures etc. that can only have been down to cancelled trains.  Perhaps what management need to be is a little less ambitious and a little more realistic about what the rolling stock and staffing levels can deliver.

Despite the problems with this timetable they are already working on next, to be introduced in autumn next year with 24 hour running on Fridays and Saturdays that will need even more TOps.  The original intention was to run a 15 minute service between HAI and EAB though I’ve heard that they are considering running up to EPP as well.  Considering the mess we're in I suspect that late night revellers staggering homeward in the wee small hours could find themselves waiting up to half an hour for a “Night Tube”.

You may ask why I’m bothered and part of me isn’t, I get paid the same regardless of the service although I’d rather finish my duty when I’m supposed to than have to keep claiming overtime. But there is another part that wants to be proud of the job I do, proud of the company I work for and as a Londoner, a tax payer and a regular passenger I want the Tube to deliver the best service it can.

Sunday 14 September 2014

One of the issues we went on strike over was the current timetable which is proving to be somewhat less than workable.  Under the new timetable there are more trains running after the evening peak and at the weekends which sounds fine but because the trains are spending more time out on the line they aren’t spending enough time in the depots for the maintenance crews to carry out all the work that is needed.

Consequently trains are going into service with minor faults which develop into major faults and the number of faulty trains being taken out of service has rocketed.  For myself I’ve had to take a train empty to the depot three times this year when it used to be an annual occurrence at most.  This means all of us are spending more time stuck in the tunnels and platforms behind faulty trains which obviously leads to running late.

The new timetable also has shorter “turnaround time”, the gap in the timetable between arriving and leaving our destination which means there is more chance of us leaving late if we’ve been delayed for any reason.  What hasn’t helped is that Wood Lane seem reluctant to “short trip” in the event of late running, say making an EPP train into a DEB or a LOU to get the train back on time on the WB.  This has led to is a rise in shortened meal reliefs and late finishing, something I’ve mentioned here before as I’ve probably put in more claims for overtime in the last year than in the previous ten.

Another contributing factor is the number of new TOps that have arrived on the Central line, some from other lines, others coming up from stations as they try to prune the numbers prior to reorganisation.  What has been noticeable is that a lot of them seem to be struggling with faults and I had heard that stock training – where we learn how the train works and how to get it moving when it develops a fault – has been shortened.

If this is true it can only exacerbate the delays given the number of faults we’re getting but when you also consider the RAIB’s recent comments on training its quite disturbing; if they’re struggling with simple faults how are they going to deal with something major?  A smaller issue is that with so few trains in the depots there are times when there simply isn’t one available for our 5-day refresher and there are some things you just can’t do on a computer simulator.

Despite all the new faces around we still don’t have enough TOps to cover all the duties, I’ve worked the last three Saturdays in a row and three times I’ve been told to put my train away early as there wasn’t anyone available to take me off when I reached WHC at the end of my first half – not that I object to having an extended meal break.  What is annoying is when you have to take the train to the nearest sidings after you’re supposed to have finished then make your way back to your home depot and claim for yet more overtime.

I’m certainly looking forward to finding out what ASLEF and management agreed to on these issues.

Saturday 13 September 2014

On Thursday things did not look good, there had been little progress at ACAS, management were still trying to wriggle out of their commitments and we were all getting ready to lose another day’s money.  The rumour was that the only thing they had agreed to was to not reduce our five day refresher course to four days which wasn’t much as only a few weeks ago the Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s report into last year's incident at Holland Park had recommended more training rather than less.

All that seems to have changed in the space of 24 hours, last night we got word that “after developments at talks” we were “in a position to suspend the strike”, although “suspend” suggests that not everything has been settled and if management try to do a “Nortious Maximus” on us the way they did on stations the strike could be back on again.  Fingers crossed.

While we’re on the subject of strikes I would urge you all to go see “Pride”, a thoroughly wonderful film about the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign back in 1984 with Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and the bloke who plays Moriarty in Sherlock.  I got terribly nostalgic, not just because I was in my 20s with hair and a waistline but also it reminded me of the sense of unity I felt back then.  It didn’t matter if you were gay, black, trade unionist, feminist, socialist or whatever, if you were anything other than “normal” Thatcher had declared war on us and we were all “the enemy within”.

I wonder if I’ve still got my “Coal not dole” badge……..

Monday 1 September 2014

Rather than going on strike RMT has called on station staff to stop doing overtime and to refuse any further training.  Now the intended effects of the overtime ban are pretty straight forward, in advance of cutting 953 jobs some positions have become vacant when staff retire or leave but until the proposed changes come in they still have to be filled.  If those duties aren’t covered then some stations could be left short-staffed, if those stations are Section 12s and they fall below minimum staffing level they’d have to close.  That sounds quite serious but there have been overtime bans in the past and while they’ve led to some of the smaller open section stations being left without any staff I can’t remember a single Section 12 shutting.

I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure what effect the refusal to carry out training will have although I think the idea is that the SSs, SACRs and SAMFs who are supposed to mutate into CSMs and CSSs won’t be licensed to carry out the duties required of them when the proposed changes are introduced.  The only thing I can think of is a farmer unharnessing a horse from a plough in order to harness it to a cart but instead of obediently walking across the farmyard the horse lies down and refuses to move.  Does the farmer just keep pulling on the reins while repeatedly telling the horse that it needs to be “flexible” or does he have the brains to offer the horse a rather large bag of carrots?

Thursday 28 August 2014

It seems that Central Line senior managers are still away on their hols as so far there’s been no further attempt to avert another strike, hopefully between unpacking their bags and shaking the sand out of their shoes they'll make time to talk to ASLEF over the next three weeks.  In the meantime there's trouble a-brewing over on the Northern Line where a TOp with 29 years on the job has been sacked for failing a breathalyser test.  Now that in itself wouldn’t be a big issue, we’ve lost a few TOps on the Central for breaches of LUL’s drugs & alcohol policy and while their departure was sad we all accepted that their dismissal was inevitable but in Alex McGuigan’s case there’s a twist.

Like a growing number of people in the UK he suffers from type 2 diabetes which the Tube’s own Occupational Health department admit can lead to a false reading on a breathalyser, making it appear that someone had alcohol in their system when they’d not been drinking.  LUL could have tested his urine sample which is used to look for substances other than alcohol but instead they’ve sacked him on the basis of the flawed breathalyser evidence.

Obviously RMT are fighting his corner but if management follow their usual policy of pig-headed inflexibility then we could see a strike on the Northern Line sometime before the end of the year.  We could see one over on the Piccadilly Line a lot sooner; RMT are holding a strike ballot over “cross line working” although I have no idea exactly what that means or whether ASLEF are also in dispute.  It certainly seems that at this moment a lot of TOps on a lot of lines are not happy bunnies.

Sunday 24 August 2014

It seems that there was a belief among management - and from comments made on here certain RMT members - that ASLEF TOps were somehow adverse to going on strike, that many of the members who had defected from the RMT in order to avoid going on strike would also cross the picket line on this occasion and that as ASLEF TOps had worked when RMT were on strike in the past RMT TOps would do the likewise on Friday.  If that was the case then on Friday we disabused the hell out of them. 

During the RMT strikes apart from a gap from MAA to WHC we were running a service, on Friday at best there was WHC to EAB in the west with EPP to MIE in the east but that later shrank to EPP-LES and finally there were no service on the east end of the line at all.  One explanation of why so many RMT TOps worked during their own strikes is that they weren’t prepared to lose a day’s pay when the number of stations open suggested that plenty of station staff were unwilling to go on strike themselves whereas Friday’s strike was over issues that affected all Central Line TOps regardless of their affiliation. 

Okay, let’s get this straight, no one on our side wants a strike, we don’t actually want to lose a day’s pay, we’d be a lot happier if we could just get on with things but as management seem unwilling to negotiate we are left with little choice, the only alternative is accepting that management can change our terms and conditions whenever they feel like it.  We don’t want anything extra, we’re not striking for more money or more days off or free caviar and  chips at the canteens, we just want management to honour the agreements they made with the unions on a whole raft of issues.  We have a system, it wasn't broken but they chose to fix it. 

From mess room whispers it seems that one of the problems with the negotiations is that most of the senior managers responsible for this mess aren’t actually directly involved in the talks as they’re off on holiday.  When an agreement was reached the managers had to call someone on a beach somewhere who would then say that it was unacceptable.  Allegedly our new General Manager Chris Taggart doesn’t like unions and thinks all agreements should be discarded, like the new sheriff riding into town declaring that there was going to be a change around here, somehow forgetting that in those movies the townsfolk invariably descend on the sheriff’s office with flaming torches and a noose. 

Hopefully the effectiveness of Friday’s strike gives management cause to soften their hardline attitude, we held a strike on the Friday before Bank Holiday when plenty of our regular commuters were off, the next one will be on a Wednesday when everyone will be back.  Another thing to consider is that the strike may spread, the Piccadilly, District and Jubilee Lines all have their own separate grievances, they could also ask for a strike ballot and it wouldn’t be too hard to arrange all the strikes on the same day.  With RMT and TSSA increasingly unhappy with the negotiations on station staffing this could just keep getting bigger and bigger, perhaps this might not be the best time to prod the sleeping bear with a stick.

Hopefully over the next three weeks someone suddenly has a serious attack of sense but that doesn’t seem to be high on the list of attributes required for LUL managers compared to the ability to bury one’s head in the sand on a beach in Cancun.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Between endless free publicity for Cara Delevingne and regaling us with Evgeny Lebedev’s latest adventures someone at the Evening Standard finally noticed yesterday that there was trouble brewing on the Central Line.  Not that they did much more than regurgitate the Newham Recorder’s piece which was itself filched from the Morning Star whose current circulation consists of the members of the Communist Party of Britain and a dog called Kevin although I’m told it actually sells more on a Thursday thanks to its poetry column.

Yesterday's talks at ACAS seem to have been as unproductive as at previous meetings so both parties are back around the table again today with the clock ticking and I’m certainly getting the feeling that tomorrow I’m going to lose a day’s pay.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Yesterday’s meeting doesn’t appear to have been productive so today ASLEF and Central Line management will be taking the dispute to ACAS.  For myself that is a reason to be cheerful, usually ACAS tell LUL that they should abide by any existing agreements with the unions and by flouting those agreements they’ve been behaving like a collection of troublesome 8 year olds.

If things aren’t settled at ACAS then the strike on Friday will come as a bit of a shock to our passengers as it’s still being ignored by the major news networks.  I can only assume that either the media drones at 55 have decided that as its only one line it’s not worth their precious time or everyone has gone on holiday.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

The Morning Star got in on the act but fell at the first hurdle by initially saying that the strike is on Thursday although it has since corrected it's error.  It gave comments from “London Underground’ general manager Lance Ramsey” who describes the strike as “unnecessary”.  While that sounds predictably management-like the Central and Waterloo & City Line general manager is Chris Taggart, there is a Lance Ramsay, not Ramsey, he’s actually Bakerloo Line general manager but at the moment he’s covering as head of the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines.

Newham Recorder joined the party around 1pm, basically a "cut and paste" of the Morning Star  but at least they got Lance Ramsay's name right.

Monday 18 August 2014

It appears that I wasn’t first to break the news, Auxsetreq announced it on their blog – I didn’t even know they had one – and ASLEF district organiser Finn Brennan made comments on his Twitter and Facebook.  Now ASLEF have something official up on their website and apparently talks will continue tomorrow.

Once again as soon as I hear anything further I will let you know.

Addenda 19:30

We have a winner, LBC are the first news agency to mention Friday's strike.  Let the games begin!!

Sunday 17 August 2014

Last Wednesday ASLEF got the result of the ballot for strike action on the Central Line and it was supported by 90% although I’ve not heard how many of us voted so we could have the usual suspects whining on about us not having a majority.   A strike has been called for this Friday, 22nd August, with a second on Wednesday 17th September if things aren't sorted out by then.  ASLEF members will not book on between 00:01 and 23:59 which means that unlike the RMT strikes we won’t cause any problems for people getting home the night before but there might be a few first trains missing the following morning.

On Thursday morning our reps met with management to let them know that "the ball was in their court" and that we'd would be willing to call it off at any time as long as there was significant progress but so far we’ve heard nothing further.   There have been no internal announcements from management saying that our action is unnecessary and nothing externally, almost as if the strike is being ignored in the hope it will go away.  I suppose it wouldn’t have filtered through until Friday by which time everyone at 55 Broadway was looking forward to the weekend, no one was thinking about work, they all went down the pub lunchtime so no one was in a fit state to do anything in the afternoon and they’ll get on to it first thing Monday morning.

RMT are not going on strike, they’ve responded by complaining that they raised all the issues we are going on strike over at a meeting this time last year but ASLEF refused to support them – or to put it another way we’re like the USA in both World Wars, turning up late and then claiming all the credit.  Looking back at my somewhat scanty blogging from last year that was when ASLEF were negotiating a settlement to the Boxing Day dispute, something RMT had shown absolutely no interest in until after it was settled when they complained the agreement was less than they’d wanted.

Unless I hear otherwise ASLEF will be on strike this Friday and services on the Central Line could be severely reduced.  Don’t forget you heard it here first because  LUL, TfL, the Mayor of London, the Evening Standard and every other news outlet can't be bothered.

Monday 28 July 2014

“Nortius Maximus his name was, hmmm, promised me the known world he did. I was to be taken to Rome, house by the Forum, slaves, asses’ milk, as much gold as I could eat. Then, he, having his way with me had... voom! Like a rat out of an aqueduct.”

Station staff must be feeling pretty much like Mandy from “Life of Brian”, back in May when the strikes were called off it seemed that RMT and TSSA had done rather well, no pay cuts, no one would have to reapply for their job, there would be discussions on how to minimize disruption with a station by station review of ticket office closures and staffing.   Now it seems that LUL actually meant something entirely different  with management insisting that the ticket offices and staffing levels are not up for negotiation.

As far as disruption goes RMT predict that of the 4720 staff that will be left after the shake up over 3000 will be moved from their current location which by anyone's standards is pretty disruptive.  1200 SAMFs and SACRs, mostly working in Zone 1 stations, will be moving to the outer Zones stations where they will be the only member of staff on duty while every CSA currently at the 125 Local stations will be heading in the opposite direction.

The unions asked exactly how they’d calculated staffing levels, eventually LUL coughed up their “Business Needs Schematic”, a formula constructed by some very expensive consultants and RMT have been kind enough to pass it on through their website.  It seems that any ticket hall where passengers need 18 seconds of assistance in a given 15 minute period, referred to as the “2% utilisation trigger”, requires a member of staff to be in attendance and if the “40% utilisation trigger” is reached, 6 minutes out of 15, then a second member of staff is needed.

Now here’s the twist; all 125 Local stations will be staffed by a lone CSS who LUL admit will only be available in the ticket hall 50% of the time because of their other supervisory duties.  The unions argue that means any ticket hall with 3 minutes of assistance needs a second member of staff which applies to every station during the peak.

The obvious answer is that the CSS would be available in the ticket hall during the peak and carry out their other duties during the rest of their 8 hour shift but anyone who has worked on stations knows that this is not how things work out.  If something needs to be done then the CSS would have to leave the ticket hall unstaffed for however long it took and the punters would have to fend for themselves; so much from customer service.

Another rather nasty twist buried deep in all this is that almost all the part-time positions, mostly staff that have childcare or similar issues, will be scrapped. It seems that the part-timers will be offered full time jobs, possibly miles away from their current location which if they are unable or unwilling to accept then they will have to apply for redundancy.  The slim ray of hope is that if the unions succeed with their claim that all Locals need a second member of staff during the peak those part-timers would offer LUL a cheaper alternative.

According to the unions LUL have admitted that the 953 job cuts were arbitrary and although there isn’t any further explanation of exactly what that means from reading other bits and pieces I think they are saying that the staffing levels do not reflect how busy individual stations are so my best guess is that they’re saying a station classified as Local A gets the same staff as every other Local A regardless of how busy it is.

On their website RMT have the breakdown of the how many staff there are currently work on each line and how many will be there after the reorganisation with each line then broken down into areas.  Every area will suffer some job losses and it seems that LUL’s earlier claim that busier stations would be getting more staff was false, even the six Gateway stations will have less staff.  The unions are also concerned that a lot of Supervisor jobs will be re-graded into management and as a non-operational grade they will no longer be under the remit of the Functional Council.

Unsurprisingly the biggest complaint is over pay, rather than all staff keeping the salary they are currently on as LUL seemed to indicate back in May it now transpires that in order to stay on the same money staff will be required to sit additional assessments with anyone failing to pass facing a pay cut after three years.  In addition they have to accept whatever position and location LUL offers them, if they decline a move to the other side of London then the same pay cut applies.

So apart from Local As being staffed by a CSS rather than a lone CSA1 almost nothing has changed from LUL's original plan.  Sadly while the unions are doing very well arousing the anger of staff they don't seem to be bothering to broadcast what all this reorganisation will mean to the travelling public, the only people who could possibly make LUL reconsider.  Admittedly the unions are never going to get much help getting their side across from the media who they seem perfectly content to simply regurgitate TfL press releases without question and in many cases are positively hostile to unions.

In reply to the unions’ complaint Phil Hufton, LUL’s Chief Operating Officer, said “The only way to resolve the issues raised is to continue talking and not threatening further industrial action”.  If the staff feel like Mandy from “Life of Brian” then he’s a Vogon from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  


Let’s hope he doesn’t want to read us some of his poetry………..

Friday 25 July 2014

Oh dear, it seems that sometime next week I’ll be getting a little brown envelope from the Electoral Commission with a ballot paper inside asking me if I want to go on strike.

As well as many side issues the main area of contention is the treatment of sick TOps, it seems that management think if we are unfit to work as a TOp, even temporarily, they can “terminate” us any time they want but our position is that contractually we get 26 weeks sick pay with 13 weeks in redeployment.

ASLEF asked for a meeting with the Central Line bigwigs to try sort things out and they got round the table on Monday but the whole thing only lasted 10 minutes before ASLEF walked out in disgust.  Sadly this isn’t unexpected, as I’m sure anyone reading my blog will have noticed I’m less than impressed with the standard of management down here, Lord knows what the selection process is like but I suspect having no connection between the ears and the brain must be high on the list of desirable attributes.

If things follow the usual course we can expect a vitriolic attack in the Evening Standard about lazy train drivers holding London to ransom so that they can carry on skiving off because they’ve got the sniffles or have sprained their wrist trying to lift our overstuffed wallets.  LUL will say that the strike is unnecessary, be dragged kicking and screaming to ACAS where they’ll capitulate on everything and we can get back to the business of running a railway.

And some talking pile of warthog’s vomit will call for driverless trains.

On that subject Boris mentioned the “New Train for London” on LBC’s Vanessa Faultz Show as did LUL’s Director of Capital Programs David Waboso CBE (for services to transport and wasting shedloads of money on the Sub Surface Lines signalling upgrade) in the Standard saying how they’d be cooler than the sauna-like conditions our passengers are currently enjoying.  For some reason both of them forgot to mention when they’d be entering service and neither of the interviewers bothered to ask but according to TfL’s latest wish list “The Plan” the hope is that the first NTfL will appear on the Piccadilly in 2021/22.

I bet you feel cooler already.

So how are things on the Central Line?  Bloody awful.  We don’t have enough TOps to run the timetable, putting a train away early because there’s no one to relieve you has become pretty commonplace but in part that is masked by the number of trains developing faults while in service and having to be withdrawn to the depots and sidings.  The lack of “turnaround” time means that the smallest delay leads to late running and I’ve probably filled out more overtime slips in the last six months than I have in the previous ten years.

Wood Lane are a constant source of amusement/irritation, they seem to be in competition with each other on how many times they can say “eastbound” or “westbound” in a single announcement, I counted six a few days ago.  Occasionally there is confusion about which is EB and which is WB or sometimes we get no direction at all, simply left to deduce which trains are being given a “platforms and hold” from where the incident is.  Sometimes we’re left in the dark as to where the problem is or why we are being held which isn't helpful as we're required to make PAs to inform the passengers of the situation after 30 seconds and then keep them updated every 2 minutes.

Despite all that it’s still very nice to trundle up to EPP in CM with the cab door open although there haven’t any more Muntjac sightings.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

In my defence I did say that I have been rather absorbed with life outside of work recently but as Auxsetreq commented after my last post there is something going on.  Two weeks ago both Leytonstone and Western Electric branches voted to ask the ASLEF Executive Council to ballot for strike action on the Central Line. 

On Saturday I hastily jotted down the issues from the notices that have gone up at the depots -

- Incorrect recording and managing of staff errors

- Misuse and abuse of the Case Conference system

- Staff being asked to do overtime

- Prompt dispatch

- Management not dealing with late running issues

- Annual leave not being granted when asked for within the 28 days specified.

- Misinterpretation of LU Occupational Health and Doctors advice

- Timetable issues

- Failure to abide by local agreements

I was certainly aware that there was plenty of late running with the latest timetable and I’ve mentioned it here but for the rest I’ll admit I hadn’t heard anything at all nor can I offer any explanation of how things have reached the stage where we are considering strike action.

I would ask around but I’m on annual leave for the next two weeks, I've spent two days thoroughly enjoying doing absolutely nothing and the only reason I might go into work is to check on the goldfish.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Another period of silence from me mostly because I’ve been busy with other commitments (Old Mother shrugged continues to improve) but also because very little has happened or at least nothing that hasn’t happened before.  We still don’t have enough TOps to cover everything, there is a big problem with absence at one of the depots –it’s currently HAI’s turn - the number of faults on trains while they’re in service is still noticeably higher under the current timetable and there are power still supply problems at various locations.  One nasty one is on the EB approach to SHB where on several occasions all four units have lost motors leaving the train to coast into the platform at a snail's pace before it came to a stop and I could hit the reset button..

The only thing that stands out is the wildlife.  A few weeks ago up towards the rabbit kingdom between DEB-THB I was scanning the trackside for bunnies when I saw something that looked like a deer, about the size of a small dog or a fox.  I did a bit of checking online and found that there have been sightings of Muntjacs in Essex but last week halfway between SNA and LES on the WB I saw another, unmistakeably a small deer climbing up the embankment from the cable run.

Keep your eyes peeled on the EPP branch, animal lovers, there’s Muntjacs about.

Friday 9 May 2014

I must admit I was surprised when RMT said they’d be going ahead with this week’s strike so the news that they’d called it off wasn’t unexpected.  From what is being said  they’ve got LUL to offer the SAMFs and CSAs a similar deal to the one TSSA announced for DSMs and SSs so no one will be facing a pay cut in 2018 if the get downgraded.  Even so Tuesday seemed eerily quiet, perhaps not everyone got the message that the strike was cancelled or maybe they’d not all recovered from the Bank Holiday.

Yesterday everything had gone horribly wrong before I booked on, a train had gone defective at LEY WB, it turned out the ATP controller had failed which meant it wasn’t going to move in ATO or CM so Wood Lane decided that the best thing to do was go to BEG in RM then reverse back over the crossover, a 6.5km trip at 15kph.  My first half was a simple LES-EAB-WHC but my train had been put away in WHC sidings so I was told to go there, bring it out on the EB and hand it over to whoever was relieving me for my meal break.

That would have worked fine except with the delays and disruption it took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to WHC.  I arrived 20 minutes after I was due to come out of the sidings and just over half an hour before I was due to pick up my second half which was possibly the only train running on time.  So my first train stayed in the sidings, I had the shortest allowable meal break and picked up my second half, WHC-NOR-LOU-NOA-HAI via NEP and then back on the cushions to LES.

When I reached NOR I was told to extend up to WER where the train would be taken off me, turned into another train, wait for the train that mine had been turned into and make that into my one.  When I got to WER the train I was to take over was at TCR WB and by the time I eventually left WER I should have been at TCR EB.  When I reached RUG the platform indicators showed the train as only going to NOR, I called up Wood Lane who said they’d spotted the mistake and I was to go to LES but shortly after they’d shortened the trip even further to LIS.

That all went perfectly, I went into the sidings at LIS and came out on the WB back on time.  I wasn’t too late getting to NOA but delays going back EB meant that when I was due to hand over at HAI I was only just arriving at LES.  Fortunately the TOp who was meant to be taking me off at HAI had only started their meal break so a spare had been sent to take me off and run the train round to WOO via HAI so after all that I got away a little earlier than expected.

Which was nice.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

I spent yesterday shuttling between LES and EPP, not quite as monotonous as the W&C or when I did HAI-NEPs during engineering work but after the third of fourth I was certainly heading for “Groundhog Day”.  There were a few RMT TOps skulking around the depot, not wanting to pop outside for a smoke in case their colleagues on the picket line spotted them and I suspect there will be a few more today.  There were a few mutters about switching to ASLEF and I’ve heard that membership forms are in short supply.

TSSA’s decision to stay at the table has damaged the strike's effectiveness, the station staff are despondent enough with the reorganisation, losing more money just doesn’t seem worth it.  The unions will eventually thrash something out with management, RMT will hail it as a great victory and take all the credit for themselves.  Things will get back to normal, staff will get shunted around, the ticket offices will close and then ……..

Fit for the Future: Trains.

To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee “You call that a strike?  THIS is a strike!”

Tuesday 29 April 2014

And we’re off on the Great Strike of 2014 Part 2.  It seems that everyone decided to follow TfL’s advice and get home as soon as they could, the peak was extra busy with passengers cramming themselves on my train like it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic.  When I went back through the Pipe on my second half London seemed deserted but while other lines were reporting delays and serious delays due to strike action the Central seemed to be unaffected.

It was only as I approached NOA on the EB that Wood Lane told me to tip out at WHC, run empty to LES and then go back into service as all the Section 12 stations were closing down.  I don’t know if this was because they didn’t have enough staff or simply as a precaution in case the night duty Supers didn’t show up but after 22:00 Central London was shut down.

I tipped out at WHC, explained to the dozen or so passengers waiting on the platform what was going on and headed off empty across London.  At SHB there were three passengers on the platform looking hopefully as I approached, at HOP two passengers were being ushered out by a member of station staff but after that the platforms were deserted apart from the mice who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the absence of humans.

At STR there were a good two dozen people waiting as I sailed through the station but between LES and EPP I only picked up three passengers, one of which was a LOU TOp who’d stabled their train at WOO.  I put my train away at LOU just after midnight and caught the last train back to LES, all the other last trains were running so as far as train staff are concerned the Central Line seems to have been unaffected.  Things could be quite different when I get into work later today.

The only other thing I noticed yesterday was that there appears to be an upsurge in graffiti, the last LES train had been tagged and someone has been busy between SOW and SNA; they’ve even sprayed two of the billboards on the WB platform at SNA and one of the roundels on the west end of the EB.  I was off over the weekend but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t there last week, knowing that SNA is one of the stations that occasional gets left unstaffed I’m wondering if some little git noticed this and decided to do a bit of freestyle decorating.  Wonder how much unwanted paint will have been added after the strike?

Thursday 24 April 2014

Okay I’m going to have to admit I think I might have got a little confused.

The CSS grade will be qualified to the level of a Station Supervisor rather than to the level of a SAMF or SACR and they will be earning the equivalent of an SSMF, £42778, rather than the SAMF/SACR salary of £35019.  Somewhere between writing my first post back in December and today I forgot that as well as working on Gateway and Destination stations CSSs will be responsible for running the 64 Local A stations and from what TSSA said  it looks as if they will also be extended to the 61 Local Bs that would have been staffed by CSAs.

Rather than CSMs being Supervisors with a fancy title they will be more like DSMs with a few bits of the Station Super job tacked on so RMT are indeed correct in saying that more management jobs created, from 228 (38 GSMs, 190 DSMs) to 1068 (97 AMs, 336 CSM1s, 635 CSM2s), which gives us the magical 840 that they are going on about.

I suppose in the end the question is what constitutes “frontline staff”?  You cannot begin to imagine just how glad I am I made the decision to leave stations for trains where there is no confusion about roles, grades or salaries; TOps are all qualified to the same level, we all have the same responsibilities, we all get paid the same.  Let’s keep it that way.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

In September RMT will elect a new General Secretary and candidates are already stepping forward to fill Unkle Bob’s somewhat larger than life shoes.  I’ve been talking to RMT colleagues both on the Tube and on the mainline and then doing a little Googling to get an idea of who might be next to become the hate figure for millions of Daily Mail readers in the next five years.  If I’ve made any errors then my apologies to the gentlemen concerned, as with all my posts I am always willing to retract and correct.
Mick Cash is one of the two Assistant General Secretaries and currently Acting Gen Sec so he’s getting a bit of attention as he’s “leading” the strikes next week.  Like Bob he joined the railways straight from school, starting at BR’s Signals and Communications Department, became an active member of the Watford branch before becoming a full time RMT official in 2002.  Unlike Bob he is very much from the “right wing” of the union and when Jimmy Knapp retired in 2002 Mick helped organise the election campaign of one of Bob’s rivals.
He was a local Labour councillor, used to sit on Labour’s National Executive Committee and he angered the left wingers by abstaining from the vote when RMT were expelled.  Not unexpectedly opinion is divided among those RMT members I’ve spoken to, the left see him as not militant enough while the right see him as refreshingly moderate after years of militancy.
Steve Hedley is the other Asst Gen Sec and is the polar opposite of Mick Cash, at the last GLA elections he stood as a candidate for the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition, the ragbag of minor left wing parties that Bob cobbled together in 2010.   Like Bob he’s an ex-Tube worker, from the Engineering branch but unlike Bob he came to the railways through Birkbeck College and a Catholic grammar school in Derry.
He’s certainly up for a fight, a keen amateur boxer who was convicted of assaulting a manager during the RMT/TSSA strikes at the end of 2010 but cleared on appeal when CCTV footage that had been “overlooked” at his trial proved his innocence.  That appears to be the stumbling block with some of the RMT members I talked to, he’s just too pugnacious, too abrasive and lacking in diplomacy to succeed Unkle Bob (and yes I’m sure some of you read those words in utter disbelief).
John Leach is an ex-Station Super from the Central Line, was RMT President from 2006 to 2009, is the London Regional Organiser and is also getting his face seen doing interviews with the media in the run up to the strikes.  He seems to fall somewhere between Cash and Hedley politically, certainly on the left but like Bob not enjoying the full support of the hardliners (again I can feel some of you reading that in disbelief).  He’s been equally prepared to stand up to management and the union leadership, having had a few disagreements with Bob in the past.  He seems to be generally regarded as a decent bloke who make a good Gen Sec although some think he's a bit too much like Bob.
The only other name I’ve seen nominated is Edinburgh’s Alan Pottage, another “lifer” who started as a 19 year old guard back in 1982 and is the National Organising Co-ordinator.  As most of my contacts are London-based no one seems to know much about him, the only thing I’ve been able to find out about him online is that he plays the bass and recently recorded a tribute to Bob Crow with the Alabama 3, the South London band who did the music at the start of “The Sopranos”.

Feckin' cool or what?