Rugby World Cup Final Day
Saturday 22nd November 2003 proved to be a momentous day for English rugby, but I (just my luck!) was working an early turn on the day.
I was 'first spare', so booked on at Acton Town at 0445 to find that the DMT was already trying to cover several duties and wondering if anyone would suddenly go sick - coincidentally, of course.
I'd really been hoping that all the work would be covered and I'd be able to settle in the messroom and watch the match on TV - that hope was of course soon shattered when I was given the inevitable full turn. But on investigation, it transpired that the duty had a mealbreak at Earls Court at 0900 for almost an hour, so at least I'd be able to see the first half of the game.
I mentioned to the DMT that it would be nice if the Controller could keep those of us out working up to date with the matches progress and - to my surprise - he said that as the Controller on duty that morning often came through Acton on his way to Earls Court he'd see what he could do!
But, of course, in a way that only seems possible on London Underground, all these plans came apart at the seams in no time at all!
In terms of the train service it hadn't been a bad week; there had been a few minor problems but nothing too serious. I and my current trainee had had a couple of recalcitrant trains - one was very slow and it turned out that it had defective motors on two of the cars and another which, when we prepared it, showed a fault which the gang of technicians who arrived on the scene were unable to clear. But at least while we were working nothing major had affected us too badly.
We had left the depot heading for Ealing Broadway right on time at about 0530, and departed from there at about 0545. Our first trip was to High Street Kensington and as we were heading east calls were coming over the radio relating to a signal problem in the Tower Hill/Aldgate area. This is the area known as Minories Junction, and is a flat junction where we and the Circle Line either join or part company, depending on direction of travel.
Even at this stage the Controller has started reversing trains heading east at either Tower Hill or Mansion House and very soon is reversing westbound trains at Whitechapel and sending them back towards Upminster. There is also a train now stuck east of Tower Hill and we hear the controller call the driver to tell him that the Tower Hill Supervisor is making his way to him and that the train's to be 'set back' by means of a Wrong Direction Move (i.e. reversed west on the eastbound line) to Tower Hill. This is not a move undertaken lightly, so it's apparent that the problem is serious and is going to take quite a while to resolve.
The confirmation comes in the form of a message that the District Line is suspended between Tower Hill and Whitechapel in both directions, and that the inner rail service of the Circle Line is also suspended. Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan Line services are also severely disrupted too. The reason given is that there has been a points failure in the area
By now we're heading back to Ealing Broadway and our trip is uneventful. But the Controller has now started to put trains back in Ealing Common depot or stabling them at Parsons Green - he's got too many trains in the area, and to keep any sort of service running at all needs to make some space on the line.
At about 0700 the message comes across the radio that an emergency timetable has been invoked. C Stock trains will serve Wimbledon, Richmond trains will reverse at Tower Hill and an Ealing Broadway to High Street Kensington service is put into place. This underlines that the problem is serious and is going to take quite a while to sort out, but at least it means all the termini at the west end of the line should get a 10 minute service. At the east end of the line a service is put in to serve between Upminster and Whitechapel. Duty Managers will be meeting trains to redirect them and renumber them as necessary.
So the duty book now goes out of the window! Our next eastbound trip is due to go to Tower Hill, and I'm fully expecting to be 'reformed' at Earls Court, but on arrival (late, as there are now delays being caused whilst the 'reforms' are taking place) I see the train's being described as being for Mansion House. I confirm this with the Controller and so it's off there we go. We depart at about 0745, which means we're still running pretty well to our original times.
We have a clear run as far as South Kensington, but then join a queue of trains into Earls Court. On arrival we're told 'when you get to Ealing, tip it out (take the train out of service) and put it away (stable it at Ealing Common Depot).'
As we head west calls are now coming over the radio that there is a signal failure at Stamford Brook eastbound! The resignation in the Controller's voice can be imagined - not only has he got the problems at Tower Hill, though these are now at least largely under control, or at least getting there - he's now got further delays being caused to trains heading east from both Richmond and Ealing Broadway, although at least the signals that have failed are both automatics and drivers can proceed 'under rule' on their own authority, but this procedure is time consuming and inevitably affects trains behind. As we head west we see the trains queueing to go through the area.
We're of course now late - we should be at Earls Court for our mealbreak at 0900 remember, but at that time we're still at Ealing Broadway with an empty train waiting for signals to clear. Eventually they do, but at 0915 we're just coming out of Ealing Common Depot. We report to the DMT at Acton, telling him that we're late for our mealbreak and that we're due to pick up our next train (a C Stock) at 0950! He consults with Earls Court and we're told to have our break, and to make our way to Earls Court to pick our next train up at 1025. So all we'll do on our second half will be to go to Wimbledon and back to Earls Court - the duty is due to finish at 1114. I mention to the DMT that there is also a failure at Stamford Brook, so we'll travel up on 'the Picc' - he wasn't aware of this added problem!
So we head to the canteen. The TV's on and the match has obviously kicked off late, so we see all but the first ten minutes of the first half. Half time arrives, and England are looking good, but we have to tear ourselves away and head off to Earls Court.
Chaos is now the order of the day! Drivers are arriving needing to be relieved, trains are in the wrong place, drivers are in the wrong place and, as a result of trying to juggle as best that they can with the limited resources available, trains are queueing up into Earls Court in both directions. The Station Staff are doing their best to try to keep up with events, and the station PA is also announcing progress on the rugby too!
Eventually our train arrives, about ten minutes late. We head off to Wimbledon and don't encounter any hold ups (not surprising as there's only half the normal Wimbledon service in place). We change ends, and leave only a couple of minutes late. All is clear until about West Brompton, and we are then delayed a bit on the final run into Earls Court, eventually arriving about five minutes after our 'booked' time. But there's no sign of our relief! There is a DMT on the platform, and a number of drivers too, though none are to take our train. The DMT calls the office and the message is that they're trying to find a relief for us.
But the signal has cleared and the usual collection of passengers are now peering out of the train. I make a PA apologising for the delay and explain that there should be a replacement driver with us 'shortly'. After we've been there for the best part of ten minutes our relief arrives - she's only just finished her mealbreak having arrived late from her 'first half'.
My trainee and I decide that we'll use the Picc back to Acton to get our cars to go home, and in the end finish about twenty minutes after our expected time - mind you, we've still finished over an hour before our 'spare' turn was actually due to book off. I did mention this to the DMT at Acton but he said 'No - finish at the end of the turn you were given, that was what you were told!', and I mentioned it again at Earls Court, fully expecting to be told that they needed us further, but again we were told to go!
It was only as we were on our way back that I phoned home, and was told about the drama of the second half of the game, and the ensuing extra time and that England had won in the last minute. I did watch the replay of the match in the afternoon, but it wasn't the same, of course. But such is the lot of an employee of London Underground!