Early August in London isn't really the time you'd expect a meteorological catastrophe in Central London, but this is what occurred.
Apparently London received over an inch of rain in about half an hour, right at the height of the evening peak. Transport systems of all varieties were brought to a grinding halt and, as I write this some forty-eight hours later, they have still not entirely recovered.
The first half of my duty had gone pretty well as planned, with the only possible cloud being a signal problem between Hammersmith and Barons Court just as I was due to go to Earls Court for my meal break. However it was resolved, and I arrived at Earls Court pretty well on time – just before 1700. It was starting to rain a bit, but nothing that gave clues to the mayhem that would occur in the next hour – in fact it seemed a bit of a blessing – it had been a humid afternoon and needed a shower to 'clear the air'. I regretted this thought later!
My second half was to be C Stocks – plying up and down between Edgware Road and Wimbledon from about 1800 to about 2030, so fairly short and the time seems to go quickly when doing this route. I was due to pick up my train on the westbound platform, but about ten minutes before my pick up time the Duty Manager stuck his head round the canteen door and said "could you pick up on the eastbound at the same time – there's a few problems on the Wimbledon branch. I expect the Controller'll turn you early to put you back on time at some point"
I'd been happily ensconced in the canteen (isolated from the world outside) and hadn't realised that in the intervening forty-five minutes or so there'd been a major downpour and serious storms.
So I headed off to pick up my train. As I walked down the platform it was raining quite hard, but nothing to suggest how extensive the storms had been.
My train arrived, and the driver told me there were signalling problems as a result of the rain on the Wimbledon road and he (and the other trains going down there) had been delayed as a result. I asked if trains were running through, and his answer suggested that they were, albeit that there could be further delays. In itself this isn't that unusual. The signalling system round Southfields and Wimbledon Park is notoriously susceptible to rain, so I had no major cause for concern at this point.
I worked the train up to Edgware Road, and as I was going up there it became obvious from the messages being issued by the Line Controller that there were delays occurring all over the line. At Notting Hill Gate we switch to the Metropolitan Line's radio frequency it was clear that they Met too had problems. Baker Street station was closed, there was flooding in the Farringdon/Aldgate area and a bulging wall was giving cause for concern at Kings Cross.
But there were still no clear messages that the Wimbledon branch was effectively closed! I changed ends at Edgware Road, set the train up to return to Wimbledon and waited for the signalman to clear the signal for me. I'm a little concerned when I find a fair volume of water and condensation sloshing around the west end cab which suggests that the previous driver had been in and out of the cab a number of times on his last trip.
A couple of passengers enquired if the train was going to Wimbledon, to which I replied (honestly!) "Yes, as far as I know. There are some problems and if I find out anything different, I'll let you know over the Public Address". Famous last words!
We set off towards Wimbledon. I arrived at Earls Court – the train's still being described as a Wimbledon service. Nothing's being said over the radio to suggest it isn't going through, although some trains are being called to reverse at Parson Green. We're still described as Wimbledon at Fulham Broadway. We're held there (I'm not surprised – I know the train ahead's being 'tipped out' at Parsons Green) and eventually set off towards Parsons Green. The signal clears at Parsons Green – still nothing said, although the rain's coming down at a serious rate!
As I'm approaching Putney Bridge I'm held at the 'home' signal, which makes me a little suspicious, but then I see a train depart from the bay platform – this would explain that, and I expect the signal to clear for me to go through. I'm now mentally revising the procedures required for passing Railtrack Signals under Authority whilst at Danger (they're different from London Underground's rules) when the signal clears but gives me the 'route' into the bay road. Reluctantly I open the cab door (it's pouring down) to use the signal phone. It's sited at 'eye level' so can be reached without leaving the cab, although I now have a soaking left shirt sleeve! I query the route and am told 'everything's going round at Putney Bridge – the Wimbledon road's suspended' I reply (a little sarcastically) that it'd have been nice to have been told earlier, at which point the signal operator hung up!
So I make a PA apologising that I hadn't been told earlier that this is the situation and that a train load of passengers would have to find alternative methods to complete their journey.
I pull into Putney Bridge, make a final "All change, this train terminates here" announcement and shut the train down – not at all looking forward to my walk to the other end of the train. I get a few sarcastic remarks, but probably less abuse than I expected to receive.
I reach the other end and prepare to head off back to Edgware Road. The talk on the radio's now of trains being diverted, terminated early and so on as they try to keep some kind of service running. On my way back to Edgware Road I discover that the Circle Line is now suspended completely, there's no service between Edgware Road and Kings Cross and other lines are suffering too. It takes a good while to finally get to Edgware Road, having warned passengers at Notting Hill Gate and Paddington to try alternative routes, as they're not going to get past Edgware Road. Most heed my dire warnings, so there are few left on the train when I finally arrive at Edgware Road.
So off I go again to Putney Bridge. The station staff at High Street Kensington and Earls Court are doing their best to cope with the situation, so my arrival at Putney Bridge is this time a little less fraught!
I arrive back at Earls Court at 2050 (twenty minutes after I should have been relieved). No sign of a relief driver. I phone the DMT – he's forgotten about me! So I offer to take the train to Edgware Road and back and he promises I'll be take off when I get back. The alternative would be to further delay the service while he found a driver, and more inconvenience and delays to already disgruntled passengers.
I arrive at Edgware Road – the platforms are crowded and it takes me almost ten minutes to change ends – answering questions all the way from passengers trying to travel east. No station staff in sight – not good at all! Fortunately the signal operator's are trying to turn trains on all four platforms, so I still have time to open the train up before the signal clears – but only just!
I arrive at Earls Court and am finally relieved an hour late.
Fortunately (for me) there's no shortage of trains going to Ealing Broadway, so at least I can get back to Acton Town to retrieve my car. But the trip's dramatic, with forks of lightning and downpours all the way. I can't remember before when I've seen lightning like that in the UK!
It's only as I'm listening to the radio in the car as I drive home that the full scale of the disruption becomes apparent! There's flooding, trains cancelled, buses disrupted and major disruption of a scale I struggle to recall all over London.
As I said at the start, it's now two days since this all occurred. But we're still suffering problems as a result of the floods. The signals are still giving trouble around Southfields to the extent that the Edgware Road service is still terminating at Putney Bridge to reduce the number of trains using the area. I've been down to Wimbledon on several occasions since, all without incident, but it's obvious there's still cause for concern.
More worryingly I also understand that in the midst of all the disruption a disgruntled passenger assaulted one of our drivers at Gloucester Road. I don't know more than that, but it's a trend that seems more and more prevalent these days.
I also found out today that Earls Court Station is subject to a Noise Abatement Order which prevents them from using the Public Address system after 2130. That leaves me speechless...........................