Christmas Week 2004
I think it fair to say that the period around Christmas is always a 'challenging' time for London Underground and its staff!
The effects of alcohol and 'high spirits' always seem to take their toll, and it is also a time quite renowned for some quite tragic occurrences - some deliberate, some accidental, but sadly too many end up with, literally, fatal consequences.
I've heard accounts from a number of my friends from all across the system of quite frightening events, though none of my own acquaintances have, thankfully, suffered any fatalities. That having been said, any incident can have a traumatic effect.
Our staff generally have a pretty gruesome sense of humour and you often hear drivers saying 'All I want for Christmas is a Jumper' - alluding to the time they'd get off work 'post incident'! I don't for one moment believe they mean it though!
My week was I suppose fairly typical - a couple of days were uneventful, but the others made up for it in various ways!
I was benefiting from a four day week - in that the system's shut down on Christmas day, and on a 'normal' week I'd have been working on 'the day' - and I was doing 'lates' so would be in with more than an even chance of 'enjoying' some of the holiday high spirits.
So I was working on the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
Sunday had passed without incident or event, and Monday started off in the same vein - and in fact continued so, from a service point of view.
I'd finished my 'first half' and picked up my second half at Earls Court eastbound on time at about 16:45. The driver I relieved didn't make any comment about any problems, so I set off towards Barking, where I was due to reverse to return westbound.
However, as I was going through the City, the Controller called me on the radio: 'I'm getting the Whitechapel Train Technician to meet you driver - we've had a report of your train making an odd noise from towards the rear'. I asked if he could expand, but it seemed that he couldn't! I was no receiving any warnings that anything was amiss - the train was responding normally and all seemed to be in order.
On arrival at Whitechapel the Train Technician was duly waiting on the platform in about the right place. I saw him get on, and once signals had cleared, carried out my normal duties and carried on.
On arrival at Bromley-by-Bow I saw the technician leave the car he'd entered and he started towards the front of the train. He joined me in my cab.
"The compressor on the rear unit's running all the time, it sounds terrible and is starting to smell - I think it may be out of oil -, so I've cut it out". In itself this isn't a problem - there's a compressor on the front unit too - it might just mean that air pressure may build up a bit slower than normal, unless of course that compressor were to fail too! The technician, quite rightly, wanted the train in the depot as soon as possible - I was due to go from Barking to Wimbledon, then to High Street Kensington, Ealing and then stable. "I'll call the Controller' he said.
The upshot was that the Controller was reluctant to allow an already defective train back into the central area, particularly towards the end of the 'peak', so it was agreed that I'd go through to Upminster to change the train over for a good one, although this would then mean I was late for my westbound trip. It would also mean that the depot staff would be able to start repairing the defective one during the evening whilst the depot was relatively quiet.
The fitter stayed with me to Barking. I was a little surprised though when another driver joined me. 'The DMT's sent me to be your pilot' he said. 'Why?' I asked - 'I haven't asked for one!'. 'She says you need piloting into Upminster depot' was the response. I pointed out that as an Instructor I was perfectly capable of finding my own way around! However, I did suggest that perhaps the Controller had asked her to get a 'spare' to ride with me in case there was a problem with the train.
We arrived at Upminster, detrained and closed up the train, and took it into the depot. After the usual radio exchange with the depot staff I was told where they wanted the train, and this was all done.
Now to get a new train, so it was off to the Duty Depot Manager's office to be told where I'd find one. 'Is yours the one with the compressor out?' he asked - I confirmed it was. 'OK - take the one on 41 East'. Off I went to prepare the train, as it happened still with my shadow and another fitter too, who needed to collect some tools from the train I was to take.
I started the normal process and went to test the brakes - nothing - brake test failed! I told the fitter who said they'd had a problem with it earlier but it should have been fixed. He promptly radioed for assistance and a couple of technicians arrived.
The problem was resolved without too much drama or further delay, the tower called me down, and I finally arrived and left Upminster at about 18:55 - 19 minutes before I was due to be leaving Wimbledon!
As I went west I heard some talk on the radio - there's now a signal problem at Putney Bridge, and because of this the Controller isn't answering me - I want to know what he wants me to do!
On arrival at West Ham though the destination is being shown as Ealing Broadway - which makes perfect sense, as it means I'll be there at about the time I'm due. But I still can't get through on the radio.
At Whitechapel I decide to use the phone, which is right by the cab. Eventually I get a answer 'Oh yeah, you are a bit late (?) driver, and we've got problems down the Wimbledon road. Straight to Ealing and 'stow' please' (which was what I wanted to hear, of course!)
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and with the benefit of a quick turn round I was able to stable on time. The journey was cheered when a friend of mine from the Signals Technical branch joined me on the westbound trip and we caught up on some gossip!
The only thing I wondered though was who'd reported the defect in the first place, and decided that I'd try to find out the next day.........
On Tuesday I started at Acton and as I knew that I'd be going through Earls Court at about 16:00 gave my good mate 'Solidbond' a call and it was agreed that he'd meet me for a ride home.
The duty I was doing was pretty straightforward - one of the 'Inter peak stablers' out of Ealing Common depot and then up to Barking for my mealbreak - a short 'first half', but much more on the second!
As I approached Earls Court eastbound I was held in the covered section as there was a train just in front of mine - a usual occurrence. The signal cleared me to platform 1, and the train moved forward, but not for long! I noticed that I wasn't motoring as I should and a quick glance showed that I wasn't getting traction current - at least to the front of the train, and from the lack of anything other than a bit of 'rolling' nor to the rear either. Finally the train came to a halt, about 150 metres from the platform at about 16:00.
I carry out my checks and it seems I've either got a pretty major problem with the train, or traction current's been switched off. I try to call the Controller on the radio - no response. I switch on my mobile phone and try the 'freephone' number we have for him - still nothing.
I make a P.A. to my (fortunately!) few passengers apologising for the delay and trying to reassure them that I am trying to find out what's going on.
From where I am I can see the DMT's office on the end of Platform 3 at Earls Court, and as usual there's a few drivers hanging around. But trains are still running past me coming from Wimbledon, and seem to departing normally westbound, so I'm thinking now more in terms of 'defect' than 'juice off'. I blow my whistle to try to attract someone's attention, but that doesn't work - I'm now starting to feel rather 'isolated'!
As a last resort I phone the DMT who does answer. 'Have we got a problem?' I ask - explaining that I'm stuck within waving distance! 'Haven't heard so - I'll phone you back', he says.
So I do another apologetic P.A. just to reassure the passengers.
At that moment the phone rings - it's Solidbond. 'I'm at the end of platform 1' he says, 'where are you?'. I tell him of my predicament. He tells me that our Line Standards Manager is with him too, also wanting a ride home and he too promises to try to find out what's going on and hangs up.
The DMT calls back. 'It's not you - they've knocked the juice off under you as there's a report of persons about the track between High Street and Earls Court. You won't be going anywhere for a while. I'll give you another ring when I know more'. The only good thing (from my point of view at least) is that I now know that I haven't got a faulty train to deal with.
Of course, although all this seems to have taken a lifetime, the reality is that it's actually been less than ten minutes.
Of course, word soon gets round and I get amused mates now waving to me from the end of the platform and phoning me up enquiring why I'm waiting there - very droll!
The phone goes regularly with information now from various sources as to the situation - almost too many in fact, as I'm trying to reassure passengers that I am still there, nothing's changed and I'll move us forward as soon as I can.
After about half an hour there's a sudden sound of compressors starting up, alternators come back to life and lights come on - the 'juice' is back on! The DMT phones to confirm this. But as the train needs a bit of time to recharge air it'll still be a few minutes before I can move it. Just as I'm thinking we're about to move (and have done a further P.A. to that effect) the power goes off again!
A further call to the DMT 'They thought it was all clear, but it seems the persons have just been spotted outside Earls Court. Oh, and by the way, even if you do get into Earls Court, you won't be moving further as there's now a security alert at South Kensington!'.
So essentially it's an action replay. Finally power is restored and I get into Earls Court platform fifty minutes late! The only good news is that the security alert's now over too.
Solidbond and our LSM get in with me and after a couple of minutes I get confirmation that I am OK to proceed and off we go.
The trip's now uneventful, apart from of course quite high passenger levels, but it is the evening peak and - given the delays - not surprising.
One interesting snippet I learn is that it was in fact our LSM who'd heard my faulty compressor the evening before as he'd walked down the platform to go home, so it was he that had reported it!
I arrived at Barking about fifty-five minutes late - actually about ten minutes before my next train was due and reported to the DMT that this was the case. Of course, everything else was by now this late too, so there'd be the usual spate of late meal reliefs, drivers getting off their first trains after they were due to pick up their second and so on all across the line.
I made my way down to the platform in plenty of time for when it was now expected for my second train to arrive, and I stood chatting to a couple of other drivers. Entertainment was provided by one particular drunk who fell over without any warning from time to time, his party piece being to hit his head on the platform before any other part of his body reached it, and all from a standing position! We were concerned for his safety, but he was in the company of others who were in a pretty normal state, and they safely propelled him onto the next Upminster rain to arrive.
However, this light relief was rather tempered when the signaller (I presume on the instruction of the Controller) reversed three Upminster trains at Barking in a row, which of course had the effect of the already delayed passengers having a real go at us waiting for our trains. We can understand their frustration, but aggression towards us does nothing to improve the situation, though perhaps it helps relieve their frustrations.
In the event my second train arrived about an hour late, but instead of going through to Upminster the Barking signal operator called me on the phone to let me know that the train would be in the bay road and would go straight back out. This immediately recovered about fifty minutes, and allowing for a generous turn round time at Richmond, I was then back on time for my last trips to High Street Kensington and Ealing Broadway before stabling the train into Ealing Common depot.
Christmas Eve itself was quiet, at least from my point of view, and I was home with my family to start my Christmas celebrations by about 21:00 - quite civilised, at least compared to last year when I ran the last Ealing Broadway train back from Upminster, arriving home at gone 01:00 on Christmas morning!
(Story added 4 January 2005)