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Power Cut!

Power Cut

Thursday 28th August 2003 saw what, I think, was a pretty unique experience for London Underground in that it was struck by a major power failure which, I believe, affected something like 60% of the network.

Until only eighteen months or so ago London Underground had its own electricity generating facility at Lots Road, but the decision was taken to close this and rely on the National Grid for our supplies.

I  wasn't working at the time - the first I knew of it all was when a colleague from the Piccadilly Line phoned me on my mobile and asked where I was.  'At home, just about to eat my dinner' I replied.  He was in the District Line canteen at Acton (the preferred choice for the Pic's Arnos Grove drivers) and was having a phone round to try to find who he knew that was stuck in the dark! He told me that all the power had gone off, there were trains stuck all over the place.

The following account has been supplied to me by fellow Acton Town Train Operator Mark 'Boris the Spider' and is reproduced with his permission - thanks Mark.

Stuck in the Dark!

At 1820 I was just pulling into Embankment station on the west, I only had to get to Earls Court and then I was on grub, nearly at the end of my first half, I had been on the train since 1548 when I took it out of Ealing Common Depot.

Just as I was approaching the stopping mark everything went off, lights except for emergency ones, the monitors, The signals, and a very loud and annoying message started playing "There is a reported emergency passengers should leave the station immediately" in a very posh voice, so I stopped the train with no signals I couldn't go any further, and decided that I should get people off, tried the doors, not working, so I decided to use the outside door cocks (the little discs on the side of the train) this opens 1 door per car, and I made a PA (battery powered so it should keep going in emergencies) asking people to leave the train in a calm manner and do as the tango dressed satiation assistants asked and they did, I don't think there was much argument, they didn't really have a choice.

So I'm left with an empty train (thank goodness), but I realise that I've got traction current and the reason that I couldn't open the doors is that a bit of equipment on the platform isn't working, it's called CSDE (Correct Side Door Enablement) and it stops the driver opening the doors on the wrong side, if it's not working the doors won't open I could have overridden it but it didn't occur to me.

Like everyone now I'm trying to get in touch with Line Control, I can't get through on the Radio (it being completely useless normally why should it work in an emergency) but I manage to get through on the phone and at 1828 I'm told to wait for instructions, so I find a copy of the Standard and wait.

On the opposite platform is train 50, about 6ft from the platform and being able to evacuate the train, he has not traction current, so his poor passengers are stuck in the cars with minimal battery powered emergency lighting, he's in trouble, without Traction Current not only can he not move, but his train is losing air, Compressed Air is the lifeblood of a train, without it Nothing Works, the position he's in makes a detrainment more difficult as well, the passengers would have to leave by the front door in the cab but would then have to walk along the track at embankment station to the east end of the platform and walk up the ramp there, they could go out of the drivers door but there's the slope up to the platform there and it's a long drop, poor boy (new boy like me) was very very unlucky.

It's now 1845 and I've got an empty train, I've got Traction Current, and there are trains stuck behind me with passengers on, if those trains have got Current they could get into Embankment and get the passengers off, so I get onto the phone again to Line Control, the only thing I haven't got is signals, so I manage to get him to agree to let me move forward to allow the train behind me in, as there is no power to the signals all the train stops are up, this will hit a little dongle called the trip cock hanging down from my train and that will stop the train, I won't be able to move forward once I've reset the trip at more than 10mph for 3 minutes, I trip through the station starter and reset the trip I've still got TC so I decide to carry on, up to the next signal (A806) and I realise that I've lost traction Current, but to create more room I allow the train to trip in that signal, the time is 1850 30 mins since the lights went out.

So I'm stuck there with no power, that means that the train is running off the battery, so I turn everything I can that will save battery power, lights, all off, I use my hand lamp in the cab, and other circuits all to save the battery, If the train loses battery power to the leading cab the train is dead, once power is restored it will still just sit there until I could get help, the thing about a train without power is just how quiet it is.

Fortunately at 1855 power comes back on so I can turn everything back on, I'm back to having a light on in the cab, I decide to carry on, to get as close to Westminster as possible, on the way I get tripped on another signal, but arrive at the last signal outside Westminster (A800) with a train in Westminster platform at 1858.

Now comes the boring bit I eventually get into Westminster and at 1928 (nearly and hour after I was supposed to have got off for food at Earls Court) I leave in the general direction of St James Park and Victoria, (I manage to get a welcome bar of chocolate at Victoria as the vending machines are working),

Finally at 2135 I arrive at Earls Court 3 hours after I was supposed to have had my food, I've eaten 1 bar of chocolate, and 3 bits of chicken, I've used nearly all my water, and have had to wee out of the side of the train, It's decided that I should take the train onto Ealing Common depot and go home.

Going down to Ealing Common and I'm surprised that the Pic is running with passengers, well at least to the depot, there are also people waiting for the District line at Barons Court and Hammersmith, I've been told to run empty so I do, all the stations I've been told are closed anyway, Finally I reach Ealing Broadway change ends to go to Ealing Common and the depot, I get to Ealing Common and rather than a Red Signal I get a green, well I'm not remaining in service that's for sure call Line Control up, he wants to know when my duty finishes, bloody managers, I explain to him that I've been on the train since 1548, I've had no meal relief and that my duty ends in an hour, I finally get into Ealing Common at 2215.

Six and a half hours after leaving Acton Town/Ealing Common and I'm back so I go over to the office for a coffee and a chat, wish I hadn't there's a useless manager who can't even be bothered to ask "How are you" miserable prat.

Still it was an exciting, frustrating, dark shift, and my first emergency since passing out 1 year ago.

My thanks to Mark for allowing me to reproduce this tale.

There's a few particularly interesting points made which help to put the complexity of such an event into perspective, and lessons we can all learn.

  • That a power cut will cause the loss of the CSDE and that on quiet reflection that's why he couldn't open the train doors - in fact he could have used the CSDE Override in the cab and that'd have got all the doors open.  Benefit of hindsight!
  • The complexities of detraining and 'walking' passengers out is very well highlighted by the story of Train 50 being neither in or out of the station.
  • Sadly the attitude of the Duty Manager at Acton is disappointing - after such an experience you're in a pretty wound up state, and a chat and an opportunity is a welcome relief. It's a shame that the individual concerned didn't seem able to spare the time to achieve this - I hope Mark flags this up with our TOM - it's a development area for the individual concerned!
  • Communications are always 'difficult' on the District Line - let's hope that once the new 'Connect' project is finally completed this will improve!


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