Power Down at West Ham
There is an adage amongst Drivers:- ' If you're doing 'Early's', at least the Jobs not had the time to go 'Up the Wall' before you've even started!' In my (limited) experience there is more than a grain of truth in this. This train of thought (excuse the pun) leads me to a more general set of ponderings which, perhaps, I will expand on at some later time, if this series of ramblings continues.
The theory is that if you're running at the start of traffic, all is well and you are, at least going to be on time when you start your duty.
There seems to be some credence to this. This occurred on a late turn, although, in fairness, could have happened at any time during the day it was down to a meteorological occurrence, not any fault on the part of LUL (or any other Train Operating Company come to that).
I'd booked on at about 1655 and was due to pick up my train at about 1705. It turned up pretty well on time and when relieving the driver he told me the train was fine but 'there seems to be a problem 'going east'' it seemed there was a power supply problem of some sort in the West Ham area, but the details were thin.
At this point I was taking the train to Richmond before getting any where near West Ham, so, although there was the potential for delay, there was nothing at this point to cause undue concern. Messages like this act as a useful reason for attention, but little more than that.
So, I headed off down to Richmond, changed ends and departed on time.
As I headed East (the train was booked to go to Upminster) it became obvious that there was a serious problem; the Controller was instructing trains to reverse (eastbound) at Whitechapel or Bromley-by-Bow, which is a sure sign that there is a serious problem. This was further underlined by trains being instructed to stable at Ealing Common Depot and Parsons Green a sure sign that the Controller wants to limit the number of trains at one end of the line.
On the District Line (and most others, I believe) the radios work on a duplex system rather than a simplex system this means that you only hear one side of a conversation this results in you trying to draw conclusions without full facts. On the District Line this is exacerbated in that there are 'black spots' where the radios are dead. No hard information was coming through but, with what I could glean from the train radio and Public Address announcements at stations it was clear that we weren't going to get anywhere near Upminster.
I arrived at Hammersmith and a driver from Barking hitched a lift in my cab. He was one of the drivers instructed to stable at Ealing Common and, on reporting to the DMT at Acton Town had been told to make his way back to Barking. He had more information at this time than I!
What seemed to be the case was that the C2C lines (which have overhead 25Kv power lines) had come down (reason not known) and were fouling our tracks and had to be cleared before either we or C2C could get past West Ham this had the effect of no train services for thousands of commuters being non-existent during the height of the rush hour. More later!
I was well through the city before I got confirmation that I would reverse at Bromley-by-Bow, and advised my passengers that this was the situation and told them via the PA what I knew which was, basically, that they needed to find an alternative to there normal train journey, that there was no point in trying to use Fenchurch Street and, beyond that, all they could do was to try to get local information at whatever point they tried to interchange. Not entirely satisfactory, but the best I could do with the information at my disposal.
From my recollection, the Central Public Address (CPA) system which is transmitted from the Control Centre at Earls Court started the recorded announcements when I got to about Blackfriars and when I got to each station I kept the doors open if the recorded announcement was being played. The message stated that there was no service between Bromley-by-Bow and East Ham due to debris on the line. I reinforced this at every station, and particularly the information if the train was at any interchange station at all.
My colleague decided to leave the train at Tower Hill to continue his efforts to get back to Barking.
So we got to Mile End the last chance for anyone who could use alternative train services. The CPA system played again; I did my PA announcement and, having allowed decent time to allow passengers to detrain, carried on.
Arrived at Bromley-by-Bow; did an 'All change this train terminates here passengers travelling east should use local bus services' announcement and shut the train down to change ends.
Now, bear in mind that I've been doing PA's for quite some time (something I take quite seriously) why is it that as I walk down the train to go west, I'm challenged by a significant number of people asking if I'm going to
.(points east). The urge to ask if they've been listening to my announcements is almost overwhelming but I resist and repeat (again) what I've been announcing. (I know that the view of some of colleagues is 'what's the point of doing PA's they don't listen
.there are occasions when I wonder why I bother)
I set off back westbound and make reasonable progress until about Victoria when things start slowing down. We make slow progress towards Earls Court and I suspect that this is because there are problems with driver reliefs there. Eventually I'm held so long I manage to get through to the Controller on the radio and he confirms this ' we're blocking back into Earls Court driver waiting for crew relief'.
When I arrive at Earls Court I'm exactly on time (although I should have gone to Upminster and not just Bromley-by-Bow a round trip of about fifty minutes). By this time the DOM (Duty Operations Manager 2nd I/C to God on LUL) has invoked the Emergency Timetable second only to the second coming of Christ in LUL terms. I'm relieved of my train (which I was due to be anyway) and report to the DMT (Duty Manager Trains). This is at about 2020 my duty says my next booked train is due to be picked up at 2120. The train is given an Emergency Timetable number and departs.
I report to the DMT 'Duty Number xxx due to pick up at 2120 shall I report back when I'm due to pick up?' (We're only entitled to thirty minutes plus 'walking time', but worth a try!) ' NO, NO come back at 2055' (bare 35 mins.), comes the reply, so off I go to the canteen.
My second train should have been picked up at 2125, to be stabled at 0113 three hours fifty-two minutes driving. I report back at the appointed time and am immediately given a pick up and told 'It's on the platform - do Wimbledon High Streets (Kensington) until you're relieved'. So I get on the train at 2056 this means the latest I can get off it is at 0109 or I'll be over my hours.
From the messages being given by the Controller it is obvious that there's still no service between Bromley-by-Bow and East Ham and it's now over four hours since the incident occurred.
There is a bit of a variation when one is doing trains to and from Wimbledon and Richmond in that it's your responsibility to let the signal operator know when you're ready/due to depart. This is done by pushing a button located at the end of each platform. In the normal way you obviously know when you're due to depart, but in the situation here you're not working to a timetable, so it's a matter of using common sense. The normal service has trains departing Wimbledon at five minute intervals, so I decide to see what the situation is when I get to Wimbledon as I'm heading down there on my first trip. An eastbound train passes me at about Southfields and when I get to Wimbledon there's nothing in the platforms at all, and a fair few passengers waiting. So I decide that I'll depart pretty well as soon as I've changed ends and set the train up.
I duly plunge, the signal clears and a final check in the monitors shows no one else arriving on the platform. So I do my PA announcement, close the doors and depart.
We get to Earls Court where I do a 'this train is for one stop only to High Street Kensington passengers for all other destinations should change here' announcement and, having given reasonable time for those who want to change to leave the train, set off to High Street.
I change ends, and wait for the signal to clear (it's the responsibility of our signal operator now to regulate the service). Eventually the signal clears, and it's back to Wimbledon.
This time there are other trains there, so I simply wait until I'm the first due to depart and leave five minutes after the last departure.
This continues a couple more times. At about 2200 the message comes through that the problem at West Ham has been cleared and trains are running through again.
It's now approaching midnight and I calculate that I've not got time to do another trip to Wimbledon and back, but as I'm heading towards Earls Court the platform indicators are describing the train as an Earls Court service. This would appear to make sense, as I can reverse the train there and make it back to Ealing Broadway and stable it in Ealing Common Depot just within my time limit. However, on arrival at Parsons Green the description has changed to High Street Kensington again. I decide to wait until I get to Fulham Broadway to see what I'm being described as there. Sure enough, High Street again, so I call up the Controller.
I ask him to confirm where I'm going and he confirms High Street and then back to Wimbledon. I tell him I'm running short of hours and all he can suggest is to call in to see the DMT at Earls Court when I leave High Street next. It's about 0015 when I leave High Street and I arrive at Earls Court to find out what's what.
The Duty Manager's doing his best in difficult circumstances drivers are all over the place, and all he's really got available are the night crews, and these are few. So I say 'Well, I can do Ealing and stable, but if it's got to go to Wimbledon, you'll have to take me off'. In the end this is what happens. I wait for an Ealing Broadway train (together with two other drivers who were also due to finish) and arrive back at Acton Town at about 0050, so I'm actually finished about twenty minutes or so early. Given all the circumstances this is not much short of a miracle.
The next day I talk to a few other drivers and discover that what had happened was that some buildings adjacent to our lines had blown down and the debris had gone right across all of our and the adjacent C2C lines! One driver had just been leaving West Ham heading west when it occurred and he was then stuck there for over five hours whilst the tracks were cleared.
I also ran into the Barking driver who'd travelled with me the previous night he had eventually made it back to Barking at 2100, a journey of almost three and a half hours from when I'd picked him up at Hammersmith!
As I was heading east I picked up a Piccadilly Line driver at Gloucester Road who lives at Upminster Bridge and he'd also got caught up in the previous night's carnage and it had taken him four and a half hours to get home from Acton Town!
Approaching West Ham we got a sight of the aftermath of the event. There was still debris piled by the sides of the tracks and little or no sign of the former buildings.
It's on occasions like this I'm glad I'm a driver and not a Duty Manager or Line Controller trying to juggle trains and crews to at least keep some sort of service running they were all probably still lying down in a darkened room trying to recover, I suspect.