Having a Handle Down is the colloquial name within London Underground for the activation of a Passenger Emergency Alarm (PEA) - the red handles or buttons fitted in every LU car.
From a drivers point of view an activation brings about a sudden loud and heart stopping tome in the cab. When this occurs one has no idea what the problem is - it can be a myriad of things from a 'malicious activation' (someone's thought it'd be funny to pull the alarm as they get off the train - most amusing!) to a passenger having collapsed or a suspect package.
There are, of course, prescribed procedure as to how a PEA is handled and it's only once a driver has investigated and reported back to the Line Controller the circumstances of the individual occurrence that the Controller can decide what further action needs to be taken - are the emergency services (Police, Ambulance or Fire Brigade needed), does the train service need to be suspended, should trains be diverted and so on.
In my time I've had I suppose my fair share of PEA's - most have been quick and straightforward to resolve, but a couple have been more serious.
The very first PEA that I had was a customer collapsed having an Epileptic Fit. The alarm was activated as I came to a stop at Upton Park - the activation (which on a D Stock is shown on the TMS Unit) was in the first car (the one I was driving from). I called the Controller, told him of the activation, asked for the assistance of station staff and that I'd call him back once I'd been to see the problem.
On leaving the cab and going into the car I discovered that nature of the incident and that (fortunately) the alarm had been activated by a doctor and nurse who had finished work and were on their way home. They said the fit seemed to be quite serious and that it'd be as well to get an ambulance. They obviously had the situation well in hand, so I used the autophone to call the Controller and get the needed help.
Station staff had by now arrived on the scene, so it was really now a matter of letting other passengers on the train know what the problem was and that we'd be delayed until the ambulance arrived and that the poor individual could be safely removed from the train - inevitably a few were shirty and thought it most selfish that they should be delayed - but the majority were understanding and sympathetic.
The ambulance arrived, the passenger (who by now was starting to recover) was helped from the train and we got under way again - matter resolved.
Another example was on arrival at Stamford Brook Eastbound one morning as I was approaching the end of my 'first half'.
Again the alarm went off and my contemplations of my breakfast were shattered. This time it was in the fifth car. I could see that there were passengers waving excitedly towards the back of the train. I find they've discovered a 'suspect package'. I have a quick look and I don't like the look of it either, so I evacuate the train, send the passengers from the station, call the Controller and tell him I want the station shut and the appropriate emergency services summoned.
All this was duly achieved, and in addition the Controller suspended both the District and Piccadilly Lines both east and westbound between Hammersmith and Acton Town!
The Metropolitan Police Bomb Squad arrived after about forty minutes, went up to the train and came back about ten minutes later to give the 'All Clear', but said that they'd been far from happy that the item was 'innocent' when they first saw it, so I felt my actions completely vindicated.
I reported back to the Line Controller that all was well, and that I was setting off once again. I eventually arrived at Earls Court about an hour or so late for my belated breakfast - I fully expect to be met by a DMT for at least a memo to give my version of events, but nothing's said.
So those are a couple of personal examples of situations I've had - but what of the impact these would have caused to the service? The following occurred about six weeks ago as I write this, and show what can occur.
I was due to pick up my 'second half' at Earls Court eastbound at about 1025, and then go to Upminster and back to Earls Court to finish my duty - quite an easy half of about one and a half hours.
Just as I was meeting my train, which was on time, a message came across the radio to say that there was a PEA activated at Embankment (eastbound) and all eastbound trains between Earls Court and Embankment were to remain in platforms where possible until further notice. A person had been taken ill, and it was now a question of how long it would take to get the matter resolved.
After about ten minutes it becomes apparent that it' going to take some time to sort out. I get a call from the Controller instructing me to divert to High Street Kensington so that the trains now starting to 'block back' into Earls Court can start moving up. I make a PA updating my passengers and tell them that I'm now going up to High Street Kensington and that unfortunately their journey into the is likely to be delayed for quite some time and that they'd probably do best by finding an alternative route if possible.
As I head towards HSK the Controller calls me up and tells me that on arrival I'm to depart as soon as possible (he needs the space) and take the train down to Wimbledon. All this is achieved, and on arrival at Earls Court westbound I'm told to remain at Wimbledon until 1200hrs, when I should go back to HSK to come out westbound for my relief at Earls Court at 1300.
It's about 1120 when I get to Wimbledon, so as I've got about forty minutes until I depart I turn the lights on the train off and close up all the doors. So there are now three of the four platforms at Wimbledon occupied - the other two by C Stocks on the Edgware Road run, and these are still to run to their normal times, albeit that they'll probably get delayed as they approach Earls Court, but that late running can be sorted out later.
But I can see that there's another train waiting to come in - it's being held at the home signal - and it's only after one of the Edgware Road trains has gone that it's allowed in. That does seem a little odd, as there is one platform unoccupied. The reason for this becomes clear when one of the station staff comes up to me, asks what I'm doing and when I'll be going as they can't use the 'available' platform as they've got a points problem preventing its use.
I tell him I've been instructed to leave at about 1200 (by now it's about 1145). He requests that I leave a few minutes early and to save confusion 'could you sneak out, out of service and re-enter service at Wimbledon Park!'. As this will save having passengers running from platform to platform I agree. At about 1150 I 'plunge' to let the signaller know I'm ready to go, the signal clears and I depart at about 1155. As I arrive at Wimbledon Park I put the lights back on and pick up passengers as usual. I take a leisurely run back towards Earls Court - a message is broadcast that Embankment's now all clear and that the service is resumed.
My trip in the last part of the trip is a little slower than normal because of the resulting congestion round Earls Court, but I still arrive at HSK at about 1225, so here I'll sit until about 1255.
Right on cue, the signal clears and I go back down, arriving at Earls Court right on time for my relief.
So this is what happened to me - other trains had of course been diverted too - so although my train is back in the appointed place at the appointed times there will be many others that won't be, and the Controller's will have the job of sorting the service out over the next few hours. The aim will be to have it back to normal in time for the evening 'peak'.