Stalled Train at Wimbledon
A train stalling is a situation that occurs from time to time and does, of course, lead to an inevitable disruption to services and inconvenience and delay to passengers.
There are a number of ways the situation can be resolved and a couple will be covered in the course of this tale.
Personally, I wasn't affected as I wasn't on the Wimbledon branch (nor due to go down it) at the time, so I only became aware of the initial occurrence from talk on the train radio.
A train stalling is usually the result of it not getting a supply of traction current to drive the motors. It takes a pretty unlucky combination of factors for the whole train to be 'off juice' – normally this is when current has been switched off, but there are other situations can cause this to happen, usually where there are large gaps in the power rails. This was the situation in this case.
Much of what is related here I found out in later discussions with colleagues who became involved in the incident.
It is also worth briefly touching on a couple of operational procedures. London Underground has it's own and Railtrack's differ in some respects. On the District Line one has to be qualified in both. One difference is the procedure for making persons about the track aware of an approaching train. On London Underground the driver sounds the train whistle, the person or persons moves to a place of safety and acknowledges the train once there by raising an arm. The procedure on Railtrack is similar in most respects, except the person acknowledges the warning before going to a place of safety.
On this occasion the train involved was approaching Wimbledon at about 2.00 pm one weekday afternoon and had been signalled into platform 1 – the platform with the most sets of points to cross from the running line. There was a work party about the track and as the train approached the driver correctly warned of his approach, which was acknowledged.
However as the train started crossing the pointwork the driver was not convinced that the work party was in fact clear of the track and applied the brakes and brought the train to a stop. Normally one tries to keep the train (particularly a C Stock as was the case here) moving, as it's a well-known area for large gaps in the power rails.
Once sure the work party was clear the driver tried to move off – nothing, no movement. This was when he called the Controller for the first time and, from what you could hear from the Controller, the driver was setting about his various checks to try to resolve the problem. No success – the train was not going anywhere when driven from the front cab. The next try is to see if it'll move from the rear, which (obviously) involves walking through the train to the back cab.
This is fine in theory, and when one's doing it in the depot for training, stock refresher and so on, but, of course, in the 'real world' you've got a train full of passengers, all of whom ask you what's the matter, and expect an individual answer. So, eventually, he gets to the back of the train and tries to move it from there. No luck.
By now the Controller's telling trains to hold in platforms if they're already on their way down to Wimbledon, or diverting them if they're not.
The train is, of course, almost at the platform and it so happens that one of our Duty Managers is on the platform, waiting to go to Earls Court to start his duty. So the DMT puts on his HiVi and goes down to meet the driver to see if he can assist, so at least now the driver's got some support!
The Controller has also contacted the next train behind the stalled one and told the driver to expect to have to go to assist the stalled train, initially as an 'Assisting Operator' – this is where one driver would be at one end of the train and the other would be at the other end, communicating via the cab-to-cab telephone. However, it was really already apparent that this wasn't going to work, the driver having already established that he couldn't move the train from either end.
Luck had it that on the following train there were two or three Train Operators who'd hitched a lift to Wimbledon on their way home having finished their day's work.
They moved the 'Assisting Train' forward and a couple of them moved over to the stalled train to see if they could assist. Of course, it was soon established that the train wasn't going anywhere without a physical push, so the 'Assisting Train' is appropriately prepared, moved forward and coupled up. The object of the exercise is to move the stalled train forward until it's back 'on juice', then the two are uncoupled again and the now unstalled train is able to proceed forward.
All this is duly achieved, but it's all a time consuming process, so from start to finish all this has taken the best part of an hour!
On examination it becomes apparent what's happened. Although, in itself, the gap involved isn't a full trains length it is quite long. Circumstances have conspired that the shoes which pick up the traction current have all lost contact, either because there's a number physically missing, or because those that are still there either have not been 'gauged' (adjusted) to ensure they're at the proper height or the current rails are lower than they should be.
So there we have it – an hour's 'shut down', a stressed driver, delayed passengers and then everything that has to be done just to try to get the service back to normal.
So next time you hear a bland announcement that services are delayed because of an earlier stalled train in the xxxx area, think of everything that has to be done to resolve the situation as quickly and safely as possible.
This all occurred on a train which wasn't crowded during the winter – you can imagine how unpleasant it is for all concerned if the train was packed with commuters during the 'peak'. Then add to that the possibility that it occurred in a tunnel section – the main lighting is also lost and the train would be lit by emergency lighting only. Very unpleasant for all concerned.