Passing Signals at Danger
This isn't about SPAD's, though of course that situation does occur and I may return to the theme later, but about the authorised passing of signals remaining at danger.
I've talked in the past about the delays that occur when signals fail but this was tale prompted when I was asked recently 'but if a signal fails how can a train proceed? After all, London Underground employs a system to stop trains should they do so.' This is of course quite correct, and further reading of Tubeprune's site will find excellent explanations of the Trainstop and Tripcock system employed by London Underground on it's conventional lines.
So, I thought that I'd relate a situation in which I was involved not long ago to try to explain this. I'll tell the tale, but at various stages I will need to go into 'procedural' matters, as they bear a great deal of relevance.
One evening I was doing the Edgware Road to Wimbledon service. Whilst coming back from Wimbledon on my first trip I could hear the Controller talking to a train that was being held at a red signal between Parsons Green and Putney Bridge. From what was being said a track circuit failure had occurred – this being one of the causes why a signal would remain at danger as the signals 'think' there is a train in the section ahead.
As I went up to Edgware Road there was still talk going on between the Controller and Driver as to what processes were under way to address the train's predicament and dealing with the trains that would start building up behind the stationery train if not diverted, but as we change to the Metropolitan Lines radio channel between Notting Hill Gate and Edgware Road I obviously heard nothing further until I got to Notting Hill Gate on my way back to Wimbledon.
As I came down from Edgware Road my train was described as a Wimbledon service but, as I've mentioned before, this didn't necessarily the destination I would finally go to! Announcements were being made that the service was suspended between Parsons Green and Wimbledon, so I took the platform describers with a pinch of salt and made announcements to customers that it appeared unlikely that the train would go through to Wimbledon.
But as I arrived at Earls Court the description remained and whilst there the Controller called me up and said he was resuming the service and that I'd be the first train to go through to Wimbledon. This in itself didn't indicate that the problem was fixed – it could also mean that various procedures had now been put in place to allow trains to travel through the area.
On arrival at Parsons Green I saw a cluster of staff standing at the end of the platform – one was a Signals Technician, another one of our DMT's and the third a member of Parsons Green's station staff. The latter requested that I phone the signal operator at Earls Court.
So I got on the phone, identified myself to the signaller and confirmed my location. The signaller confirmed the problem ahead and what he wished me to do. The instruction given was 'Please carry out your procedure at the following signals – WGX660, WG150and WG15 and then obey all further signals'.
We've now arrived at the point where I need to give you a bit of an insight into London Undergrounds Operating Procedures, or, as they're still better known 'Rules and Regs'. As you will see if you have read Tubeprune's explanations on our signalling (and if you haven't I urge you to do so!) our signals fall into two categories. Automatic Signals are just that, they work themselves. Semi- Automatic signals are operated by the signaller.
If a train is held at an Automatic signal, the driver can be authorised to pass it at danger by the Line Controller or, if the driver is unable to establish communication with a Controller or other 'Operating Official' he may pass it on his own authority having waited at the signal for two minutes. You must note the details in your notebook – date, time, signal number and the reason for your action.
However, if a train is held at a Semi-Automatic authority MUST be obtained, and in this instance the Controller CANNOT authorise you to proceed – only a signaller or Operating Official (this usually means either a Station Supervisor or Duty Manager) may give this authority. Under no circumstances may a driver proceed on his own authority. To do so is to put your job at jeopardy!
So what have I been told? Effectively that the signaller is unable to clear the three signals for the numbers shown above and that on reaching each I am authorised to pass them at danger. But (I hear you ask – didn't I?) won't the train be 'tripped' when I go past them? Yes it will. So (I hear you ask again) how do you proceed? Actually, it's quite simple and of course, very prescribed in our Procedures. You arrive at the signal, stop the train and (if you're doing the job properly) you warn your passengers that you're about to carry out a 'routine procedure' which means that the train will move off, come to an abrupt stop and then, after a short delay, move off again. You should also request that customers be seated if possible, and if not to hold on to something for their own safety and comfort.
So I've now got my authority to proceed and am about to shut the doors when the DMT and T/O ask to ride in the cab as they're looking for the fault – which'll probably be a broken wire between two rails which forms part of the track circuit which has failed. This will be between the last signal I've been authorised to pass (WG15) and the next signal. But as they'll be getting down on the track to do this we need to fully understand what the actions of the other will be – in LUL parlance this is 'coming to a complete understanding'.
So we set off, arrive at the first signal, I stop the train and do my PA to the customers. I blow the whistle, and move off until the train passes the raised trainstop and comes to a halt. The tripcock's reset, the air to the brake system recharged, I blow the whistle again and we head off (now 'at a speed which allows me to stop the train short of any obstruction' – i.e. no more than about 8 – 10 mph) to the next signal where the procedure is repeated. And so we set off again towards the third signal where again we stop. This where our 'complete understanding' comes into play. The DMT, T/O and I have agreed that they will be getting down at this point and examining the track between this signal and the next. But even if the signal clears (which it will when the break is fixed) I will not move the train until they 'call me on' – that is signal that they're in a safe place and are happy for me to move the train.
So they leave the train and start their inspection. I do a further PA letting the customers know why we're stopped again and may be so for some minutes (I had done this at Parsons Green as I know there are people who get quite agitated if a train is stopped between stations for some time) but it never hurts to give a reminder! As luck would have it, the broken wire was the first in front of the train. It was duly repaired, the signal turned to green but, in accordance with our 'complete understanding', the train remained where it was. Of course, my colleagues were only a few yards ahead of me, so they returned to the cab and, once safely in, we set off for the remainder of our trip to Putney Bridge – albeit still at caution speed – this is still part of the procedure. On arrival my guests leave the train to keep an eye on the now repaired signal for a while to make sure the repair is going to hold.
I arrive at Wimbledon with a packed train and now about twenty-five minutes late – this has all taken that long! But it's nice when several customers come up and take the trouble to say thanks for keeping them in the picture – they found it reassuring to know what was going on!
So I change ends and head off back to Edgware Road. Of course the platforms on the way back are busy, so I'm not able to make up any time on the trip.
But on the way back to Wimbledon the Controller calls and instructs me to reverse at High Street Kensington on my next trip, which means I'm relieved on time for my meal break and that train is back on time. Plenty of others are not, of course, so by the time he's done various reformations and diversions it'll probably be another couple of hours before the service is fully recovered.
As with many of the tales I've related what looks like a relatively simple situation has a long list of steps that need to be done properly – but it can all be summed up with one word – Safety.
This is, of course, an emotive subject and one that causes a great deal of attention by the media.
As I've already mentioned LU has it's own ATP system and this does ensure that in the event of a SPAD the train (and the area ahead of it) is protected, but, again, the driver must then carry out procedures correctly – if he doesn't the consequences are serious, and not just for the driver!
There are all sorts of reasons why SPAD's occur – some are due to equipment problems but many are down to the driver. It can only take a momentary lack of concentration, an assumption that an approaching signal will clear (it always does – doesn't it?) or mishandling the train or misreading a situation and the train will come up 'in a heap' and the driver will find himself taken off at the next relieving point for an uncomfortable interview with a Duty Manager.
As with any TOC LU takes SPAD's very seriously – depending on circumstances it can lead to the loss of your job (at worst) or at the very least an 'Action Plan' being put in place to address any shortcomings in knowledge and technique.
But if procedures following a SPAD haven't been followed to the letter the driver concerned will be in very deep trouble, quite possibly there will be no second chance. The emphasis is that if you do SPAD make sure you then follow procedures to the letter – if you can't contact the Controller or a signaller do nothing – wait until someone comes to you. I know drivers who've moved without authority with the best of motives, but have lost their jobs!
A great deal of work has taken place in the last couple of years to reduce SPAD's and this has been pretty successful. At one time (and not so long ago) it was statistically four times more likely that a new driver would have a SPAD in his first six months as a driver than a driver who'd been 'on the job' for over a year. The efforts made have now reduced the ratio to one-to-one.
But that isn't to say that LU are complacent about it – they're not! Steps are constantly in motion to reduce the incidence even further. The target of course is to reduce the incidence to zero, but there are human beings involved in train operations.