Piccadilly Line Derailment at Hammersmith
As I report here, there was a derailment of a Piccadilly Line train as it entered the sidings east of Hammersmith Station at about 13:30 on Friday 25 June 2004. I relate the facts of the event in that article. (The photos which have been added have been supplied by one of my readers who, having heard of the event, decided to head off to the Hammersmith area with his camera. The captions added are mine.)
The initial problem started at about 12:30 and, as it happened, this was about the same time as I started work for the day. I'd booked on at Acton Town and had a natter with a few of my colleagues and then made my way to the eastbound platform at Acton Town to pick up my 'first half' which was due to go to Tower Hill, Ealing Broadway, Tower Hill again and then I'd be relieved at Earls Court for my mealbreak.
Almost as soon as I started off from Acton I could hear our Controller calling up one of our trains which was then at Ravenscourt Park. I think the gist of what he was asking was for the driver to confirm that there was a Piccadilly Line train stopped between there and Hammersmith; from what I could gather our driver confirmed that there was, indeed, a train in the section. Though this sounds a bit strange, the reason for it would be that at that point, if the 'Picc' driver hadn't been in contact with his Controller and they may have been wondering if there was a track circuit failure on the signalling system - this would give an indication of the area being occupied. To get a bit more of an insight into this, read Phil Wimbush's account of Signal Operation here.
As I worked my train towards Hammersmith there were, by now, several 'Picc' trains stooped in stations and at red signals, obviously unable to proceed because of their failed train. When I arrived at Turnham Green the driver of one of the 'Picc' trains got his passengers to transfer over to mine, and whilst they were doing so I had quick word with the driver. He told me that the stalled train had a 'burst' and therefore couldn't be moved until the driver of it had done what he needed to do to enable the train to move. This will take some time to resolve, hence the reason for the transfer of passengers to my train.
(A brief explanation of this; this is Train Equipment stuff and is taught 'in depth' in training and all drivers are refreshed on the procedure every year! The train concerned had suffered what is called a 'Main Line Burst' - that is the train had lost the compressed air supply which is not only used to operate the doors and brakes but is also related to many other of the trains systems. The loss of the supply will cause the train to come to a halt - all part of the 'fail safe' design. In itself a 'burst' is not an unusual event, usually being caused by a broken pipe or connection.
There are procedures which the Train Operator is able to follow that will allow the train to be moved safely and at slow speed to enable the train to be moved to the nearest depot or siding.)
Once this was all done I continued on my trip, passing two or three more 'Picc' trains between Turnham Green and Ravenscourt Park, though - as there are no platforms available, I wasn't able to help in transferring passengers across from those stalled trains. On arrival at Ravenscourt Park, there was a 'Picc' there, but the driver hadn't stopped the train in the platform so, again, he couldn't send passengers over. Quite why he'd decided to take the train 'outside' the station limits I don't know - it would have made his life far simpler had he remained completely in the platform.
By this time the 'Picc' Controller was diverting trains down the 'local' (our line) from Acton Town as far as Hammersmith, where they can regain their 'normal' line, and I could see that the first of these was right behind me. This would at least enable their service to keep running through, though they'd obviously be slowed a little whilst we stopped 'all stations' as normal.
Sure enough, as I moved towards Hammersmith, I could see the failed train; the driver was busy doing his various checks prior to isolating the burst. This would then enable the train to be moved. So, so far, nothing too dramatic had occurred, and it should all be able to be resolved, given time. There would be a DMT and a Train technician on their way to the train to assist the driver - the aim is to get the train moved as quickly (but safely) as possible.
At Hammersmith announcements are being made encouraging passengers to use my train to continue their journeys because of the delays; the same announcements are repeated at Barons Court and Earls Court. I continue my journey to Tower Hill without further event.
So, the normal process is followed at Tower Hill; I shut the train down, change ends and wait to head back westbound, and depart at the booked time of about 13:30. It's during the westbound trip that messages start coming through that there's now a derailed 'Picc' train at Hammersmith, though at this point I wasn't aware it was the same train that had suffered the burst. Our Controller is starting to divert some of our trains because our line at Hammersmith is now out of commission too, which means that any trains that go down to Ealing Broadway or Richmond won't be able to come back eastbound.
I warn my passengers that it is possible that we may be diverted, but at that point I hadn't been told to change destination. I watched the platform describers at South Kensington (often a place where you become aware of this, even if the Controller hasn't called your train) but my train does still have an Ealing Broadway description shown. On arrival at Earls Court the signal clears for me to follow my expected route, and I haven't been called up, so head off for Ealing Broadway.
As I approach Hammersmith the derailed train is clearly visible and there are staff about the track examining the train. It's clearly come off across the points that cross not only into the sidings but which also give access back to 'their' line, allowing their trains to regain their normal route. So, not only have they now lost the 'fast' line, but the 'local' is no longer of use to them. The trains that they now have stuck on the 'local' will have to be taken to West Kensington and from there reversed back to Barons Court and then back to their own territory.
View of the derailed Piccadilly Line train taken from a westbound District Line service.
As I berth my train and open the doors at Hammersmith there's a 'Picc' train in the adjacent platform. The driver of that confirms that they're now 'shut down' (suspended) between Acton Town and Hyde Park Corner in both directions and he's not sure where he's actually going to end up going (he's 'booked' for Rayners Lane). He also tells me that the train that's derailed is the same one that had already suffered the burst.
On my trip towards Acton Town the 'Picc' trains have now all been worked under procedures to enable them to detrain, so there are in several places the sight of two trains, practically coupler to coupler.
Two Piccadilly Line trains 'nose to tail' in the platform at Ravenscourt Park. The train to the right of the picture has been worked forward as far as possible to allow the following train to at least get partly into the platform. This would probably have detrained its passengers through the drivers cab.
I get to Acton Town. There are 'Picc' drivers waiting for trains, station staff trying to redirect passengers to try to get there journeys moving again, and managers trying to keep trains moving as best they can. Whilst it appears chaos, remember this is still very soon after the event, and a degree of confusion is bound to occur. The 'Picc' DMT asks (quite reasonably) for me to wait while passengers can be transferred to my train so that they can be moved to Ealing Broadway where at least they have a choice of Central Line and Main Line services. This I do, though I still have no idea what's going to happen to my train after I get to Ealing Broadway! As we're still 'shut down' too through Hammersmith there's only really two options - I can either stable the train into Ealing Common Depot or start doing a shuttle service between Ealing Broadway and Acton Town, reversing the train each time via Acton Town East sidings (see here for more detail).
Eventually once as many passengers as possible have been encouraged to join my train, we set off for Ealing Broadway.
As I pass Ealing Common Depot there's far more trains in it than is normal for the time of day, so it's obvious that some have been stabled as there's nowhere else for them to go, and the only way that trains still running to Ealing Broadway will be able to get into the platforms there.
On arrival at Ealing Broadway the Station Supervisor is (unsurprisingly) looking very harassed! He asks what's happening with my train and I answer that I've no idea, and that I'm going to phone the Controller to find out. I eventually manage to get to the phone on the platform, fielding questions from passengers on the way, who're obviously anxious to get to their destinations; most only need showing how to get to the Central Line platforms.
I call the Controller. 'We've just got word that we can run through again, so booked destination driver' is the response. I pass this on to the Station Supervisor, who's much relieved at the news. He asks when I'll be leaving to which I reply 'I should have left a couple of minutes ago, so as soon as I get a clear signal'. He gets announcements made to this effect, and the train immediately starts to fill. The signal clears within a couple of minutes of me 'opening up' and we head off towards Tower Hill once more.
All the stations are very busy, and progress is slowed by this whilst passengers (many with luggage - particularly at Acton Town where they've arrived from the airport) start to pack the train. As I head towards Hammersmith the trains I'd seen earlier are of course still firmly in the same position.
Again at Ravenscourt Park, this time looking towards Hammersmith. The train that can be seen in advance of the station is the one which had been sent forward to assist the failed train. Note the illuminated Rail Gap Indicator, showing that traction current is discharged in the section ahead.
On arrival at Hammersmith here are staff, Emergency Response Unit (ERU) personnel, Police and (I presume) representatives of Tubelines and probably HMRI too all over the eastbound platform. Three are colleagues fro the District Line - two of my fellow Instructors who've been 'piloting' 'Picc' trains to and from West Kensington and our 'Mobile' DMT who was on site whilst the problem with our line was resolved. He gets in the cab with me to go back to Earls Court. I learn from him that it is indeed the same train that had suffered the burst and that it seems that what's occurred is that the 'burst' on the train involved was in fact that a compressor has become at least partially detached from the train. This would have broken the air pipes leading from it, thus causing the burst, and in moving the train into the sidings the loose compressor has become further detached, causing the train to derail.
As there are staff about the track I'm also instructed that there is a 10 mph speed restriction past the site (not that I'd have gone faster than this anyway) and, after blowing the whistle as we depart, head off towards Barons Court.
The rest of the trip's uneventful; we arrive at Tower Hill a few minutes late, change ends, and head back to Earls Court for my mealbreak.
Passenger numbers on the trip westbound are greater than usual, but not excessively so. I arrive at Earls Court about ten minutes later than 'booked'.
My 'second half' is Earls Court, Barking, Wimbledon, High Street Kensington, Ealing Broadway and then stable the train in Ealing Common Depot at about 20:30. My train arrives more or less on time, though it arrived from Ealing Broadway rather than from Wimbledon - some trains are now being diverted to Ealing to help move the otherwise stranded Piccadilly Line passengers and loadings are heavy. Add to that it's a Friday afternoon (now about 16:45), and many people are trying to get to Heathrow either at the start or the finish of their holidays, and many have large amounts of luggage to cope with too.
The trip to Barking is largely uneventful, though a bit slow as we get to West Ham - it seems that the signallers are having a few problems with train identities, which has resulted in a couple of trains being given wrong signals. Each time this occurs there's a delay whilst the errors are corrected - the impact is that trains start to back up through the area. But we arrive about five minutes late, detrain and I move the train into the sidings for my trip back to Wimbledon. Of course other trains are running late as a result of the various problems, so I'm about five minutes late coming out of the sidings, and as I'm then held in Barking platform for about another three minutes I finally head westbound about eight minutes late. None of this is a problem - if I have a decent run through I should be able to recover some time at Wimbledon, and then more at High Street Kensington, so I should still get to finish on time.
However, as I leave East Ham the Controller calls me up; 'Divert to Ealing and stable early driver' is the message, which means that I'll actually end up stabling the train the best part of an hour early, but he obviously needs more capacity on that part of the line.
As I go through the central part of London this becomes all too apparent. All stations are busy at that time of day (it's now about 18:30), but the platforms at the main interchange ones are close to capacity, particularly at Embankment, Victoria and Earls Court - again many of those waiting are loaded with luggage, so it's apparent that they're trying to get to Heathrow. As a result the stop at each station is longer than normal whilst as many as possible cram themselves into the cars.
Although it wasn't a particularly hot evening (thank goodness!) it was still quite warm; though I was in my nice ventilated cab I knew that the atmosphere in the cars would be pretty hot and humid because of the numbers on the train, which must by now be full to capacity. This was apparent too when people were trying to get off the train as well as on - it took them quite a while to get out of the doors, with some passengers having to get out to allow their exit.
So, we're now on the final leg and it seems that we should be able to get through the rest of the trip without too much further delay, though I expect Hammersmith platforms to be busy.
But on arrival at Barons Court the relative quiet is shattered when a Passenger Emergency Alarm (PEA) is activated! I make a short announcement to acknowledge the PEA, call the Controller on the radio to tell him I've got a PEA and then head off down the platform to investigate the incident.
It transpires that an American tourist on her way to the airport with her husband has fainted. A young man (also a passenger) who seems to have at least first aid experience, is tending to her (she, her husband and their luggage are now on the platform). Once I've established that all's under control, I need to reset the PEA plunger that's been operated. On entering the car I realise just how hot and sticky the atmosphere is and just how full the train is too. The Station Supervisor has by now arrived on the scene, and she takes charge. We establish that the couple are at least going to take a breather on the platform and maybe even get a taxi to finish their trip to the airport.
So, having established that all is under control, I can get the train moving again. I make a PA to the passengers telling them this, those that have got off for a breather reboard, I call the Controller to let him know I'm on the move and we set off once more. But of course all this has taken about five minutes or so, so - by the time we arrive at Hammersmith - the platforms are even fuller than I'd expected them to be. Again there is the slow alighting and boarding process, but we move off towards Acton Town.
The 'normal' commuters alight at the intermediate stations and finally we arrive at Acton Town where the vast majority of passengers alight to use the shuttle services now being run by the Piccadilly Line from there. Of course by now this is all far more ordered than earlier with trains arriving on the eastbound platforms, detraining, reversing via the east sidings, and then coming back out 'on the west'.
As I approach Ealing Broadway one of 'our' trains passes we heading eastbound, and as I arrive at Ealing Broadway there are no other trains in the platforms. I'm routed into platform 9 and though there are a good number of people waiting for a train they've obviously been told already that my train won't be going back 'in service'. In fact I hear the Supervisor announcing that my train's 'defective' - though not strictly true, I understand his motives for the little white lie!
I close the train up as normal and take it into Ealing Common Depot, arriving as I expected about forty-five minutes earlier than booked. That was strictly the end of my duty, but because I was so early I walked over to the DMT's office at Acton Town to check if they were OK for staff and didn't need a hand for a while. It transpired that they were all right, and I was told to finish.
So that was my day! Selfishly though, my only regret was that I didn't have my camera with me to record any of the events. I had considered taking it with me, but had decided not to bother - typical!
I hope less selfishly though my thoughts go out to the following: the passengers who had such nightmare journeys and in particular to the 'Picc' driver. Having a burst to deal with is bad enough, but then to have the unpleasant experience of the derailment too must have been the final straw! Fortunately there were no personal injuries arising from the incident.
The rear of the derailed train still partly in the eastbound 'fast' platform at Hammersmith. The device behind the train on the track is a Short Circuiting Device. This is laid across the traction current rails and is used to prevent traction current being recharged accidentally. These are routinely laid in any circumstance where it is necessary to discharge traction current.
No doubt there will be an in-depth investigation into the incident, and this I will report on the appropriate page.