Late Surrender of Possession
An expression that you may have heard on travel reports used in connection with delays on London Underground is 'delays are occurring due to overrunning engineering work'. Within London Underground this is called a 'Late Surrender of Possession'. Before getting into this story I'll explain a little more about what this actually means.
As I'm sure you know, London Underground's day is basically split into two categories - 'Traffic Hours' is when trains are running in passenger service and 'Engineering Hours' when there are no passenger trains operating and when Traction Current (the electrical supply to the track) is switched off. During the latter period is the small window of opportunity for track maintenance to be routinely carried out. There are occasions of course when these hours are extended. There was such an occurrence this last weekend when the Piccadilly Line was shut between Acton Town and Heathrow to allow for a more intensive period of track renewal to be carried out.
However, whether the work being done is small or large, the area concerned is passed over to the engineering teams - they are given possession. When the work is finished they give the area back - they surrender possession back to us so that passenger trains can run. But should the work overrun, or if the work has not been completed to a satisfactory standard (two name just two examples) possession cannot be surrendered, so trains cannot operate on the affected part until the matter is resolved.
Inevitably, this happens first thing in the morning and often on a Monday morning after a weekend 'possession'. Such an instance occurred today and I hope this story will put it into context, though the delays I (and of course our passengers) experienced were further exacerbated by other factors too!
I was due to book on at about 0610 and my train was due to depart from Ealing Common depot at about 0635. Nothing was said as I booked on about any problems, but as I walked into the depot at about 0615 I noticed that there were several trains sitting on the various roads waiting to depart - and this, of course, is only one end of the depot. As I walked to my allotted train one of my colleagues opened his cab door; 'Is there a problem - I should have left at about 0555' he enquired. I replied that nothing had been said but that it certainly looked like there was a delay by the number of trains waiting there to go out. I carried on to my train and prepared it for service.
Once completed, I settled down to wait. In fairly short order the shunter started calling trains down and I eventually left the depot about ten minutes or so late. But of course (and as I've mentioned before!) we now have the problem of too many trains trying to feed into the service and particularly around Earls Court this causes further delays whilst the congestion is sorted out. Once past Earls Court I was about fifteen minutes late, so I wasn't surprised when I was instructed to reverse at Mansion House instead of going through to Tower Hill as scheduled. All this was done, and on departing to Wimbledon I was more or less back on time. A good trip through to Wimbledon followed and I had time to get a coffee at the stall there and departed at my appointed time of about 0825 on my trip to Barking. I was hopeful that this would be the end of the problem, but as I approached Parsons Green I started slowing down as it became apparent that there were still delays through the Earls Court area. Again we were slowed but eventually we arrived in the platform.
Once through there again I hoped that would be the end of it and that I was still in with a chance of getting to Barking with enough of my turn round time in hand to start back westbound again on time. But the trip through the city was very slow, and by the time I got to Whitechapel there was no way that I was going to leave Barking on time. I half expected to be told that I'd be reversed at Plaistow, but this didn't occur - in fact as I passed Plaistow there was already a Hammersmith & City Line C Stock sitting in the bay road.
However on arrival at Upton Park the Controller called me up 'Can you reverse at Barking via the bay road and give us a quick turn round please'. So I arrived at Barking, shut the train down and quickly changed ends. The signal cleared almost immediately and the train departed about eight minutes late; not too bad, all things considered. So at least I should be back at Earls Court less than ten minutes late and, with good fortune, I may even be able to make up a few minutes more. I had left Barking at about 1000 and the Controllers have just about recovered the service from the original problem - this demonstrates how long it does take to get things back on time after even a minor problem; it is of course now some five hours after the initial delay!
All was going well - I had a clear run through from Barking, and even at Aldgate East (where of course we 'filter in' with the Circle Line service at Minories Junction) no delay was experienced. Tower Hill and monument came and went without incident and I'd just arrived at Cannon Street at about 1030 when the Controller called me: 'Remain there driver until I come back to you' was all I was told at this stage, though I could tell by his voice that it sounded like there was a significant problem ahead of me. So, although the signals cleared I could see that they were not clear right to Mansion House, so the effect was that at least my train would be in the platform, rather than stuck between stations for an unknown period of time. The train behind me was similarly told to hold in the platform.
I made an announcement on the PA telling the passengers what I'd been instructed to do and that as soon as I had some clearer information and an idea of how long we were likely to be delayed I'd let them know. A few minutes latter a broadcast was made that the service was suspended between South Kensington and Embankment due to a suspect package at Sloane Square. As I'm sure you will realise any such discovery has to be taken seriously; there is no question of chances being taken. So I was able to pass this on to my passengers and at about the same time a general public address announcement was made over the station Public Address confirming what I'd just told them.
The 'All Clear' was announced at about 1055 and the Controller called me to confirm that I was OK to continue if I had clear signals. So, we headed off towards Earls Court.
Now, of course, there was the usual situation of trains and drivers being in the wrong place and drivers (me included) being late for meal reliefs, which might affect there ability to pick up their next trains. Mine next train was in fact due at 1130 - I should have started my meal break at about 1045, but didn't even arrive at Earls Court until 1115, so I checked in with the DMT and was told to take my break (which, of course, we must have.)
When I reported back it turned out that my next train hadn't yet appeared, so I went over to the eastbound platforms to await its arrival. It eventually turned up twenty-five minutes late, but instead of going to Tower Hill it had already been diverted to High Street Kensington. We arrived there at about 1200. My timetable revealed that the train should have left Tower Hill at 1202 and was due to arrive at Earls Court at 1227, so I settled back to wait for about 1225 or thereabouts when I'd be back on time if the signals cleared promptly. In fact they cleared at about 1230, but a decent run followed down to Ealing Broadway, so all was now looking more hopeful for my final trip to Tower Hill and back to Acton Town for relief at 1430 for the end of my duty.
In the event as I headed back into the city there was now talk about a signal problem in the Plaistow area, and again the Controller is trying to juggle the service around this, as well as to try to continue to recover it from the last incident. As usual it never rains but it pours!
Though I arrived at Tower Hill only about five minutes late, the signallers are trying to keep the train running order correct, so I'm about ten minutes or so late departing Tower Hill. Congestion through Earls Court is again occurring so I loose more time - I'm now reconciled to a late finish!
At Earls Court one of my fellow drivers hitches a lift in my cab to head back to Acton Town to retrieve his car to go home, but says 'I'll probably jump on the 'Picc' at Hammersmith - it should be quicker!'. I'd noticed the last time I went through Acton that the 'Picc' too seemed to be queuing (they too were suffering delays), so I (jokingly - I thought) said 'I'll whistle when I come past you!'. Sure enough, he got out of the cab at Hammersmith, and I next saw him as a 'Picc' came past me at about Stamford Brook. Interestingly though I noticed that the 'Picc' train was carrying a 4xx series number - they use those for the Heathrow service when their emergency timetable has been put into operation. I'd mentally noted the number of the train he was on and, as I approached Chiswick Park It was sitting at a red signal so, as threatened, I blew my whistle as I passed the train - I could see him shrugging his shoulders in resignation.
So I arrived at Acton Town about twenty minutes late in the end and headed for my car. I was just pulling out of my space as he walked in - 'Next time I'll stick with you' was his comment!
So a 'Late Surrender' started it all off, but the best efforts of all concerned only seemed to make the situation go from bad to worse. Certainly the 'Travel update'; page on thetube.com was still indicating delays to the service at 1730, so it looks as if the service will be affected to a greater or lesser degree until the close of traffic!