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The following event actually occurred some two and half (or thereabouts) years ago now, and it's a tale I've wondered about relating a few times.  However, as there was a thread raised recently on the forum (which can be read here) I thought I'd relate my experience of such an event.....

I was stabling a train into Ealing Common depot at the end of traffic one Friday evening - it was at about 00:35 - having carried out a very normal and routine duty.  During most times of the day, drivers stable trains onto either 19 or 20 Roads in the depot and the depot staff then shunt them to wherever they need to go; we only move trains in the depot for the purpose of either entering service or when they are withdrawn from service, for whatever reason.  The entry into the depot is by means of a shunt signal from Ealing Common's eastbound platform, and the route indicator will illuminate with a route '2' illuminated.

However, after about 00:30 we will enter the depot under a route '1', proceed as far as the 'STOP' sign adjacent to the shunter's cabin and we will then be directed to whichever road we are to stable the train on. All this had occurred quite normally, and the shunter had told me to put the train onto '5 Ealing' (this is in the shed, leaving the train on the 'Ealing' end of the road), if I remember correctly.  The shunter had set all the points involved - they are all hand worked in Ealing Common depot - and, knowing that there are a good number of twists and turns involved in the move, I set off towards my designated destination, obeying, I hasten to add, the speed limit of 5 mph.

But, before I go on to tell what then happened, a little bit of history! The depot is, of course, about 100 years old and there have been few changes to its layout and - I suspect - much of the track and pointwork is almost as old.  Additionally, the track bed is the old type of ash bed that was routinely used 'back then' and not the stone ballast we are more used to seeing on railways nowadays, and with age has become quite soft. As one watches trains moving around the depot one can see the track compress and release as the bogies pass by.  The point blades too had become worn and a bit 'loose' too, meaning that they had a tendency to move as trains passed over them. Over the preceding eighteen months or so there had been a few 'incidents' in the depot, mainly involving depot staff, but a couple had involved 'our' drivers.

So, I'm heading towards the shed, watching the way the points were laying to make sure I was headed where I expected to go. Suddenly I feel the train 'jerking' - my initial thought is that some teeth have stripped from one of the motors - and stop the train as quickly as I can, which of course was only a matter of feet. I suppose that the front of the train was only about two or three cars lengths from the shed entrance - I was that close!

I quickly removed my keys and climbed out of the cab to see the shunter staring open mouthed at about the fourth car of the train, which, even from where I was, I could see was at 'unusual' angle! I headed off towards the area; the shunter's on his radio I guessed (correctly) to the Depot Duty Manager (DDM) to tell him what had happened and, sure enough, the fourth car's obviously 'on the deck', or at least partially so.  At this time I assume that the points have slipped, and the leading bogie's just come off.  This isn't quite what's happened, but I'll return to this later!  The DDM strolls up, hands in pockets, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, takes one look at the train and with 'you're not the first and you won't be the last' turns on his heel and heads back into the office to contact whoever needs to be contacted.

Now the fun really starts! Obviously there now needs a number of parties to be informed. 

  • The Line Controller needs to be made aware not only of the incident itself, but that they are not going to get any more trains in to the depot, at least from that direction, until my train's been rerailed and moved.
  • The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) will need to attend to rerail the train and see to any other repairs that need to be done as a consequence of the incident.
  • My own depot needs to be informed so that a local Manager can attend to carry out the inevitable reports and paperwork that will need to be prepared.

In fact the first representative of London Underground on the scene is in fact one of the 'Picc' DMT's who I obviously haven't had any previous dealings with, though I did know him by sight. For some reason, he decided to bring their 'Night Spare' Train Operator with him - quite why I've never actually worked out!  It was quite obvious that he'd made his mind up that it was all the fault of mine, or the shunters, or a combination of both and immediately that we were going to be medically screened for drugs and alcohol and phoned the company that deals with such matters. He 'instructed' me to go to the DDM's office to write a report of my account of the circumstances of the event and told the shunter to do the same thing, but that under no circumstances were we to 'consult on' or 'compare' our accounts of what had happened.  He then strode off self-importantly towards Ealing Common station.

I think the reason he was a little 'peeved' was that, although my train was inside the depot limits, it was not clear of the signalling section into Ealing Common depot and the signaller was unable to reset the points for the normal route! This was resulting in not only District line trains now being stuck right back to Ealing Broadway, but the 'Picc' was suspended to and from Rayners Lane, with trains being stuck en route! So I suppose I can understand that he wasn't in the best of humours!  To start addressing this problem, a signals technician was making his way to the site, where he'd have to isolate the air supply to the points, manually move them across and then 'scotch and clip' the route to allow trains to go through towards Acton Town.

I suppose all this had occurred within less than about twenty minutes of the incident itself, and I was just about to make my way to the DDM's office when 'our' night duty DMT turned up from Acton Town - he'd been delayed as, of course, he'd had to lock the office up, put a note on the door and stuff like that and then walk over to the depot; in itself about a nine minute walk.  His first words (and they made me feel much better!) were 'I got a call from the Controller - he told me what number (meaning train number) it was, and I looked up which duty was doing it. When I saw it was you, I knew it wasn't your fault'. Of course, I told him the tale of woe and (essentially) he found it all rather amusing - not least that the Picc DMT had demanded the 'D&A' (drugs and alcohol) test! Essentially his words were 'don't worry about it'. So we retired to the DDM's office, I found pen and paper, made the appropriate notations in my own notebook and then wrote up the 'formal' version of the evening's events - all interspersed (in true railway tradition) with a certain amount of 'banter', tea being brewed and cigarettes being smoked!

While this was all going on, I was aware that the ERU team had arrived and were now surveying the scene and formulating what needed to be done.  Being the 'inquisitive' character I am, I had to go and have a look at what they were up to, and interesting it certainly was - but I'll come back to this in more detail later!

I think it was at about 02:00 when the bloke from 'Mediscreen' (the organisation that many of the railway company's use for D&A tests) turned up and I had to start the process of giving 'samples'; breath test first - all clear (well, it would be - I'd just done eight hours driving a train and even if I'd had a drink 'outside' prescribed limits it'd have worked it's way 'through' my system by then), but then I needed to give a urine sample.  BUT - because I'd had a cup of tea and a smoke, it meant I had to wait - in the bloke's company - for a further thirty minutes before producing a 'sample' which would be sent off for a full analysis.

So, pending any enquiry that was felt appropriate, the outcome of the screening and so on, I'm now 'stood down' and if I were to be found at fault, in breach of any procedures or failed the D&A process, I could be subject to disciplinary action and - in the worst case - out of a job! I have to say, I never really worried about this - I knew I'd done everything as correctly as any driver does so was reasonably confident that it'd all work out.

At this point I suppose I was free to go home, but I wanted to see what the ERU were up to.  I really can't describe it all, but the train had, it seems, decided to go about three ways at the same time, 'dragged' itself back over running and current rails and, frankly,  made a bit of a mess!  The sight of the derailed car being jacked up, slid using wooden boards, chains, blocks and tackle and sheer brute force to rerail it was a sight to behold!  Add to that the correction of points settings so that the train could then be moved and a myriad of other matters that required vast amounts of muscle and manpower. The inventiveness, teamwork and improvisation of the ERU team was, at the very least, impressive.  I finally left for home at about 04:30, by which time the train had been rerailed, traction current rails and insulators replaced, repaired or renewed as necessary and the train was ready to be moved and shunted to it's original planned destination.  But, remember, this is only about thirty minutes before the 'next day's' start of traffic.

As I'm getting ready to leave the DMT's (another of 'ours' has now arrived, having dealt with the stabling of our trains stuck out on the line) say 'well, there's no point you coming in 'til Monday - we won't get the D&A results back for at least 48 hours' so I've now got the weekend off, though in circumstances I'd rather had not occurred.

Of course while all this was going on trains were still out, which should have been long since stabled! I believe that trains at Acton Town were sent to Northfields, where they were reversed, sent to Acton Town and then reversed back into Ealing Common depot.  This took 'some time' as every train had to be conducted by a 'Picc' man to Northfields and back - we're not route trained for that section. I believe too that three trains were stabled in Ealing Broadway's platforms overnight, but depot staff would still have had to have attended to these, to certificate their fitness for service for the following day.

The Epilogue

So, I had a Saturday and Sunday off. I went into Acton for my afternoon late turn on Monday to be told that the results of my D&A test haven't been received, but there's nothing else being done about the incident. So, I couldn't drive a train, and, as there's not much else a driver can do at that time of the day, I recall I was back at home by about 18:00!

The situation repeated on Tuesday, except that this time I was met by my TOM (Train Operations Manager) who wasn't happy - not with me, but with the Picc DMT who was now keeping one of HIS T/Op's off the road for no good reason!  I won't repeat my recollection of his language, but, suffice it to say, it was colourful!

The same happened on Wednesday and Thursday, and I was then off anyway until the following Tuesday (what we call a 'long weekend').

I still didn't know if it had all been resolved until I phoned the depot on Monday.  Apparently the test results had been received by whoever they go to, but the associated paperwork had not, and they cannot tell the depot that all's well until they can put the two together. But all was clear, and I went back to work on the Tuesday, even being thanked by colleagues for the entertainment, overtime and cabs home that my little escapade had given them.

Nothing more was ever said, and all the enquiries I made about it resulted in 'forget about it', though I do know that there was a bit of a post mortem about the whole situation as far as derailments in the depot were concerned, but I was never asked for any further input.

I never did put in an overtime docket - I wonder if it's too late now.......


I'm possibly guilty of making light here of what could have been a serious situation - but this was all within depot limits; there were no passengers involved and there was no risk to anyone.  Please do not interpret this as an 'off hand' and 'frivolous' attitude to derailments - either on my own part or on the part of London Underground; many of you will have read my comments and thoughts about those which have happened in the last couple of years.

Those were very much the reason that I'd not previously related this story.

(Update added 30 March 2005)



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