Adverse Weather Conditions
It may seem strange to some of you that I do occasionally (believe it or not!) look back at what I've committed to 'print' in the past and to try to avoid repetition of similar situations I've talked about before. But I suppose there's almost an inevitability that the 'British Winter' will give rise to a story or two.
Such has been the last couple of days (I write this at the end of January 2004 - what I should actually be doing is filling out my Income Tax return which is due in to our masters at the Inland Revenue in the next day or two, but this is much more fun.....)
The Christmas period for me had been pretty 'rough' work wise - other than my rostered Rest Days, I worked pretty well the entire 'season', but my compensation was that I had two weeks Annual Leave coming up, and (for once) Rest Days fell kindly, so I'd have the best part of three weeks off work. This was a little further enhanced by adding on a couple of outstanding leave days which were used for the purpose of going out for a beer or several with a crowd of great mates (several incidentally contribute material either knowingly or otherwise to this site!) on a totally unofficial 'Team Building' exercise and recovering there from. I say no more at this juncture, other than to say the photos of the culprits might appear at some time.......
Being the conscientious sort of chap I am, I'd discovered while on leave that I was due to do a 'Cab Day' with some new trainees on the day I returned from my break; I'll expand on this a little here, but will later write more of the details of the task up on my Instructor Operator page.
But, the short version is, this is a day when 'New Drivers' in week 2 of their training are now passed to what will be their line, so that they have a chance to talk about and see where they will be working, once they've qualified. This is passed to 'us'- the Instructor Operators. They come armed with a raft of questions - some of these are completed by a question and answer session, but some have to be dealt with by taking a ride in the cab, and quite right too - for some this might be their first ride in a train cab. This day however (from my point of view) differed a little from the 'norm' as I'd have four trainees to give this session to, rather than the 'one to one' or 'two to one' that is more commonplace. Our rules say that we can only have three persons in the train's cab at one time, so when it came to the 'practical' aspect I was going to have to do two sessions - more later!
I have an outline plan for this session which I knew I was going to have to adapt a bit in view of the larger than normal group I was taking, but I'd been watching the weather forecasts and was a little concerned that all my well laid plans were going to come apart at the seams as a result of the warnings were being broadcast. The arrangement was that I was to meet the group at Earls Court at 0930 on the given date.
To get to Earls Court for about this time my normal plan is to use the Underground to travel there. We'd had a small covering of snow overnight in my part of London but as a double check I looked at the tube.com to just alert myself to any (unlikely I thought) problems. Good job I did! I discovered that both my available travel routes were not operating - one due to the weather directly, the other (as I understand it as I write) due to a defective train that had shut my end of the line down.
So, my only option, if I was to stand any chance of making Earls Court by the appointed time, was to drive to Acton Town to park my car, a) on one of London's busiest commuter routes even in normal circumstances and b) in 'marginal' weather conditions. Fortunately I had a good trip and made it through to Acton and thus was able to complete my journey to Earls Court in ample time.
The District Line had suffered no major ill effects on this morning - more than could be said for others. So after a brief check on arrival at Earls Court to confirm all was well with the service and that my plan for the day was basically unaffected, I went to find my group.
I met with my trainees and after the normal introductions routine, we did all I had planned and that they had been either instructed or wanted to do, which includes a trip in a train's cab to experience, possibly for the first time, what the job actually entails.
As I mentioned earlier, we can only take two in the cab per trip. By now we'd travelled down to Acton Town. For their rides I planned to relieve a driver at Acton Town westbound and from there to do Ealing Broadway, Tower Hill and back to Acton Town where the driver whose train it was would take it back and continue his duty. No driver ever objects to this - after all he'll have about one hour forty five minutes or so to sit in the warm, drink tea and read his paper!
So we set off for Ealing with me giving a basic outline of the cab and its equipment, how I'm controlling the train and starting to answer the questions that either the trainees have been tasked with or that arise as the trip progresses.
We arrived at Ealing, changed ends and then started our eastbound trip to Tower Hill right on the appointed time. But as we approached Acton Town we started being held at signals as we came down 'the bank' adjacent to Ealing Common Depot. So the opportunity came to demonstrate the use of the Public Address system to keep our passengers informed of what was going on and then the train radio to contact the Line Controller.
I was informed that there was a Piccadilly Line train in 'our' platform at Acton Town, but that he had clear signals and should be moving 'shortly' - I duly advised our passengers that this was the situation. However by now we'd already been sitting at the signal for about five minutes and there was still no sign of movement. I tried to contact the Controller again, but this time couldn't make contact via the radio so - and another demonstration for the trainees! - it was on with my Hi-Vi vest, secure the train and get down to use the signal phone to speak to the signal operator at Earls Court. I was told that apparently (because of the problems the Piccadilly Line had experienced earlier in the day) the train in the platform was waiting for a relieving driver and that we were likely to be delayed some minutes more yet. He finally advised 'change your destination to Mansion House, and we'll turn you back west there' - this to make up our (now) late running. Finally we got clear signals and eventually arrived at Acton Town about ten minutes late.
The rest of the trip to and back from Mansion House was uneventful.
So, after I had a quick bite to eat, the process was repeated with the other two of the group, although this time without the delays and impromptu demonstration of procedures en route!
So, after a quick 'wash up' discussion of what they'd seen and done and a few more questions they went away after a pretty long day having (I believe) achieved all that was appropriate for them at this stage. My view is that they could then continue with their training being able to visualise certain things they had seen or discussed and feel that they 'belonged' to a line, even at this early stage.
It was, however, at this point that things started to go a bit 'pear shaped'!
The weather as I started for home was still reasonably calm. As I'd walked to my car I thought I'd felt a couple of spots of rain, but that was all. All this changed within a matter of fifteen minutes or so. I got onto the main road I use and - heading west the snow started; not much at first but it became more persistent, to the point where the windscreen wipers were piling snow up on one side and the light thrown by the headlamps was becoming increasingly less useful! The level of driving skills demonstrated by many can most kindly be described as 'dubious' - and many of these were demonstrated by some driving 4x4's; probably the first time they've been driven in conditions of 'low adhesion'............ However, I made it home without further event.
I was due to just do my own turn on Thursday and was due to book on at about 0550, but as temperatures remained below freezing I decided to set the alarm earlier than I normally would to try to make allowance for any further overnight falls and possible delays to my drive in.
As the evening went on, I got a text message from one of my mates, who advised that the 'job' was totally 'up the wall' and that he'd spent over 25 minutes at Whitechapel.
My alarm went off at the appointed time, and a quick check out of the window showed that there had been no further falls, though it was very icy outside my house and it looked as if the snow had frozen, particularly where cars had driven over it and compacted it. This was confirmed as the immediate area outside my house was indeed very slippery and car was needed to keep the car on the straight and narrow. But once out to busier roads the gritters had been out and the roads very all but clear.
So I arrived at Acton Town to book on over thirty minutes early. After a coffee and a chat with a few of my mates, I found where my train was in the depot and headed over to prepare it for service - at this point there was no indications that the service was suffering any problems on our line, though a few messages were coming through about delays to others.
As a result of the previous night's problems there was a shortage of trains in Ealing Common - some which should have stabled there the previous night had ended up in Upminster - so a couple of drivers had to make their way to the east end of the line to get a train to bring into service.
I was a couple of minutes late leaving the depot, though this is nothing unusual - at that time of the day Ealing Common is a busy area and the signallers are obviously having to keep trains running through the station whilst at the same time bringing us out into the flow. Ealing Broadway had a couple of trains ready to depart as I approached, again perfectly normal, and indeed as I was entering one platform another started to depart.
The first clue that all was not 100% running to plan was when another train arrived after me, and then left as soon as the driver had changed ends, but the radio was (at this point) still silent. But my booked departure time came and went with no sign of signals being cleared, so I made a radio call to the Controller; 'I'll have a word with the signalman driver' was the reply. Sure enough this did the trick, and away we went.
My first half was due to go to High Street Kensington, to Wimbledon, then to Barking to reverse via the sidings and then back to Earls Court for my mealbreak. But as I was heading towards High Street, the radio started getting busier. It became apparent that there was problems in Barking sidings - one train had stalled and the sidings were 'locked up' awaiting the arrival of a Permanent Way team to de-ice the conductor rails by hand, so that was Barking out of commission. The same story was repeated at Parsons Green - this time the Train Maintainer was trying to get a train moving, and it became apparent that it too was stalled due to the iced conductor rails - in fact this was repeated in several of Parsons Green's sidings.
But I made it without incident to High Street, although a little late, and then headed down towards Wimbledon. As I passed PG there were still several trains sitting in the sidings - most uncommon at this time of the day! Even more unusually on arrival at Putney Bridge there was also a C Stock train stabled in the bay road. I arrived at Wimbledon, changed ends and left about five minutes or so late - no problem in itself; a decent run would see that recovered.
However, the lack of a few trains meant that all the platforms on the Wimbledon branch were even busier than usual, so another couple of minutes was lost on the way back to Earls Court. A message also came across that Barking sidings were out of commission until further notice and trains booked to reverse via the sidings should accept the signal to the bay road instead and be prepared to reverse as quickly as possible - so I was still expecting to go to Barking, and a departure on time from there should still be possible, and then - provided I had a clear westbound trip - I should be back to Earls Court at the appointed time.
Further messages advised that Parsons Green remained out of commission and that the bay road at Dagenham East was also unusable. There was also a call to one of the two trains operating the Olympia service to go to Ealing Broadway and then back to Ealing Common to stable. Bearing in mind that this was still in the morning 'peak', this last was very unusual!
I was just arriving at Temple when the radio came alive calling my train number. 'Can you confirm your location driver' - I did so - 'OK - I'll come back to you in a coupe of minutes' was the response. I'd just moved off towards Blackfriars when again my number was called. 'I want you to reverse at Whitechapel, put the train up as an Olympia, and then call me as you get back towards Earls Court'. I acknowledged this, told my passengers of the changed destination and changed the destination shown on the front of the train. As is quite usual though, the destination being shown on the platform describers remained unchanged, but there are only certain places where this can be done. However, I was a little perturbed that at Aldgate East it was still wrong. But on arrival at Whitechapel it seemed that the signaller was expecting this. I shut the train down, changed the destination blind and set off towards the west end of the train. I received a few questions as I walked down the platform from passengers concerned that there was nothing going east - I confirmed that there were trains going to Upminster and it was just I that had been instructed to reverse there.
I set the cab up and after about five minutes I was given clear signals, and headed off westbound. A quick check and a mental calculation showed that the plan was probably to send me from Olympia back to High Street Kensington and I should then arrive with my train back at Earls Court on the next trip on time.
The westbound trip was uneventful, other than the train being described as 'Not In Service' at most stations - the reason for this is that Olympia's not an option on the platform describers! So each station required an announcement that the train was, indeed, in service and heading to Olympia via Earls Court.
But obviously some westbound trains are now running pretty late, and the option to reverse many at Parsons Green was not there - the sidings are still out of commission - so the logic of the Olympia train being stabled now becomes apparent - he's using Olympia for the purpose - and even reversing some trains back east from Earls Court platform 3.
On arrival at South Kensington I called the Controller, who confirmed that I would be going to High Street Kensington next, so my guesswork seemed well founded.
On leaving Earls Court and starting up the Olympia road I was held for about five minutes whilst the train already there came back down - the branch is a single track, so it's only possible to have one train on it at a time - but we arrived and changed ends. I hadn't been told how long to wait up there, so I allowed five minutes from arrival to departure. Another anomaly about Olympia is that there is no signal at the departure end of the platform - you control your own departure. I headed back to High Street and, as I hadn't yet been told of the train's westbound destination, followed my hunch and set the destination blind on the east end up as 'Richmond' - the train's booked destination. Certainly the time was right that this fitted in with what I expected!
On getting to the west end cab, I called the Controller and asked for confirmation that this was indeed his 'cunning plan'! He laughed (!) and confirmed that it was 'though whether there'll be a relieving driver for you is anyone's guess!' and that I'd be getting a clear signal in the next couple of minutes. I arrived at Earls Court almost exactly on time and there was indeed a driver ready and waiting to take me off, so off I went for my breakfast.
Some of the chat in the canteen showed that I'd been one of very few to get off on time! Not only was there late running, but drivers had been delayed trying to get into work and the service was starting to creak ominously.
I went down to pick up my next train on time - only to find that the train was at least twenty minutes late. This time I was due to go to Richmond, Upminster and then back to Earls Court to finish my duty, so a twenty minute late pick up was not a concern - there were plenty of options where I could be put back on time.
This turned out to be wishful thinking! I arrived at and departed from Richmond still about 'twenty down' and as I headed east was starting to expect a call to say where I was to reverse early. No such call came, and the platform boards were not showing any signs of another Upminster service, so it looked like a late finish! This did prove to be the case, and though I did make up a little time, congestion round Earls Court as I came back undid the gain, so I was finally twenty-two minutes late finishing. A quick visit to the DMT's office saw the final act of the day - filling out an Overtime docket!