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Disjointed Jottings

Disjointed Jottings

As it's been a while since I wrote one of these pieces for 'Tubeprune' I thought it time to go back over my notebook and remind myself of anything that may be of interest to his readers.

Surprisingly, it was remarkably devoid of any major incidents, but a few notes I'd jotted down present the opportunity to give a few insights into some of the minor things that occur and also occasional events that occur in our lives.

So, some of what follows are of an 'operational' nature, some relate more to 'personal development' and some are a mixture of both.

Late Running

This is a purely operational event, but one which impacted on the service to passengers. This will become clearer as the story unfolds, I hope!

The line, in common with others, has introduced new timetables – these actually came into force while I was on a period of Annual Leave, so I fully expected to return to work to hear that the revisions hadn't made much difference. But I was surprised to find that the reactions were, on the whole, favourable and that it seemed to work.

My first personal experience was on a Sunday – not a good day to come to a balanced judgement, as there are fewer trains running so delays are always fewer. But I found that the more generous running times that had been built in resulted in me being held to booked departure times at a number of places. On one trip I'd been held at Whitechapel and again at Mansion House, but I'd then been delayed on the remainder of my trip back to Earls Court so was surprised when I still arrived there early!

So, I was looking forward to seeing how a morning peak service duty would work out the next day.

I had an early turn – booking on at about 0450 with my train being due to leave the depot at about 0530.

As I walked over to the depot with a couple of my colleagues I registered subconsciously that there seemed to be several trains ready to go with the drivers just sitting in their cabs – the shunters cabin was in darkness and as we walked past the phone was ringing persistently. All a little odd. On passing a couple of the trains it became apparent that they were overdue to depart and had no idea of the reason for the delay.

So I arrived at my train and went through my pre service checks. Still the radio was silent (at least from the east end of the depot, although trains were being called down to the west end outlet). So I headed down to the other end and repeated the process there and, having done so, went back to the east end to await developments. As I was walking through, the train on the next road started moving, only to come to an abrupt halt again! It then started to reverse back – most unusual, to say the least.

What seems to have happened was that the shunter was asleep! My colleague on the adjacent train told me later that he'd been hand signalled to draw down and had just started to move when the radio had come to life and called the train next to him to draw down too! That would have ended in a collision, as they were on converging roads! The shunter had (fortunately) noticed, got both trains to stop and reversed one back so that the cabin shunter could take charge.

Matters then started to go from bad to worse! There was then a points failure at the west end of the depot, so nothing could get out that way. One train was on its way down A Road (which runs behind the depot sheds) and the driver was then instructed to change ends and take the train back to where he'd started from. The east end shunter is trying to move trains out as quickly as possible, but the depot staff are also bringing trains which should have departed from the west end back through the shed roads so that they could get out from the east end.

Eventually I departed almost exactly an hour late. Once outside the depot limits the radio changes to the line channel and, of course, the Controller's diverting and reforming trains to try to restore the service. I'm told to go straight through as an Upminster, so I actually arrived at Barking for my relief right on time.

Talking to colleagues later some were, inevitably, late, but all generally felt that the new timetable had allowed for the service to be recovered more quickly.

But the story of the 'near miss' in the depot had got around, and all agreed that a potentially very serious incident had only been narrowly avoided and almost more by luck than judgement!

And a fair amount of all the delays were due to someone over sleeping…….

Annual Refresher Training

All London Underground operational staff have to be retested annually in various fields, depending on what role they occupy.

Rules and Regulations, Fire, Railtrack and Stock Refreshers

The ones that are common to both train and station staff is the Annual Test of Rules (ATOR) although it is refined according to exactly what the individuals job is. For example, drivers are given much the same test as station staff, though with some aspects added, such as procedures in the event of failed signals and, on the District Line, we are also tested on Railtrack procedures too. This is an oral exam and there are usually four candidates with an Instructor Operator officiating. He poses the questions and you take it in turns to answer. He'll then ask if the others agree or want to add anything. You go through procedures that only occasionally arise – point-to-point working and wrong direction moves for example, some that more frequently arise but have a fairly complex number of steps involved and so on.

It's not a forgone conclusion that you'll pass, and if you don't you're 'stood down' pending a resit. Failure to pass on the next occasion will see a report submitted to the Line Standards Manager and a decision will then be made s to the next steps that are appropriate – in the worst case this could result in the loss of your job. But, providing you've done a bit of revision just to remind yourself, them it's straight forward enough.

As is well known, since the Kings Cross disaster and the subsequent Fennell Report, matters relating to fire training are right at the top of the safety agenda within London Underground. So another annual test relates to this. This course is also common to train and station staff, and various adapted courses are given to all staff, adapted as appropriate to their roles.

The course is comprehensive, incorporating identifying areas such as the causes of fire, types of extinguisher and so on.

More specifically to train staff are the Stock refreshers. These are used to remind you about defect handling, so that should a situation arise it won't have been too long since you were last reminded of how to deal with such situations. Of course, we also have to be conversant with two quite different trains, so, for us, this occupies two days.

Again these are handled by an Instructor Operator and involves some theory before moving to trains in the depot where the Instructor puts the defect on the train and the group decides what the fault is and what they can do to move the train, if they can, can it remain in service, if they can't what options are available – assisting driver, assisting train and so on.

The final refresher is actually biannual and relates to Railtrack – specifically do you know how to be safe about the track, your sight and hearing is tested and a number of other safety related matters. Only lines which have running over Railtracks metals are subject to this. It also covers matters such as the Rules and Regs appropriate to Railtrack – there are significant differences between LUL and Railtrack in a number of areas.

So, overall, about five working days a year are devoted to just proving your continued theoretical knowledge.

Generally these are relatively easy days, providing of course that you've spent a bit of time reminding yourself of the topics before attending the sessions. But they're essential if you're to be able to do your job.

Competence Assurance

This is a relatively recently introduced programme where a drivers driving, train handling and procedures are reviewed. Personally I have no problem or complaints about the idea, though this not a view displayed by all drivers!

I view it as an extension of the annual retesting procedures, but this time you are demonstrating your practical rather than theoretical skills. It actually takes the form of two observations by a Duty Manager Trains (DMT) who has been specifically trained for the role.

The TD1 review is where you are given notice of the forthcoming event. You're given a briefing as to when the review will take place and it's format. You will be relieved of your normal duty for the day and instead is substituted the DMT's chosen list of moves and timings. I'll expand on this later and detail some of the examination to which I was subjected!

Another review is a 'no notice' check ride (in airline parlance) – the DMT presents him (or her) self as you're picking up a train and do a short trip with you. My last one was a trip from Earls Court to Wimbledon and back to Earls Court. He'll note things like driving and braking techniques, accuracy of stopping at stations, signal observation and anticipation, use of mirrors and monitors to observe platforms and passengers, use of the Public Address and radio systems and how you deal with any situations involving prescribed procedures, should they arise. He'll also ask you to describe how you would deal with various situations. At the end of the trip he'll give you a bit of feedback and praise or criticism as appropriate.

The TD1 is more involved. The DMT will be present when you book on – at this time you should check for any recent notices (such as temporary speed restrictions, known signal problems, platform issues), the SPAD board (this highlights signals know to be at risk as being passed at danger – maybe because of sighting problems due to encroaching vegetation, but also gives a running total of the line's recent performance).

He will also be looking to see if you are correctly uniformed and also that your Personal Protective Equipment (shoes, Hi-Vi etc.) is in order and that you are using them correctly. He may even take it as far as looking for your name badge!

You'll then make your way to the depot and prepare a train for service, as I've described this process elsewhere on this site I won't bore you again with the details, proceed into passenger service and, effectively, carry out a normal duty.

Part of the process is to demonstrate your line and procedural knowledge, so the trips you'll do are to include procedures at termini, driving under Railtrack rules (the procedures vary from LUL's in some respects). We have to go through Earls Court a set number of times, drive both C and D Stocks and demonstrate your handling of both types of train. You'll also show your use of the PA in both routine use and, should circumstances dictate, to keep customers informed in the event of delays.

Depending on circumstances that may actually develop during the review you'll also be asked to describe your actions should situations present themselves – things like the correct procedures in the event of signal failures for example.

You'll also be asked a variety of questions to test your line knowledge – some will have been covered whilst driving, others will be covered later!

At the end of it all you'll have the opportunity to discuss the experience, he'll give any feedback appropriate and you then have finished the review.

In many ways it's a bit like doing your road test all over again, and though perhaps not as stressful, it does focus you – and I'm sure that's part of its purpose!

Performance and Development Review

In common with many employers London Underground has a system in place to encourage staff to develop themselves and their career. My old employer called it an Annual Appraisal – London Underground calls it Performance and Development Review.

This is an opportunity for a member of staff to sit down with their manager, discuss the period since the last such review and the progress of any agreed steps arising from that, and then discuss any career aspirations that the individual may have. Steps towards can then be agreed towards this progress and plans made to facilitate them.

Some staff (in whatever grade) may be perfectly happy in staying where they are, and this is respected, although if perhaps they've been identified as having potential beyond there current level they will be encouraged to reassess this!

So what has all this achieved?

Well, not only is it essential for a Train Operator to be able to continue his work but it is also now being recognised by the availability if an NVQ Award in Train Operation. The theory is not only to acknowledge the skills and knowledge demonstrated but also to give the individual a tangible document that should be transferable to another prospective employer.

And then next year, you start the process all over again!

Near Miss!

Perhaps not an expression that might seem relevant to a Train Operator – but perhaps you'd be surprised!

Most of the readers of this site will be familiar with the concept of 'a person under a train' or in LUL parlance a 'one under' – the unfortunate situation where, for a variety of reasons, someone has ended up under a train.

Often this is fatal – sometimes it has been a deliberate act, sometimes it has been accidental, but the laws of physics really dictate that a person's body is really little challenge to approaching 200 tons of metal travelling at up to 50 mph.

I'm not sorry to say that (so far) I've not experienced this and I hope that that situation remains, but statistically the fact is that a driver is likely to experience such an occurrence about every five years. You cannot be trained for how you react – you are trained how to deal with it in terms of the 'mechanics' of the situation, but the longer term effects can only be dealt with individually.

But another situation that is less widely known and considered is the 'near miss' – that is where a driver happens across a person or persons about the track who should not be there and often in a potentially life threatening situation. Often this as a result of the use of alcohol, the perpetrators are, frankly, oblivious to the danger to themselves, but nevertheless the driver receives a nasty shock and one that can be quite a shaking experience!

I've seen quite a few – both on my time on the stations and since being on the trains – but this was an experience that shook me quite a bit.

It was a Thursday night at about midnight when I was heading towards Ealing Broadway on my last trip of the evening. All I had left to do was get to Ealing Broadway, close up the train and put it into Ealing Common Depot. I arrived at Hammersmith – all was quiet. I carried out my normal duties and started off towards Ravenscourt Park. As I rounded the quite sharp curve to the left the train was approaching 25 mph and I suddenly saw, very close to the front of the train, two individuals waving and jumping around at the side of the track. I braked as hard as possible (in LUL parlance 'assisted the train to a stop') but the curvature of the track is such that I could not see back round the curve – I hadn't heard an impact and decided to carry on, as I did so I called the Controller on the radio to warn him – and so that he could warn trains behind me – that there was a potential hazard in the area.

I carried on to Ealing and it was only after I had tipped the train out and was sitting quietly on the front waiting to go to the depot that the impact of what I had experienced hit home. I'm not the kind of person that dwells on things and I was, frankly, surprised at myself that I felt pretty shaken when the implications hit home of what might have been – all it'd have taken is for the clearance to have been a bit less, one of them to have slipped and so on.

Anyway, the signal cleared – I headed off towards Ealing Common, stabled the train and was a little surprised to find that the incident was still on my mind! So instead of heading straight home, I decided to head to the DMT's office at Acton Town – at least I'd have time for a cup of tea and a natter to take my mind of it.

The DMT on duty was great – he even made the tea! But he called the Controller (who had received my radio call despite the fact that I hadn't really heard a response) who had passed details to both train and station staff. Apparently two individuals had been apprehended – they'd been looking for somewhere to have a pee and decided that it'd be fun to play with the trains!!! They received a dressing down from both the Station Supervisor and British Transport Police and left Hammersmith duly admonished.

I left for home and, though feeling reassured that the outcome had been positive, still found it was on my mind!

The next morning (still very short of sleep) the phone at home rang. It was my boss – our Train Operations Manager – he'd been told what had happened – was I OK. I assured him that I was, though short of sleep, and I'd be in for my 'turn' that afternoon. 'Come and see me – we'll sort something out'.

When I booked on he was there – a Spare had been organised to run with me for my first half, and I was then to finish and the Spare would finish the duty! A bit like riding a horse, I suppose, get back in the saddle and so on, but I was grateful for the company and that certainly settled the demons.

But the things I'd pass on:

  • If you think it'll be a laugh to play with the trains when you've had a few – don't! There's some poor individual on the front of the train who'll get scared witless
  • If you work for LUL and think all Managers are uncaring idiots – think again! Many have 'been there and done that' and may well know how you're feeling! Don't prejudge them all!


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