Football Night at West Ham
This was a late turn on a mid-week evening when West Ham were playing Chelsea at Upton Park in (I think) a Cup Match.
Football fixtures are a weekly feature on the District Line – we now have three Premiership Clubs directly on our route; Chelsea, Fulham and West Ham. For the most part their fixtures are arranged in such a way as not to have the teams playing at home on the same time or on the same day, but of course it is inevitable that each are going to play the others twice each season – plus, of course, any cup fixtures.
At weekends certain turns have 'Football Specials' attached to them which are run as directed by the Line Controller. However this isn't possible mid-week as all available stock is 'on the road' anyway and there aren't any spare trains available for use.
I was due to pick up my first train at Earls Court at about 1725 and I was due to be relieved at Barking at 2136 – four hours eleven minutes driving. The duty was supposed to go to Upminster, back to Richmond and then to Upminster again. I was due for relief at Barking eastbound on this last trip.
Things started about ten minutes late and then went rapidly downhill from there! On my way through the city the journey was (not unusual in the peak) as usual slow, but the situation rapidly deteriorated through a combination of events!
Firstly traction current had to be discharged at Aldgate East when a train got a collector shoe (the equipment which picks up the current from the power rails) jammed between the current rail and the running rail. This took some time whilst the shoe was levered away, current recharged and the train got moving again.
The queue of trains behind was substantial and progress was very much from red signal to red signal, usually being held at each for two or three minutes.
Matters then got worse! Football crowds were, by now, beginning to make their way to Upton Park for the match and, inevitably were getting restless to the point where the police began intervening. Strangely enough they seemed to have left matters get to a point where it was necessary for them to call a helicopter onto the scene and were insisting that each train load of supporters were allowed to clear the station before the next load were let loose!
I'd got to about West Ham and it was obvious that I had no chance of getting to Upminster at anything even close to my appointed time when the Controller called me up and told me I'd be reversing at Barking. At least this would put me back to something like my schedule. I duly made my PA announcement – few were, I suspect, concerned as most would be getting off at Upton Park anyway.
As usual the train was held on the platform at Upton Park whilst the crowd made their way from the platform – a sensible safety precaution to avoid any accidents.
Finally I made Barking, reversed via the sidings and was sent Westbound with little delay, although following very close behind the train ahead. The trip back to Richmond was uneventful and I made good progress.
On arrival at Richmond I quickly changed ends and departed only about five minutes late – not too bad.
It then occurred to me that I was almost certainly going to get caught again in the football crowds at the end of the match! However, all was going well and as I got to Plaistow I could see I was going to be a little late for my relief at Barking, but should be within my four hours fifteen minutes limit of driving.
This proved to be wishful thinking! Sure enough the football finished (Chelsea won, scoring in injury time) and trains ahead started to be held so that they could be packed to the limit at Upton Park. It took twenty minutes to go from Plaistow to Upton Park (one stop!) and I was held at Upton Park whilst morose West Ham supporters were packed into the train – remember, this was showing Upminster as its destination.
I eventually arrived at Barking at 2210 – almost thirty-five minutes late! I was greeted by my relief with 'didn't anyone tell you – the train's being reversed here!' My comment was 'If I were you I'd speak to the signalman. If you try to 'tip out' here you'll probably have a riot on your hands'. With that I took his key and beat a hasty retreat for my belated meal break. I don't know if the train did go through, but I presume it did – there were no signs of blood stains on the platform when I went back down to pick up for my 'second half'.
This should have gone to Upminster and then back to Ealing Broadway before being stabled in Ealing Common Depot. Inevitably it was running late, but, again, was reversed at Barking and I eventually stabled at about the scheduled time.
I think this little tale highlights a number of matters.
- · Communication is vital both to the driver from the Controller and/or Signal Operator and from the driver to his passengers. This would have avoided what could have developed into a very nasty situation.
- · Why passengers at the ends of the line get understandably frustrated by the seeming lack of trains getting to their intended destination. This is particularly so for customers trying to get to Upminster. There are occasions when more trains seem to get turned early than actually make it to Upminster!
- · Why delays occur. The holding of trains at stations in this way is, of course, frustrating for both driver and passengers but the safety implications if they were not are, frankly, too unpleasant to contemplate.
So there we have it – a combination of the rush hour, a train related delay and football crowds – a recipe almost guaranteed to cause chaos!