Wednesday 30 December 2015

A couple of weeks ago LU quietly placed an advert for part-timer TOps to work  Night Tube.

The job description states “Salary: £49,673 pro rated dependant on the confirmed weekly hours you are allocated (15 hours per week equates to approx. £21,288 p.a.)” which suggests that there might be some variation in the number of shifts and the amount of hours but in the FAQs it repeatedly states that the job will be 15 hours a week on Friday and Saturday nights only with no variation.  Once they get the job they'll have to work 18 months before being allowed to apply for full time vacancies or change depots.

The last time they tried to recruit directly from the public rather than internally was about 15 years ago, back then they had thousands of applications most of which were rejected, most of those who got through to training failed the TOps course and I believe the whole affair only produced about 30 new TOps.  The rest were sent to stations as CSAs and allowed to reapply for the TOps course after six months but this time it’s different, it clearly state that if the applicant fails at any stage of the recruitment process, testing or training they will find themselves back on the street.

Applicants are warned that the 16 week training course will be full time but there’s no mention of CDP/ATOR/5 day block, it certainly seems odd to omit that roughly once a year they’ll be required to come in M-F 9-5 and somehow I don’t imagine the trainers are going to be interested in holding CDP courses at night or weekends.  This also raises the question of corrective actions plans, where a TOp who has made an error has to work with an IOp and the same for supervision in the cab after “one unders”.

The closing date is 11pm Monday 4th January although they say they are expecting a high response and will stop taking applications once they think they’ve got enough but as of this morning with 6 days to go it’s still there on TfL website.  I don’t know how many part time TOps would be needed for Night Tube but advertising over the Christmas/New Year period with what seems to be very little publicity doesn’t seem likely to attract a “pool” of applicants large enough to produce the required number of TOps.

TfL cover themselves will a neat little bit tucked away in the middle that says “There may be a requirement to delay your start date until you are required.”  So even if you jump through all the hoops they might never give you the job because they still don’t know if Night Tube is going to happen.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

It seems that there won’t be a strike on Boxing Day after all, since I wrote I have been told that the number of TOps volunteering at LES has doubled to 36 leaving just ten shifts to be filled by the unwilling.  HAI and LOU have had a similar response while over on the west end of the line not only have WER and WHC got enough volunteers to fill their Boxing Day rosters but one of them – WER I think – has one volunteer too many.  Apparently the extra bod was asked if they’d like to work a LES duty but they declined.

While I don’t know why we’ve had such an enthusiastic response to Boxing Day working I suspect it could be that as we lost two days wages on strike days and with no pay rise in sight some people are eager to make some extra cash.  On the latest pay offer the reaction has been less than enthusiastic, someone calculated that after the incoming changes to National Insurance the proposed RPI or 1% could mean we’d be taking home less than we are now and when compared to what our colleagues at London Overground are getting (RPI plus 0.5% with 2.25% minimum) it doesn’t seem that good a deal.

Despite what ITN claimed last week a four day week is not part of the deal, management have only offered to discuss the possibility although to be honest I’ve not met anyone who fancied squeezing 36 hours into four days or taking a 20% pay cut.  Along with the four day week the proposal to cap the number of Saturdays and Sundays we work has also been dropped and there’s no mention of whether they still want to expand “Special events” from three to seven.

Management’s claim that they’ll staff Night Tube with part timers seems rather unrealistic.  Back in October one of Boris’s spokespeople said that “the introduction of Night Tube will not be at any cost” but I would have thought that recruiting and training that many part timers would be far more expensive than adding the extra night shifts into the rosters of the existing TOps even when you add in the £200 a shift over the interim period.  The longer this drags on the more people seem to suspect that management are deliberately dragging their heels in the hope that they can abandon the whole idea as unworkable and lay the blame on the unions.

I have been asked to do many things in the twelve years I’ve been a TOp but yesterday was a new one on me.  As I left HOL WB Wood Lane called, asked me to switch into Coded when I got closer to TCR, stop with the cab just in the platform and then see if I could “smell anything untoward”.   As instructed I waited until the train slowed on the approach, knocked out the TBC, pulled into the platform, opened the cab door and had a good sniff.  I suppose I should have asked if I was smelling for smoke, gas, garlic bread or Armani pour Homme but I couldn’t smell anything apart from the usual stench of the Central Line

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Contrary to my last post it seems that unless the sheets on display are incomplete the W&C will NOT be running on Boxing Day although I’m pretty sure that someone told me it would.  Or maybe it’s the early onset of Alzheimer’s……

The Central Line is still suffering from a lot of train cancellations leading to a lot of overcrowding during the peaks on what is now officially the busiest Line on the network and there are an awful lot of trains in service with traction problems, I don’t think I’ve had a single day in the last week when I didn’t end up on a train with motors missing.  A recent memo from Chris Taggart, Archfiend of the Central Line, blames this on the high number of “flash-overs” but says that “Fleet” are busy trying to fix the problem and we should be back to full service soon.

The 92s have DC motors which suffer “flash-overs” but unless plans have changed since February then by 2019 these will be replaced by “flash-over” free AC motors under the Heavy Overhaul Programme (not to be confused with the Heavy, Heavy Monster Sound – the Nuttiest Sound around).  It’s a pretty extensive project and it would be easier to list what isn’t being replaced or refurbished than to list what is but when added to the "refresh" before the Olympics by the time they’ve finished the 92s will be akin to the Ship of Theseus or Trigger’s Broom.

Of course that still leaves the question of why the 92s have suffered so badly from these problems in the last few months, is it simply that the trains are getting to an age when they are becoming unreliable or does the current timetable not give the depot staff enough time to get all the necessary maintenance done?  And how would this have effected things had Night Tube gone ahead?

Friday 13 November 2015

On Monday’s BBC London News a senior manager who wasn’t called Brown claimed that an agreement on Night Tube was close but from what the unions said after the meeting at ACAS on Tuesday it seems that either he was delusional or he was simply lying, either of which is pretty standard for LU management.  It seems that management have shifted their position slightly from ”you won’t get a pay rise until you sign the deal for Night Tube” to “we won’t discuss the deal on Night Tube until you accept the pay offer” neither of which could be described as constructive.
The big change is that rather than having an “Interim Period” where the Night Tube shifts were slotted into our roster and we’d get paid an extra £200 per shift management are now considering recruiting part-time TOps who would only work night shifts at weekends.  The general reaction from around the mess rooms seems to be positive, very few of us want to work Night Tube so if someone else wants to get paid for doing it then that’s fine with us and if management think that removing the opportunity of being paid an extra £200 per shift is going to have us demanding that our reps sign the deal currently in front of them then they truly are delusional.
Elsewhere there’s been a lot of talk about LU spending £1.5m per month on 500 staff hired for the launch of Night Tube and I can say that of the 137 extra TOps who were recruited – from existing LU and TfL staff – only nine of them were going to the Central Line.  Not that they went to the two depots who were initially planned to provide staff for Night Tube, WHC and LES have not had any expansion of their rosters, HAI has been reduced by 14 with LOU expanded by the same number while the nine extra places were at WER which isn’t going to be getting Night Tube when/if it ever opens.
Otherwise it seems that Boxing Day is back as the agreement made in 2012 isn’t working out quite as we hoped.  In 2012 LU gave us a reduced service with 28 duties at LES and we got 30 volunteers so anyone who didn’t want to work had the day off.  Last year LU went for a Sunday service minus one, there were 45 duties, we got about 30 volunteers again and the remaining places were filled by TOps who’d been on the job the shortest time.  I was one of those as I only qualified in 2003 and as you can imagine I was less than happy, especially as there were hardly any passengers around so it was obvious that we had far more trains running than we needed.
This year LU have decided to push to the maximum agreed level, the equivalent of a full Sunday service, 46 duties and so far we have only 15 volunteers with the possibility that some TOps with over 20 years in the job will have to work.  To make things even more ridiculous the W&C Line will be open despite there being no mainline services into Waterloo and virtually no one working in the City.  RMT want to change things so that TOps that worked one Boxing Day do not work the next but ASLEF are sticking with it all being done on seniority and if RMT do call a strike on Boxing Day it will be interesting to see how many ASLEF members refuse to cross the picket lines.

Thursday 29 October 2015

Yesterday's editorial in the Evening Standard plumbed a new depth of stupidity and ignorance by claiming that "The DLR is indeed something of an oddity, since it is in fact driverless, but union pressure means every train must employ a “captain” on board."  Okay. just stop and think about that; its 1986 or there about, the London Docklands Development Corporation is near to completing its new driverless railway when the National Union of Railwaymen demands that there be a human presence on the trains (all eleven of them).   Despite the fact that the NUR has very few or possibly no members on the DLR at that stage the LDDC accepts the demand, creates unnecessary jobs and hey presto when the DLR opens in summer 1987 every train has a train captain on board.  Now hands up who think that sounds like a plausible story?
The rest is equal banal, despite admitting that the strike on DLR was "the result of a long-running dispute" it accuses the RMT of being "trigger-happy", "irresponsible" and "trying to live up to its tough reputation, as maintained by the late Bob Crow".   It says that the matter should be resolved through negotiation, as if the RMT haven't been trying to negotiate a settlement all this time, and it calls on the union to compromise but doesn't seem to expect the same from KeolisAmey who've managed to achieve something Serco failed to do during its 17 year stint in charge by provoking two strike ballots in one year.  For good measure the subStandard blames the failure of Night Tube to appear last month on "union intransigence" despite LU matching KeolisAmey's achievement by managing to create the first dispute involving all four Tube unions since 1926.
At least we were spared any mention of the Delevigne sisters or "Two Beards" Lebedev's holiday snaps.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

On Monday Manuel Cortes of TSSA called on Boris to personally intervene in the Night Tube dispute by meeting with the unions and the reply of the "Mayor's official spokesman" is hilarious.  For starters the unions are condemned for not putting the latest offer to the members, the same offer management made five days before the second strike and which anyone with half a brain knows would be rejected.  Secondly it says that all negotiations should be with LU management and that any intervention by Boris "risks undermining that process" which is ironic seeing as management have deliberately undermined the process themselves by putting their latest offer directly to the employees rather than through the unions.

Finally it accuse the unions of "needless headline grabbing" which is rich considering the countless times management have gone to the press to bitch and whine about the unions, doubly rich considering that Boris would attend the opening of a can of baked beans if he thought there was a chance it would get him some publicity.  For me the most interesting piece of the statement was that "the introduction of Night Tube will not be at any cost" which sounds like Boris and management are giving themselves an escape route out of the mess they've created.

Actually its just as well that Night Tube didn't go ahead as planned, the 92s are suffering at the moment and we've had numerous cancellations due to not having enough available stock which has been most noticeable in the morning peak according to my good friend Chicago (he's not American but he is windy).   They've even begun sending trains out with little stickers in the cab informing us that one of the units isn't getting any power and won't have any motors but its okay to remain in service on just three units.  I've not spoken to any of the train technicians since the overtime ban was lifted but I'm guessing that this is just a further symptom of the same problem we've had since the latest timetable was introduced.  With more trains in service during the "off peak" and at weekends the trains aren't in the depots long enough for the maintainers to service them properly, if we were also running them two nights a week you have to wonder how many would be available on a Monday morning!

What is truly astounding is that we don't need all these trains running during the "off peak" or at weekends.  When I'm not working I'm a passenger like everyone else, naturally I avoid travelling during the peaks and I can see for myself how empty the trains are.  Now its nice to have a train every three minutes on a Saturday afternoon but when its starting to effect the morning peak surely someone should be asking if its necessary.  Instead it seems that management are more intent on being able to declare to the world that they're running more trains than ever rather than focusing on matching the service provided to the actual demand.  This certainly doesn't strike me as the most efficient way to run a railway and I doubt if its the best use of what we are constantly told are increasingly limited funds.

Rather than trying to put as many trains out as possible or introducing Night Tube perhaps TfL should spend the money running more buses at weekends outside Zone 1.  I've lost count of the number of times when I've been trying to get to work on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon I've counted around a dozen people waiting at the stop by Leyton Midland Road station, a bus has rolled up packed to the gills, the driver has opened up the middle door, a few people have got off and the bus has left without letting anyone on.  Obviously there are not enough buses to meet the demand.

Perhaps what we  need is someone at the top of TfL who will look at the situation as a whole with a Mayor whose interest goes beyond big flamboyant stunts.  Sadly for the present we have Boris and a man called Brown so its all about showmanship rather than service.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Two weeks ago LUL announced to the press that the unions had walked out of negotiations and that they’d offer a new pay deal directly to us workers.  My local rep tells me that rather than a dramatic walk out everybody left at the same time because the meeting had reached an end and it was time to go home.  As far as I can see the “new” offer is the same as their second “final” offer that came out a few days before the second strike and is no closer to addressing our grievances now than it was then.

LUL have made a big thing over “demands” for a four day week but there has been very little explanation of what they are actually asking for.  There seem to be several ideas on “flexible” working, one idea is to condense our 35 hours a week over four days rather than five, another is working a four day 28 hour week at 80% of our current salary but this would only be for those who wanted to work this way and most importantly it would only happen where there are enough volunteers at a depot to make it viable.

Surprisingly for all the fuss they’re making about this LUL say they have no objection to the idea of a four day week, the reason they offer for being unable to guarantee it at this time is that it would take months to ask staff what they wanted and then sort out the details.  This is laughable as that is exactly what is being proposed regarding how Night Tube will be run after the “interim period”, if management are going to ask us whether we want part-timers or “fixed links” then why on earth can’t they ask us if we want a four day week at the same time?

The other major sticking point is how Night Tube will be staffed during the interim period, the unions want it to be completely voluntary with extra money dangled as the carrot to attract volunteers while management say that if there aren’t enough volunteers to cover all the duties then some who don’t want to work nights will have to.  This is currently the situation with Boxing Day, last year the £300 extra failed to get enough volunteers and those who’d been in the grade the shortest time – including myself with 12 years as a TOp – had to work when we’d rather have stayed at home.

The unions certainly aren’t going to agree to another situation where people who don’t want to work nights are going to find themselves in the cab of a train at 3am on a Saturday morning and if management aren’t confident that £200 per shift is going to be a big enough carrot then obviously they need a bigger carrot but they say they can’t afford any more.  And so we are at stalemate with neither side willing to budge and management insisting that until there is an agreement on Night Tube there will be no pay rise.

What management seem to have missed is that for me a 2% pay rise – actually 1% with a £500 lump sum for Night Tube – translates as about £50 after tax per month and I’m sure that like myself the vast majority of my colleagues are prepared do without our pay rise rather than accept a deal detrimental to our working lives.  In 2009 it took 14 months to settle the pay deal and inflation was a lot higher then than it is now, we’ve got nothing to gain by accepting the current offer and we can wait until LUL come up with a better plan or abandon the whole idea.

On Friday we had a one under at MIE around 12:30, we resumed running around 14:30 but things were still a mess for the evening peak as some trains had been stabled to reduce congestion.  Between 18:00 and 18:30 there were no trains to WER from WHC, everything either went to EAB, NOA or reversed at WHC.  This was attributed to “timetable constraints”, I’m sure someone somewhere could explain what these constraints were but I have no idea and I’m reasonably sure that the station staff left to deal with the disgruntled passengers unable to get home from work had no idea either.

Saturday 26 September 2015

At the risk of using a railway metaphor the talks on pay and Night Tube seem to have hit the buffers.  According to both unions management have adopted the tactic of discussing everything but agreeing to nothing, they are prepared to consider changes to our terms and conditions but not to actually commit themselves.  At the same time they are not prepared to discuss the pay deal as a separate issue which means that unless we agree to sign a blank cheque on Night Tube there will be no pay rise this year.

For their part management continue to put out memos repeating the mantra that they want the pay deal to be affordable and fair while emphasising that other worker haven’t had a pay rise but failing to acknowledge that in the railway industry above inflation pay rises are the norm in both private and public sectors.  Both unions are now consulting with the reps and the branches to decide what if anything to do next but frankly I don’t think management care what we do, the passengers and workers can rot so long as their extremely well paid jobs are safe.

And how safe are they?  On Thursday Mike Brown was enthroned as Peter Hendy’s permanent replacement as Transport Commissioner having stepped into the role in a temporary capacity three months ago.  His new job comes with a basic salary of £354k plus a £178k performance bonus which I’ve no doubt he will be judged to have warranted.  To counter suggestions that perhaps this was over generous Boris insists that it you want the best you have to pay for it although it would be interesting to know who else, if anyone, was considered for the job.

Mike Brown joined LU in 1989, worked his way up the greasy pole until he became Chief Operating Officer but further progress was blocked when Ken appointed an outsider, Tim O’Toole, as Managing Director.  His ambitions thwarted Brown deserted LU to run Heathrow Airport in 2008 but when O’Toole quit “to spend more time with his family” less than a year after Boris became Mayor the path was open again.  Brown replaced the Transatlantic usurper and added the title of MD of London Rail, the body that oversees all TfL train/tram operations, shortly after his return to the fold.  Finally he has succeeded to the ultimate London transport throne, living proof that persistence has its rewards.

All hail our new Dark Overlord!

Tuesday 1 September 2015

After all the turmoil of the last couple of months last week was quite placid, the only thing that stood out was the number of times I had to go into Coded Manual because ATO couldn’t cope with the rain.  Anyone who tells you that the Central Line could run driverless with the current stock and signalling system is talking rubbish.

On the subject of rubbish I’ve started moderating comments due to the number of depressingly witless and in some case downright insulting messages that have cropped up in the last few weeks.  If you are going to comment on my blog try to offer some intelligence, some wit and insight.  I’m bored with childish inanity, “you're all lazy/greedy wankers” or similar tedious nonsense isn’t going to be accepted.

Unfair?  Yes, completely but it’s my blog, as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord says “My gaff, my rules”, if you feel that the world desperately need to be told that “ASLEF are shit” then start your own blog.  Am I worried that a few individuals might stop reading because of this?  Not really, last month I received 21773 page views, my previous highest total was 16473 in July and before that 10591 in February when RMT were embroiled in the Alex McGuigan dispute.

I’m on ATOR this week, unless something develops at ACAS I’m not expecting to have much to write about and next week I’m on Annual Leave so the Central Line will have to get along without me.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Yesterday RMT, TSSA and Unite called off this week’s strikes along with the overtime ban in what Unite’s regional officer Hugh Roberts described it as “an act of goodwill”.  However TSSA’s Manuel Cortes warned “we are not out of the woods yet” while RMT went so far as to set new possible strike dates in two weeks’ time although unless management do something amazingly brainless I’d imagine that those dates will pass without any upheaval.

None of which is surprising, calling two strikes less than three weeks after the last one without ASLEF’s support was simply a step too far and while certain RMT senior officials may be cursing that they’ve lost the chance to overthrow the capitalist system I’d imagine that most of their members are breathing a sigh of relief.  Negotiations will go on, as yet there is no date for introducing Night Tube and I think management must now be aware that should they announce one without having reached an agreement then the strikes will be back on.

Normal service is resumed, the revolution will not be televised.

Friday 21 August 2015

It’s certainly been an interesting week, I’ve heard some of my colleagues saying that no one wants to work Night Tube but I’ve had others saying that if their depot doesn’t get Night Tube they’ll put in a transfer to one that does.  I’ve heard fellow ASLEF members saying that we should all go on strike next week along with RMT members saying that the strike should be called off.  To say that opinion is mixed would certainly be an understatement.

Meanwhile at ACAS ASLEF and RMT reps have put forward a joint position to management on the Train side with more talks today but RMT say while there has been progress they will not call off the strike until an acceptable offer has been made to Engineering, Fleet, Service Control and Stations.  For myself I think the strike is unnecessary, management are retreating while the overtime ban in the depots is leading to trains being cancelled or developing faults while in service and having to be withdrawn.

Yesterday I was covering for HAI who have loads of people out sick, my first half started in the depot where the only train available was the one being used for ATOR.  On the second half they had to renumber a train that was about to go out of service at RUG to make up the second to last EPP train.  I've even heard an IOp complaining that one day both their trains were cancelled so they had to check around to see who they could take off in order to get some training done.

Night Tube has been shelved and if it happens it probably won’t be until next year, February or March have both been rumoured.  We’ve shown management what we can do if they push this issue, the strikes did their job, we don’t need to emphasise the point.

Saturday 15 August 2015

RMT issued another leaflet yesterday outlining their demands, the three main points being that “LU must stop implementing whilst talks continue” which has already been done, “a 32 hour 4 day week” which I think should have had “LOL” at the end and that “LU must address all outstanding issues of dispute between us.”  After their list of demands for Night Tube they added two demands on “Fit for Future – Stations” so more than a year after they failed to get anywhere with strikes on the issue, six months after the closure of ticket offices began and with the reorganisation of station staff well underway RMT now want to piggy back this lost cause onto the current dispute.  10 out of 10 for tenacity….

Friday 14 August 2015

Yesterday on TSSA's website their Leyton Orient supporting Gen Sec Manny Cortes said "Commons sense seems to have broken out at last. We are hopeful in this new climate that it should be possible to reach a comprehensive and fair agreement. This will allow for the implementation of a safe and secure Night Tube which will benefit all Londoners."

So it appears that ASLEF aren't alone in the opinion that it has finally dawned on management that this isn't all about the money and that they need to address their employees' concerns rather than keep throwing money at the problem if they ever want Night Tube to happen.  That's "if", there some who think that management don't want Night Tube but don't have the guts to say "No" to Boris and are using the unions to do their dirty work.  Its quite a popular theory along with "Boris is pulling their strings" and "they couldn't negotiate their way out of a paper bag". 

Rest Day; off to deepest, darkest Dagenham to see Old Mother shrugged.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Let’s remember a couple of things; firstly as far as I’m concerned the dispute is primarily over the way Night Tube is being imposed without any consultation or negotiation.  It is about our work/life balance, the increase in weekend working, the amount of rest we get after working those night shifts and seeing that those who work them were properly rewarded for the increase in antisocial hours.  Management have agreed that Night Tube will not be introduced without an agreement with ASLEF so at the moment we have no reason to strike.

Secondly ASLEF represents train drivers, it doesn’t represent station, control room or technical grades so it isn’t negotiating for them, that is the job of RMT, TSSA or Unite.  I don’t know if management’s offer has been extended to them or to other grades but if it hasn’t then it’s not up to ASLEF to get the offer extended to them.   All the reps of the four unions are there to represent their members not those of other unions, if interests coincide then that’s fine but if train drivers are not directly affected then it’s not ASLEF’s problem.

Right, that aside I think the idea of two 24 hour strikes less than three weeks after the last one is absolutely bonkers.  In the past it has been the amount of pay lost that has led to staff ignoring strike calls as we have bills to pay just like everyone else.  We get paid every four weeks, our next pay day is Wednesday 2nd September so I think these strikes come too late to be deducted from that but if not it means that staff could lose three days wages off their next pay slip.

If it does roll over onto the next pay day, 30th September, then that will already be missing two days’ pay so any additional strikes in September could be a lot less solid as staff, especially those on lower salaries like CSAs, struggle to make ends meet.  In the past we've seen RMT strikes fizzle out from "strike fatigue" so this could be two strikes too many.  If management do renege on their promise to not introduce Night Tube without agreement and ASLEF call a strike in September they could find themselves on their own.

So is this a cunning management ploy to split the unions and reduce the effectiveness of strikes or is this someone thinking they can ratchet up the strike for some reason or other, I have no idea.  Obviously at a time when management appear to be offering an olive branch to ASLEF we’re not going to throw it back in their faces, if the other unions go out on strike they’ll be doing so without us so maybe the leadership should reconsider their timing and their tactics.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Okay colour me confused, yesterday evening the media were unanimous in declaring that yesterday’s meeting at ACAS had adjourned with little sign of progress and that further strikes were on their way.  BBC’s transport wonk Tom Edwards  even went so far as to predict that rather than a 48-hour strike which was being touted around by various sources we’d be staging two separate 24-hour strikes in one week.  This all came as a bit of a surprise as the word from our reps was that management have confirmed that the Night Tube duties would not be imposed without agreement from the union and that negotiations would resume on Wednesday.

The predictions of further strikes seems to have started quite a few hours before ASLEF passed on the positive news to it's members which leaves me wondering if the tales of doom and gloom had been prepared in advance of the yesterday’s talks breaking up.  With both TSSA and RMT muttering that Boris is running things from behind the scenes could it be that his media people are spinning stories to the press without even bothering to wait and see what the outcome is?

Monday 10 August 2015

Saturday went a bit mental, it seemed that at least once an hour we were getting “platforms and hold” calls from Wood Lane for defective trains or handles down.  In addition we were told to go Coded Manual LEY to MIE in both directions and approach STR “with more vigilance” because of a reported suicidal male at STR, one reason why PEDs will be a necessity if/when they start running driverless trains.

One of the calls turned out to be quite interesting; apparently some charming gentleman started racially abusing a fellow passenger, something there seems to have been a lot of recently.  Rather than sitting back and taking it the target of the racist diatribe punched their abuser in the face causing a certain amount of blood loss.  When the train reached MIE he staggered off the train and then started abusing the Station Super who’d come to help out before making his escape.

Unlike other recent incidents of racial abuse it doesn’t seem that that anyone bothered to film this on their mobile and stick it up on YouTube but I’ll keep an eye out as this one would probably be quite amusing.  Not that violence is the answer but some people thoroughly deserve what they get.

Friday 7 August 2015

I’ve not heard much from my favourite retard Richard Tracey for a while but he’s back with another boneheaded idea that simply demonstrates how detached from reality his brain is.  His latest wheeze is that recently retired Tube workers could be drafted in to staff a skeleton service on strike days and he even has numbers, saying that 364 train drivers have retired in the last five years.  The obvious problem is that our licences are only valid if we’ve worked a given stock on a specific line in the last six months, after that we’d need a refresher course before we could be allowed back onto the trains on our own and that would have to be conducted by the IOps who are currently working to rule like the rest of the TOps.  On top of that all the retirees would have been union members while they were working and might still be in the union so they would be unlikely to want to help break the strike.  Bless his tiny pointed head.....

Saturday 1 August 2015

10 months after LU announced Night Tube, 6 months after negotiations started, 23 days after the biggest strike on the Tube since 2002 and just 5 days before the next one LU management have presented us with its second “full and final offer”.  Or is it third?  I think the record was four “final” offers, someone should really buy a dictionary at 55 so they can look up the definition of the word “final”.

The pay offer is a 2% rise but confusingly that is made up of 1% pay rise and a £500 consolidated (i.e. counting towards our pensions) increase for running a 24 hour service.  In fact this actually means that some grades get less than 2% (Service Managers and Power Control Room Operators 1.7%) while others get more (CSA 2.7% and Technical Grade 1 3.3%).  Why not just a 2% rise?  For the next two years management are offering RPI or 1% whichever is greater which is less than we’d hoped for so room for improvement on that.

For Night Tube all grades working on lines and stations affected are offered a £500 non-consolidated bonus (not counting towards our pensions) which means that TOps at depots not working Night Tube will get it.  That in turn begs the question why not spread the shifts over all the depots that are touched by Night Tube, as it currently stands only WHC and LES will be working them on the Central Line while LOU and HAI get the bonus plus WER get the bonus without even being included on the route.

The good news is that TOps will get an extra £200 per Night Tube shift which is a step in the right direction but still does nothing to help ease the body-clock nightmare of working three lates, two nights, finishing early on Sunday morning, having the rest of Sunday as a Rest Day and back to work on Monday.  This payment will only apply during the “Transition Period” which will start when Night Tube is introduced and end with the introduction of a new timetable with either part-time TOps doing the night shifts or “fixed links” which I believe means separate rosters for TOps working Night Tube and those that don’t.

The plain fact is that few of us believe that there will ever be part time nights or fixed links and we will be stuck with these shifts for the rest of our working lives.  If management had any intention of introducing either of those then why did they not start recruiting at the end of last year when there would have been time to get them trained up for the start of Night Tube?  They’ve recruited part time CSAs to cover stations over night, they could just have easily done so with TOps.  Instead we’ve have been sent an extra 137 TOps across the five lines affected, just enough to expand the roster to cover Night Tube and if we were to get more TOps for part time nights or fixed links then we’ll be overstaffed.

And then tucked away at the end of the announcement, a little nugget that has the alarm bells well and truly ringing.  Under the current agreement LU are allowed three “Special Events” per year, we run trains overnight, the shifts are voluntary and at double pay.  Usually this only happens once at New Year’s Eve although we did run overnight for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012 but part of the pay offer is an increase to seven Special Events per year.    Now if we only ever run overnight one day a year and we’ve already got three why on earth would management want seven?  Say hello to overnight running every Sunday on a bank holiday weekend and maybe even Christmas Eve with staff staggering home around 7am Christmas morning.  Ho, ho, ho, management’s gift to staff came early and it’s bloody socks again.

Even though these Special Events are supposedly voluntary we know that if there aren’t enough volunteers then staff with the least amount of time in the grade are required to work.  After all the kerfuffle between 2010 and 2012 it was agreed that the Boxing Day service would be voluntary with anything up to a Sunday service and in 2013 we had about a quarter of TOps working, almost all volunteers.  Last year management pushed it to the limit, running what was effectively a Sunday service minus one, unsurprisingly there was nowhere near enough volunteers and despite being in the grade for 12 years I found myself on a train Boxing Day rather than watching West Ham’s traditional annual humiliation on TV with the solace of Brodie’s London Fields Pale Ale.

All this comes with vague promises to consult with the unions over our “work/life balance” after we've agreed to sign a blank cheque but this is still “jam tomorrow” and from previous experience we know that with LU its usually a case of “jam permanently postponed”.  LU can’t seem to get their heads around the concept that no matter how much money they offer us it doesn’t address our key concerns about the terms and conditions we are being asked to accept, that the whole introduction of Night Tube has been poorly planned and that if they wanted this to start in September they should have started negotiations before they announced it last year.

The offer will be rejected and with good reason, expect another strike next week.  On a lighter note a couple of Saturdays ago while waiting for the signal to clear at ROV on the inner I saw a squirrel balancing on top of the cable run lift its front leg and scratch it’s armpit with its back leg.  That was the highlight of my shift, driving a train can be very boring…….

Friday 24 July 2015

Things are not looking good, it seems that management have no intention of negotiating and have taken to threatening legal action to stop the strikes which has used in the past as a tactic successfully …..errrrrr….. never.  What doesn’t help is that there are four unions representing every area of LU with numerous grievances so there’s just not enough time to cover all the issues.  Remember it was LU who insisted on negotiating the pay rise and Night Tube together, the unions wanted to look at these as separate issues.

To further complicate matters as a result of the overtime ban it seems that when working their normal hours there aren’t enough depot staff to do everything that’s needed.  In order to get round this LU have been instructing managers to fill in and RMT are questioning whether they have the appropriate licences to do whatever it is they’re doing.  Rather than sit down at ACAS on Monday RMT went off to raise this issue with the ORR although we’ve not heard what the result was.

Meanwhile since Clive shuffled off this mortal coil Slick has been looking decidedly lonely in the fish tank so on Sunday I went to the aquarium shop in Bethnal Green to get him some new playmates.  Initially when I put them in the tank he looked quite smug swimming around, finally the biggest fish in the tank after years of being the smallest.  However when I went back the next day I found that the new arrivals had decided the best way to introduce themselves was to chew lumps out his tail which is still large but now rather ragged.  The worst offender was the Blue Shubunkin, now known as Sid (Vicious) while the two common goldfish will be Doug and Dinsdale.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Meanwhile away from the problems of Night Tube Tuesday’s rain played just as much merry hell with ATO as it did on Sunday, some trains are fine and behave perfectly in the wet but the two I had were absolutely useless.  Not that rain is needed, on Wednesday I came to a juddering halt halfway over the points leaving EAB with not a cloud in the sky and then again later in tunnel on the approach to GAH.  What is amusing is that in the last few months someone has put up posters telling us that we are to use ATO whenever possible and NOT drive in manual unless it is absolutely necessary.
As well as the usual ATO/ATP failures there’s been a noticeable increase in traction faults, where a two car “unit” loses power and you have no motors coming from it.  Having one or two units without motors is fine and even with just one unit working the train might struggle but it will still make it to the next station.  Unfortunately there have been occasions where I’ve lost all four units, the worst place for this is on the EB approach to SHB and I’ve been getting at least one traction fault a week at this particular spot.
A few years ago we were instructed not to reset while the train was moving as that can “isolate” the unit so if you have lost all four units you either let the train roll to a halt in ATO or stop it using the emergency brake.  On the approach to SHB you’re only doing 20kph and there isn’t enough momentum to take you into the platform (I know, I tried it once) so the best thing is to let it get to a reasonably slow speed, knock out the TBC, reset and carry on in Coded.
The other increasingly common fault has been the Data Transmission System, the computer that tells us what’s going on with the train.  In addition to flashing up faults DTS affects the destination display on the front of the train, SONIA, the chimes that warn when doors are opening or closing and the countdown clock in the cab that tells us when it’s time to go. Obviously if there’s a fault on DTS then DTS won’t tell you about it so If you see a train going the wrong way, say a WB train going to EPP, then more than likely there's a DTS fault and the TOp hasn’t noticed.

Finally sad news from the DLR, the seats are being converted from traverse to longitudinal and while I understand that this will increase capacity I will feel sorry for all the kids (and no doubt a few adults) who have enjoyed sitting at the front enjoying the driver's eye view, somehow craning your neck sideways just won't be the same.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

And we’re off again, ASLEF have set another strike date giving management three weeks to start taking us seriously and start negotiating about how Night Tube will be implemented rather than keep offering us money to accept their current proposals.  The first meeting at ACAS will be today and I’ll be keeping a close eye on Our Man Finn’s twitter feed hoping for good news.  Oh for those of you who don’t get the pop culture reference think 1966 James Bond parody starring James Coburn.

Finn made a very good point in the Observer on Sunday, last November when YouGov conducted a survey on what Londoners wanted from the Tube cheaper fares came on top with 49% while longer opening hours lagged behind on 16% and more frequent services only got 9%.  Indeed a spot of Googling reveals that cheaper fares have been at the top of the list for a long time and transport was the key issue for Londoners until April last year when housing took the lead.

This year Boris had the option of keeping fares down or cutting his share of council tax and as with every other year he chose to reduce council tax, reducing our bills by an average of £40 per household per year.  This is perfectly understandable, like all good Tories Boris is happier reducing tax and putting the cost of services onto the users but he is inconsistent.  Night Tube will lose £19.6m in the first year and isn’t expected to break even until the 2030s so it seems that in this case Boris is happy for the cost to be borne by the tax payer rather than those that will benefit.

This isn’t the only example of Boris’s inconsistency, he’s happy to throw £30m of taxpayers money on Joanna Lumley’s Garden Bridge and pay the £3.5m annual running costs out of TfL’s budget despite promising he wouldn’t.  He spent £65m of taxpayers money on the cable car having promised that it would be completely funded by private investment and he’s signed us up to paying for the Borisbus until they fall apart because Arriva and the other bus companies refused to take them on themselves.

When it comes to things that would be useful and popular - like keeping fares low - Boris is a true neo-liberal but when it’s something dramatic that he will  be able to point to in future years as a legacy of his two terms as Mayor of London - such as Night Tube or the Boris Bus – he seems perfectly happy to let the taxpayer carry the burden.  Every time Boris has been questioned about the strike he’s insisted that it’s politically motivated but perhaps rather than the strike it is Night Tube itself that’s political.

Monday 13 July 2015

A difficult weekend, on Saturday we had another one-under at MIE, this time I was at TCR heading WB which left me stuck the wrong side of the line while the ERU and the emergency services dealt with the mess.  I’ve since heard that the TOp involved was one of my LES colleagues; best wishes, mate, we’ll be happy to see you when you’re ready to come back.  On Sundays we drive the trains manually east of LES and west of WHC to keep in practice and it was just as well as ATO was repeatedly failing due to the rain on the sections in between where we emerge from the tunnel sections (STR, LEY and WHC).  Oh yeah, these trains drive themselves…..

I’ve been checking around and it seems that the only major city with extensive 24/7 rail service is New York, in Chicago only two lines out of eight run continuously and while Copenhagen is 24/7 it only has two lines serving 22 stations making it smaller than the DLR.  Berlin, Vienna and Stockholm all run 24 hours at weekend but everywhere else the subway/metro systems close at night.  If anyone knows of any other 24 hour metros/subways I’ll be pleased to add them to the list.  On the BBC Sunday Politics David Leam of London First claimed that Sydney has 24 hour service but this is untrue, instead it has buses following the routes of the lines after the trains stop running.  Facts, aren’t they annoying.

We have now had two occasions to see Our Man Finn and the new COO Steve Griffiths go head-to-head on the BBC, on Wednesday’s London evening news slot and on the Sunday Politics, both times Finn has refused to let Griffiths off the hook over the 6:30pm deadline, both times Griffiths uncertain, hesitant  and unconvincing performance gave him the look of a man who is seriously wishing he had stuck with aviation rather than taking a job on the railways.  I’ve been looking for a suitable nickname for our new COO, somehow he doesn’t seem to live up to the “Dark Overlord” mantle, I was thinking possibly “Biggles” but after he seemed to melt under a combination of studio lighting and Finn’s barbs I’m favouring “Sweaty Steve”.  Too harsh?

Along with a new COO we now apparently have a new Managing Director in the shape of Nick Brown who at least has spent time working on the railways.  Two thoughts arise, the first being what do all these senior managers actually do as we seem to have a lot of people at the top with fancy job titles and even fancier salaries.  The second is there seems to have been a lot of people named Brown in senior positions up at 55 Broadway, there must have been at least 3 or 4 since I joined, perhaps we should follow the example of the University of Woolamalloo Philosophy Department and any new appointee should change their name to Brown in order to keep things simple.

Saturday 11 July 2015

A lot of people were wondering why services finished so early on Wednesday, myself included, I am told that some of the technical types finish their shifts at 19:00,and with the RMT/TSSA strike starting at 18:30 the technicians starting their shift at 19:00 weren’t expected to turn up.  Obviously If a serious fault had developed there would have been no one to fix it and we could have been left with trains stuck in tunnels for 24 hours which would have led to serious problems Friday morning.  In order to avoid that possible scenario it was decided to get the trains stabled before the techies went home.

Or that is what I’ve been told, if anyone can confirm I’d be grateful.

Friday 10 July 2015

Well that went well or not depending on your point of view, hopefully it was enough to give management reason to return to the negotiations with a little less macho posturing and a lot more willingness to find a compromise solution that addresses our grievances.  One thing I did find interesting was Boris saying “I am not as hug up on the date.  We’ll get it done this Autumn” when asked about the future of Night Tube.  Being an eternal optimist that suggests to me that Plan A - impose Night Tube without consulting the staff - has been discarded and Plan B - take the time to talk to the staff about how to make it happen - is now in effect.  It probably means nothing of the sort but I can hope.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Management are displaying a level of coquettishness similar to the one that inspired Andrew Marvell to write “To his coy mistress” in the mid-17th century and the one I encountered at the 1977 Dagenham Priory Comprehensive post-O level disco while trying to explore the inside of Linda Coggins’s bra.  Despite insisting on Monday that they wouldn’t be available for talks on Tuesday it seems that management found a “window” in their diary and everyone trooped back to ACAS.   I’ve not heard how far talks progressed but obviously they failed and so we will be on strike tomorrow.
Apparently there are suggestions that the strike is political and that the unions called the strike purely as retaliation to the Tories winning the General Election.  Not only is that laughable it’s not even original, Network Rail accused RMT and TSSA of exactly the same thing when they were threatening to strike in May, LUL are so bereft of ideas they’re using second hand smears!
As usual there are plenty of rumours going around the mess rooms, one I’ve heard is that out of the five depots on the Central Line only two would be getting Night Tube shifts and one of those would be mine.  Not only would this mean that less than half of the TOps on the Central Line would get the bonuses on offer but also that TOps at those two depots would work overnight far more often than management’s estimate of seven times a year.  Add in that at LES we also work Saturdays on the W&C and it means that a weekend where we didn’t work would become an extremely rare thing.  As I said it’s only a rumour but it’s an example of how TOps feel that this whole thing has been badly planned and why we want to know all the details of management’s proposals before we agree to anything.
I’ve no idea what will happen tonight, at what time stations will start closing or when trains will start being put away but as usual the media has confused “staff will not book on after” with “staff will stop working at”.  As far as I’m concerned I will start work around 3pm and carry on until my finish time around 10:30pm unless Wood Lane tells me to stop.
Let's hope things get better....

Tuesday 7 July 2015

LU’s management team still don’t seem to understand exactly what is wrong with their proposals on Night Tube, they don’t seem able to negotiate nor do they seem to understand quite how unions work.  Because of their failure to grasp what are pretty simple concepts we are going to have a strike on Thursday although they don’t seem too bothered about it.  Yesterday at ACAS they put a new offer on the table but told unions they had until 6:30pm to accept, approve the new timetables and call off the strike.  Our reps had to reject the ultimatum as they have to consult with the members, our local reps and the Executive Council before agreeing to any deal so instead they offered to come back to ACAS for further talks today but LU refused.

The deal on the table – well, on the table until 6:30pm yesterday - was 2% this year (good), RPI or 1% whichever is greater for the next two years (not so good) and a £500 “launch bonus” for all staff affected by Night Tube with an additional £2000 for TOps (giraffe’s testicles).  It wouldn’t matter how big the one off bonus was, it won’t make working the night shifts on Fridays and Saturdays any more attractive and we’d be working far more weekends that we currently do.

If LU really want Night Tube to happen they are going to have to start talking to our reps, stop thinking in terms of one-off bonuses and start thinking about incentivising those night shifts.  That is going to mean working them at a higher rate of pay and/or extra rest days in the week after although for myself there is nothing they could offer that would ever make me want to work them.  Night Tube was announced on 24 September last year, for over nine months LU has stuck with Plan A but if they want progress they need a Plan B and they will need the unions’ help to sell it to their employees.

I’ve been doing a little Googling on Steve Griffiths who became our new Chief Operating Officer in May, his first job was as an a Senior Service Engineer at Rolls Royce in 1986 and after nine years there he moved to a similar job at Virgin Atlantic.  He worked his way steadily up the ladder becoming Chief Operating Officer in 2009 but after four years his job was “restructured” out of existence.  After six months “resting” he found himself a job as a director at Bond Aviation, a company that specialises in helicopter transport and then he came to us.  With all that aviation experience he might still have his head in the clouds but if so then the next few weeks are sure to bring him back down to earth with a bump.

Good luck for Thursday everybody, this is not going to be easy.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Two weeks after ASLEF declared the result of the strike ballot it appears that management are starting to realise that they can just stick their heads in the sand and hope that everything goes away.  On Tuesday at ACAS the unions made it plain that unless the new roster sheets that included Night Tube were withdrawn there could be no negotiation and yesterday management conceded by withdrawing the sheets.  We’ll be back at ACAS today but there’s still a long way to go and considering that it has taken five months to get this far I’m not brimming with confidence that things will be resolved before Wednesday night.

To remind everyone what the situation is, LU have offered a pay rise of 0.75% this year after initially offering 0.5% with RPI next year.  Our previous deal was RPI+0.5% with 2% minimum, RPI in February was 1.1% so they’re not even offering us inflation.  Other train drivers on the privatised TOCs are getting 2% or above and that is the yardstick by which we compare ourselves.  For Night Tube they’re offering a £250 one-off bonus for TOps working at affected depots, another £250 if the deal was settled by the end of June which obviously didn’t happen and another £250 after 3 months of Night Tube if there had been no trouble, which seems unlikely.

When our union reps refused this LU threw their toys out of the pram and declared that if we didn’t agree there would be no pay rise at all but when that failed they begged the unions to go to ACAS.   At the first meeting management refused to sit in the same room as our reps and at the second they sat there for 20 minutes simply remarking that our position was “noted”.

The next seven days could be very interesting......

Saturday 27 June 2015

Interesting, according to an article in The Guardian over the last two years the Met and local councils have been putting restrictions on bars and clubs in London to the point where some like the hugely successful Vibe Bar in Brick Lane have been forced to close.  Is this the thriving night time economy that TfL are so eager to support that they’re forcing Night Tube upon us?  Maybe Boris should have a word with his commissioner of policing and tell him to ease off a little otherwise from September we could be driving empty trains after 1am because everyone will have gone home.

Friday 26 June 2015

LU allowed a week to go by before they finally agreed to meet with the unions over Night Tube so if they meet on Monday they’ll have just 10 days to work out an agreement before we go out on what will potentially be the most disruptive strike for decades.  Their lack of urgency is sadly not surprising, they’ve never seemed bothered in the past about their employees or their passengers, their jobs are safe and in fact some of them are looking at promotion.

Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy has quit to chair Network Rail, obviously he didn’t fancy the prospect of having to explain to the new Mayor why he made no attempt to restrain Boris wilder flights of fancy  - the Boris Bus, the cable car, the garden bridge - at a time when TfL’s budget was being cut.  Ex-LU Managing Director Mike Brown has temporality taken over Hendy’s office with the hope of making it a permanent move, someone will have to move up to fill his desk at London Rail and so everyone shuffles up a step.  Maybe that is why they couldn’t start negotiations this week, they were all too busy jockeying for position and measuring up for new office curtains.

At the moment there are various opinions rolling around the depots as to how things will eventually pan out, a popular one is that in order to make the Night Tube shifts attractive management will either pay a higher rate, give an additional day off in the week after or both.  If it attracts enough people to volunteer to work them then I’ll certainly be happy, you can have my Night Tubes any time.  I guess we’ll find out next week whether LU are actually serious about ending the dispute or whether they are happy to let the thing drag on and on.

I'm not holding my breath.......

Thursday 18 June 2015

Wow, that was quick! ASLEF have asked members not to book on between 21:30 Wednesday 8th July until 21:29 Thursday 9th July, we're not even waiting for the result of the RMT and TSSA ballots.  No night turns on the Wednesday will mean that its likely that the last trains will run a bit earlier but on the Thursday the only people in will be RMT members who cross the picket line and there won't be many of those.  LUL have got three weeks to get their finger out.