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Train Operator

The article that follows was the first piece that I wrote for Tubeprune and was compiled in about the middle of 2001.  It is my personal account of how I came to be and trained as a Train Operator.

Since it was written some of the processes of training Train Operators have changed, mainly in the order of some of the events, where they are carried out and by whom and the duration of some parts of the course. Additionally there are a few elements that have been added to the process. Where this is the case I will try to highlight these in other appropriate sections on this site.


Before I get into the full swing of this piece, I'll try to set the picture of how I got involved with London Underground. About three and a half years ago I had the opportunity to part company with my previous employer of some twenty-eight years. My previous work had nothing at all to do with the transport industry in general or railways at all (other than from time-to-time having used the Underground as a commuter).

I had no real idea of what I wanted to do so, when my next door neighbour, who is a Duty Station Manager and another near neighbour, who is a Station Assistant, both independently suggested that as London Underground were recruiting for station staff it might be something to do even if only in the short term while I was looking for a "proper job" I thought I might as well give it a crack. I duly applied and was offered a Station Assistant position and went through the four-week training process at the London Underground Training Centre at Ashfield House in West Kensington.

It was after I had been at my station for about eight months that the adverts for Train Operators appeared in the weekly Traffic Circular, that I started to think about this as an alternative to station life. Up to this point I had always really assumed that I would progress through this side of the business to Station Supervisor grade and perhaps beyond, depending on how things worked out. You will, I think, have realised by now that I had become accustomed to the culture, shifts and working practices of London Underground and had accepted that I would probably make a career with the organisation. Up to this point I had never really thought that the "Train Side" would be avenue which would open up to me.

I happened to work at a Station which was one of the main change over points for Train Crews and had got to know a goodly number of Train Operators, Instructor Operators (I/Os) and Duty Managers (Trains) (DMTs) and when I talked to them about the vacancies they all encouraged me to "go for it – we can see you on the handle". I had a Training Day available to me, so arrangements were made for me to spend a day with an Instructor Operator to see what the job was all about.

Departing from my home station early one morning saw me in the cab with the I/O, with him explaining to me the various bits of kit in the cab, what each did and explaining basic driving techniques. He asked, "Do you think you've got the hang of that?" to which I answered (somewhat uncertainly – there seemed so much to take in) "Yes, I think so" and was promptly told that I was then going to drive the thing for the rest of the trip. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement; I had expected to do a "rounder" observing and to see what it was like on the front of the train, but not to actually take control.

So I spent the rest of his duty "on the handle". We kept up with the timetable (as far as is ever possible on London Underground), didn't have the Line Controller complaining of slow progress and the I/O didn't need to resort to tranquillisers (at least not that I noticed). The I/O's hand didn't even seem to hover nervously by the emergency brake! At the end of the day I was very pleased to be told that I had done better than most new drivers on their first day of road training! To protect the innocent I won't say which line or depot were involved in this, but I was assured that it is all perfectly legal!

Thus encouraged, I got hold of the Application Pack and duly filled out the necessary forms, giving examples of "competencies" and sent these off to the appropriate Department.

Now we get to the nitty gritty of the Recruitment Process.

The Aptitude Assessment

I was duly invited to attend for an "Aptitude Assessment" which I was told would take about three and a half to four hours.

The process involved the following:

  • An English test – this was mainly aimed at seeing if your spelling and comprehension was OK and that you were capable of receiving and relaying information accurately. Having spent my previous life writing letters, reports, summaries, business cases etc. this presented me with no problem.
  • A Public Address announcement. First you received the information, next you wrote out your announcement and then you recorded it onto audio tape for the benefit (I guess) of the panel, which would assess whether you would be invited for interview (assuming you got through the tests). Again no problem. As Station Staff, one spends a fair amount of time making Public Address announcements, so this was no different to what I was doing everyday.
  • A mechanical comprehension test – this involved looking at various diagrams of mechanical items such as levers, cogs, wheels etc. and deciphering what the end result of the action of one on another would be. Again, no real problem with this. I've always been interested in machinery – engines, cars, motorbikes etc. and felt pretty confident on this one.
  • Next came a Fault Finding exercise – this was trickier, partly because it involved a number of actions which would impact on each other and you had to trace and decide which was not working, but also because the format was also completely different from the examples which had been sent to "help" with the process of preparing for the tests! After a brief period of panic I managed to tackle the task and, as I passed, I must assume that I did OK!
  • Finally, there were two computer tests. One involved picking out particular groups of dots in a given period of time (to test concentration I believe) and the second was responding to lights, sounds, symbols on a special keyboard and pedals which was to assess a combination of accuracy and reactions. Being keen on computers (and computer games – especially the "simulator" type), I handled these with no problems.

On the day I attended I was the only candidate there and completed the process in about two hours. I think I was lucky, because I effectively worked at my own speed and not the speed of the slowest, which is the case if it is done in a group. The tests themselves are all time limited, but there is no limit to the time given on practice sessions before each group of tests. Anyway, I left the assessment feeling reasonably confident that I had done well enough to pass this hurdle. Confirmation of this arrived a couple of days later when I was invited for interview.

I hasten to add at this point that passing these assessments is far from a forgone conclusion. I believe eighteen of my colleagues just from my Station Group applied at this time and only one other and I passed the assessment stage. I have to say that I felt that several who were rejected were just as good as I and I was disappointed for them.

The Interview

I duly presented myself for the interview on the date and at the time and place stated on the invitation letter, only to be greeted by rather blank expressions from the recruitment staff! Yes, they were interviewing on that day and place but had no record of my appointment. I duly produced my letter and they hastily huddled and managed to produce the interviewers (I think I probably interrupted their lunch) and the interview commenced.

The interviewers were a representative of Recruitment Services and (I think) a Train Operations Manager. Again, the interview is "competency based" and I duly gave answers to the matters they required covered. I was asked additional questions such as "why do you want to be a Train Operator" and "given this situation what do think your actions would be" and so on. There was some discussion about the Lines and Depots available and their suitability for me personally. I gave my views on these and the interview concluded.

My feelings (initially) were that the interview had gone well, although later self-doubt began to creep in and I thought of a thousand reasons why I had fluffed it!

Anyway, a couple of days later I was informed that I had been successful and that confirmation of my Depot and Training date would follow in due course. As it happens, when the letter did arrive, the Depot and Line where none of those discussed, although, happily, what I was offered for both would have been my first choice. It's not often on London Underground that this happens.

The Training

Finally the Great Day arrived and I and thirteen or fourteen others, duly presented ourselves at Ashfield House on the first day of our training. Most of my colleagues were ex-station staff, although there were two ex-guards and a former Revenue Control Inspector in the group.

We were, I believe, the ninth group to be trained under the Direct Recruit Operators scheme (colloquially known as DROPS – London Underground manages to find an acronym for about everything!) and that our training would last nine full weeks, with a tenth week set aside for "Final Consolidation" and to allow for any delays which may have occurred during the previous nine weeks. At the end of this, assuming we had passed out, we would go to our lines as fully qualified Train Operators and then undertake Stock (if necessary), Line and any other training appropriate to the Line's individual needs. This would take about a further four weeks, assuming all went to plan.

It is perhaps worth mentioning here that, in the past, the traditional recruitment route for Train Operators had been through having been a Guard who already had an in depth grounding of trains, train equipment and "rules and regs." But since the introduction of One Person Operation ("OPO" – another London Underground acronym) this source of recruits has come to an end. Hence we (even although we were all internal recruits for the role) were "DROPS", despite the previous training in some areas we had already received and the experience some (although not all) had gained in signals, track procedures and so on.

This timescale has now extended since I trained to, I believe, twenty-two weeks because true "Direct Recruits (i.e. those who are completely new to London Underground) were finding that it was too intensive, as they did not have the benefit of the prior knowledge of the organisation and its workings that the internal recruits obviously already held. I can't say I'm surprised at this lengthening of the process as it was certainly extremely intensive and there are a number of critical points where you can be failed and returned to your previous life! This certainly happened. I think of our original number three failed at some point along the course. Whether this was through lack of knowledge or through panic under the pressure of the examinations I don't know. However, in either event I guess it was appropriate for them to be failed. You can't have a Train Operator with inadequate knowledge or who becomes flustered and panics under pressure. At the end of the day you are dealing with safety critical issues and you must know and follow, correct procedures and you must never compromise the safety of yourself or others, be they customers or staff.

Week One

It's again worth bearing in mind that the course I was on was intended for Direct Recruits, completely new to London Underground.

The week started with the usual round of introductions; who we were, where we'd come from, what we'd done in the past and so on and the Instructor outlined what was ahead of us in the weeks to come. It was also mentioned (with a certain amount of irony) that after about five weeks we would actually get to see a train!

It was also very much emphasised that the course would be intensive, and require a great deal of commitment from the candidates, both individually and collectively, if we were to succeed. This would also include spending time each evening reviewing what had been done and studying any aspects of which we were unsure.

The first part of the course was very much an introduction to London Underground, Team Building exercises, researching various aspects of London Underground such as signals, train composition, a visit to the London Transport Museum and so on. As we all came from within the organisation none of this was new to us, and, in fact, most of us had done exactly the same when we had started as Station Assistants. So this was a fairly easy week but had the benefit of being able to get to know each other.

Weeks Two to Four and a Half

These weeks were taken up with Operational Procedures Training (OPT) that has taken the place of the old "Rules and Regulations". This was the start of the hard work, and there were a number of critical points that had to be reached, assessed and passed if we were to be able to carry on with the training. At the completion of each "module" a rest would be taken to check on progress by the candidates. Although these were not crucial to carrying on, a pass mark was needed or there would be a review and resit, if the Instructor deemed it necessary.

The first two days were taken up with getting to know "The Reference Manual" which is the multi-volume document which lays down the procedures, requirements etc. for just about every situation, circumstance and procedure for everything that occurs on London Underground. It represents London Underground's Safety Case and its procedures must be followed. If they are not, one lays oneself open to (at best) an Interview with your employing manager or (at worst) dismissal from the company, with a number of stages in between.

Next we moved on to the Supply and Distribution of Traction Current; how to get it turned off in an emergency, Rail Gaps, emergency switching arrangements and so on.

Signalling Systems occupied three days. This included all the different types used, both automatic and semi-automatic, Trainstops and Tripcocks, Junction indications, Mechanical and Electrical Interlocking, signalling Overlaps, Shunt signalling and much more.

We then looked at the question of being safe on the track, including both in Traffic Hours and around Depots. This culminated with a "Track Walk" to allow you to demonstrate what you had learnt and finally a Computer Based Assessment that was the basis of you qualifying as "Track Competent" and thus being able to carry on with the course – failure would see your return to your previous life.

The Computer Based Testing presents you with a question and multiple answers; you have to pick the right one. Sounds simple, but some of the answers are very close, and you must pick the right one (first time, no second chance) to answer correctly. The situation is made even more complex by the answers being "weighted" in value. If the question is deemed "Safety Critical" it carries 12%. To pass the test you must gain 80%. 70% - 80% will see a review with the Instructor and an immediate resit (one opportunity only), less than 70% is a straight and immediate fail. The tests must also be completed within an allocated time; if you haven't finished and the time runs out, that's it. During the test the computer tells you of your progress and your passed/failed questions so far. That in itself is quite intimidating.

No one had any real problems with the course to this point. Much of it was the same as we had gone through in our training as Station Assistants or during "Annual Test of Rules", although some aspects of signalling were more in depth and (correctly) extended our knowledge as is appropriate for a Train Operator.

We now started to get into less familiar territory and spent the next five days looking at a plethora of procedures covering (and I am choosing only a few) aspects such as Passing Signals at Danger in the event of Signal Failures etc., SPADS (the unauthorised passing of signals at danger), Radio Procedures, Wrong Direction Moves, Point to Point Working, Station Overruns, Protection of Staff in Tunnels, Mirrors and Monitors and many more even including the grizzly subject of "One Unders" or, more correctly, Person Under a Train.

Earlier I alluded to the emphasis placed on Teamwork and, by now, this had certainly become apparent. There had been much exchanging of phone numbers and calls in the evenings between candidates to check on areas of uncertainty. There had also been a couple of examples of tensions between individuals on the course and the Instructors were quick to step in and rearrange the groups to alleviate these and prevent the whole group being negatively affected.

So, after twelve very intensive days, we reached the point of the "Final Assessment". Again, this was a computer based test, which saw fifteen hot, bothered and extremely nervous recruits all sitting in a room in from of computer screens, dreading what was to come and, again, knowing that their future was in the balance.

The test was comprised (I think) of fifty questions, but many of these had "sub questions" to them and required to be answered showing the correct step-by-step procedure. If you got one part wrong, you lost the question and, potentially 12% of your marks. The same rules applied as outlined before.

On this occasion we were not, as a group, quite so fortunate. Two of the candidates had to resit and passed at the second attempt, but one scored in the mid fifties and after some sad words, and encouragement to try again at a later date, was sent back to the stations.

So the next critical point had been passed, and I was still there!

End of Week Four

The last couple of days were spent on less intense matters, such as a visit to a Depot to look at how roster and duty sheets work, the domestic arrangements in place and so on. We also looked at "Roles and Responsibilities", that is how a Train Operator fits into the organisation and so on. These days were intentionally included to relax the tensions and pressures that had, inevitably, built up in the previous weeks.

The group also unanimously decided that we deserved a celebration to mark our survival to date, so it was agreed that on the Friday "civvies" would be brought in and at the end of the day's work we would adjourn to the pub for a well-deserved session. Our Instructors were also invited and, I'm pleased to say, joined us for the evening. Suffice it to say a good evening was enjoyed by all and I will confess to a fair hangover the next morning.

So I had now reached, and survived the first real "Critical Point" in my quest to become a Train Operator. My collection of training manuals, notes and knowledge was increasing daily and my bag was getting heavier by the day with material I was carrying around.

Up to now I'd been on fairly familiar ground; my old station had practically all the signal types we had discussed during the previous three weeks, I'd been involved in getting traction current discharged and I'd been involved in "scotching and clipping" - the system used to secure points for a set route when there has been a signal failure and it was necessary to secure a route to enable trains to proceed. This was all about to change and we were about to enter a completely new world, that of Train Equipment.

Week Five

This was where we started to learn about Trains; how they work and what makes them work. The week got off to a slightly strange start when the Instructor who took this part of the course went sick and there was a deal of confusion as to how they were going to cover the week ahead.

Eventually an Instructor Operator was drafted in from Stonebridge Depot (Bakerloo Line) – the logic for this will become clearer later - who freely and openly admitted that he had never done this course before and, to make matters even more complicated, did not have the course delivery notes from which the instructors work, as they were in the possession of the instructor who should have been taking the course and could not be accessed. However, he said he felt sure that he could deliver something appropriate even though it would be made up as we went along.

In the event, this worked out to be a good grounding for what was to follow later. The week was formally titled "Principals of Train Equipment", known colloquially as "POTE (pronounced Potty) Training"; yet another London Underground acronym.

Officially the work was all to be done in the classroom, but our hastily drafted Instructor decided that he was going to do this in his own way and split the week between the classroom and Stonebridge Park Depot on 1972 Tube Stock (72TS) photo trains so that we could see, hear and experience what we were learning in theory.

We started with looking at matters such as stock formations (how a train is made up), where the different equipment is located, how compressed air is generated and distributed around the train, how the 630vDC traction current is picked up and distributed around the various equipment it operates. How 630vDC is converted to supply 250vAC for lighting, the use of 50vDC and batteries to operate control circuits, relays, MCB's (Miniature Circuit Breakers), fuses, electrical circuits, main line and train line air, Electro Pneumatic and Westinghouse braking systems, door systems and much more.

Confused – you should be! We all certainly were. At this time we were in the classroom looking at diagrams of air supply, wiring diagrams, braking diagrams - showing how different operations of the CTBC (Combined Traction Brake Controller) resulted in different valves operating, thus causing different braking efforts and so on.

The logic of the aptitude assessments during the selection process was now becoming more obvious. If you had no ability for things mechanical or being able to follow a sequence through, you would now be really struggling to keep up with all that was coming your way.

Now I'm a reasonably mechanically minded sort of person. I've done a deal of mechanical work in my time; rebuilding motor cycle and car engines, servicing them, replacing suspension and steering parts, getting them working when they won't, some electrical work and even (reluctantly) the odd bit of plumbing. But I freely admit that I felt I was struggling and was starting to get seriously concerned as to whether I was up to all this and whether I should have become a station supervisor instead. My colleagues didn't seem to share my doubts in my abilities as I found myself being used as some sort of fountain of knowledge. They seemed to gravitate towards me during breaks and at the end and beginning of the days with questions prefixed with "you know what he's talking about – what's xxxxx all about?" Perhaps it was because I at least understood some of the terminology and had come up with a few pertinent questions and shown some understanding of the diagrams and so on.

Much (probably most) of the terminology being used was completely new to most of us, apart from the two ex-guards on the course who had, of course, seen much of it before. However this led to some confusion at times as they had trained on 59TS and, although much was the same, some items were quite different on these later trains and they often ended up confusing themselves (and sometimes the rest of the group!) with the knowledge they already had.

Bearing in mind that we had a number of female members in our group, there was a certain amount of juvenile banter revolving around the use of terms such as "cocks", "tongues and throats" and "male" and "female" connections – very silly really but seemed to appeal to some of the baser instincts of a few candidates.

So, thus armed with theoretical knowledge, we duly reported at Stonebridge Depot on Day 3 to see and put our newly gained knowledge into practical use. Finally we actually get to see and get our trembling hands, on a train.

Fortunately, our Instructor managed to rustle up a colleague and two trains so that at least the group could be split into two – trying to get fourteen fully grown adults of various shapes and sizes plus an Instructor into the cab of a 72TS train would have been some sort of world record; even seven plus Instructor was stretching matters and they often had to go over the same matters twice (or more on occasions) so that everyone was kept in the picture of what was being demonstrated/shown/done etc.

We learnt how to "Open Up" the train – that is charge the air lines so that the train could actually move, see what the various kit in the cabs was for, see the MCB's, see the fuses and the effect they had on the train when removed (thus simulating a "blown" fuse), how you open the doors when there is no air to work the door motors, what a main line burst sounds like and the effect it has on the train, what a train line burst sounds like and its effect and so on.

I, at least, had my (albeit) brief experience of actually driving a train but many of the candidates had never even been in a train cab before, let alone having ridden in one. I must say that this has always struck me as a little bizarre that we were now five weeks into our training and some people were still in this position. After all, this was (hopefully) going to be their place of work for the next several years to come and they had no idea at all of what it was like.

I soon found myself feeling reasonably at home, lifting seats, working various pieces of equipment and trying things out to really get a "feel" of the train. The Instructors often sent me off to lift a seat and throw a Compressor Cut Out Switch (or whatever).

Again, I found my colleagues coming to me with questions. I even had the Instructors asking if I'd been a guard and when I answered "no" they then said, something like, well you've obviously had previous experience of trains, did you come from BR? Again, I had to explain that I had no training, knowledge or experience other than what I had learnt for myself over the years and, I admit (anorak!) that I've always been interested in trains and, I guess, that the opportunity to finally get my hands on them was too good to miss.

I think this interest in things mechanical in general and trains in particular probably came from my maternal grandfather. He had served his apprenticeship with the Great Western Railway at Swindon in the early 1900's and his family before had been railwaymen. My early memories of him was of him often delving into radios and photographic enlargers surrounded by tools and soldering irons so I suppose it's all to do with regression to childhood.

So these days went (for me) quickly, although I still felt that my head was bursting, trying to remember all we had learnt, covered, seen and done.

On the last day of the week, the course book stated that there would be a written assessment. The Instructor decided that there would not be one; a) as he didn't have the test papers and b) as he would mark us according to what we had practically demonstrated in the previous days. He duly collected up our Training Record Books, sat at his desk back in the classroom and completed the marks he felt appropriate to the candidates. He handed them back to us on a "one to one" basis and when he saw me, I was very flattered when he thanked me for my help, not only to him, but in the way I had helped my colleagues who were showing less understanding.

When we compared the marks (as one does) we found that he had marked everyone at 85%, except me – I had been given (to my embarrassment) 95%. I was apologetic to my colleagues, saying that I didn't feel that I had done anything more than they. Several disagreed, saying that I had and one even wanted to go and "sort him out" as he thought I deserved 100%.

So we came to the end of week five and, in fact, the point where we would be permanently split for the remainder of our training and would only come together on the last day for the "Final Consolidation" examination.

We would now go either to Stonebridge Depot (to continue on 72TS) if we were destined for "Deep Tube" stocks or Edgware Road (to train on C69 Stock photo) if we were going to a Sub-Surface Line for the next stage of our training. This was to do with, mainly, the differences of where equipment is located on Tube or Surface Stocks.

I mentioned earlier the use of the 72TS at this stage for the POTE Training. Essentially the 72TS and C69 Stocks are the same train, just with different bodies; mechanically they are more or less identical, albeit with some equipment located in different places. For example, fuses on Tube Stocks are located under seats (i.e. inside the trains) whereas Sub-Surface Stocks have them beneath the "Sole Bar" (the chassis on which the body is mounted). This is all to do with space; Sub-Surface Stocks are bigger and have room for some equipment to be mounted externally whereas Tube Stocks are more space critical. As I was to go to the District Line it was off to Edgware Road for me.

I think, at this point, it's worth going into a little detail of how (as far as I can work out!) line allocations come about at the recruitment stage of this long process. When I had applied, the advert had stated that there were vacancies at Acton Town (for the Piccadilly Line), Edgware Road (for the Hammersmith & City/Circle Lines) and at Queens Park (for the Bakerloo Line). ,At the interview I was told that there were also vacancies at Neasden for the Jubilee Line. I said that all of these would be practical for me, but that Edgware Road would be the most difficult for extreme shifts. ,Some account is (I believe) supposed to be taken of where an individual lives in relation to the depots available but, I have to say, this doesn't always seem to work in practice, so I was fully expecting to be sent to Edgware Road. This logic is also supposed to be applied to station staff recruitment but, again, doesn't always seem to work out.

When I was told that I had been accepted for training I was informed that as my training would be deferred for a while as I had four weeks annual leave booked I would be informed of my line and depot at a later date. Understandably the requirement was for the whole of the training to run continuously, with no leave being taken during its duration.

After I had applied and been accepted, a further advert appeared in the Traffic Circular with a much wider range of depots and I was somewhat chagrined to find that the District Line (which would have been my first choice) was now on the list. I was sure in my own mind that I would be limited to the original choice given at interview.

As my leave was approaching and I had not been informed of my training dates, line or depot I phoned Ashfield House to see if they had any news. I was informed that there was a letter going out that day and would I like to know the content. Of course, I said, "Yes please" and after a brief wait was told the date and "you'll be going to Acton Town". From this I assumed the Piccadilly Line and, I have to say, of the original depots this would have been the best option. However, when the letter actually arrived it was Acton Town District. To say I was over the moon would probably be an understatement – I think my whoops of joy were probably heard across the whole of London.

Weeks Six and Seven

Our training on the C69 Stock was to be carried out at the Circle Line Training Centre at Edgware Road and at Hammersmith Depot. We knew that at the end of the following Friday we would either be Train Operators (although we would still not have been "on the road") and that the final ordeal of dealing with defects was ahead and that this was the point where the highest number of candidates failed.

Our original group was now seven although we were joined at this point by a former Station Supervisor who had just been appointed as a Duty Manager (Trains) and we duly presented ourselves at the given place and time. Yet another new environment and another new set of Instructors.

We were given a welcome by the Duty Manager (Trains) responsible for the training, who outlined what stood ahead of us over the next two weeks and again emphasised the need for absolute commitment if we were to succeed – again this would mean much work in the evenings to review what had been done each day.

The first days were spent in the classroom at Edgware Road where we built on the knowledge gained in the previous week, but getting down too much more detail. We looked at Supply and distribution of traction current in more detail; which circuits control what, the detailed make up of the braking systems, the effect a "tripped" MCB would have on the train and so on.

All this was heading us in the direction of "Defect Handling", that is, in very simple terms, what symptoms are going to present themselves should there be a failure of the train so that you know how you go about getting the thing to move again. Not only does a Train Operator need to know how to diagnose the fault but also he or she should, in as many instances as possible, know what actions to take single-handed to move the train as quickly as possible to minimise delays to the trains that will inevitably be queuing up behind him or her. All this must be done safely; causing no danger to passengers, staff or oneself.

There are many possible faults and resolutions. We were taught the first basic checks to make when a train won't start which, again, carries an acronym to help one remember the checks to make – in this is "PLATO". This is central to any fault, as it will give you the first clue as to what may be the problem.

PLATO comprise the following:

  • Pilot Light – are the doors closed? The Pilot Light is the visual indication that a Train Operator gets in the cab to confirm the doors are closed. If they aren't, the train won't move. No Pilot Light can mean that someone is preventing the doors to close, but can also be caused by a variety of things, such as MCB's tripped or blown fuses amongst others.
  • Air – are the pressures sufficient to allow air governed and operated equipment to function properly. If air is lost the "fail safe" principle comes into effect and the train will not move until it is restored. There is a gauge in the cab that tells you what the air pressures are and (in the C Stock which of the two types of air used has been lost. No air can again be caused by a number of things such as compressor failure or a burst on one of the lines that carries air around the train.
  • Traction Current – is there any or has the "juice" been switched off or has the train stopped over a Rail Gap and is unable to pick up its needed supply. The first indication to check is whether the MA (Motor Alternator) light is illuminated. If it is not, you've lost Traction Current to the leading car (at least) and although there are batteries to "back up" the Control Circuits it isn't unknown for these to fail, which will result in the cab being "dead" and it being impossible to drive the train from that cab.
  • Overloads – these air electrical switches engaged by air pressure that allows traction current to reach the motors, thus enabling the train to move. If they've "dropped out" the train isn't going to move. The check is to push the Overload Set Button that will (or should) cause them to re-engage.

These are just your first checks and, depending what you do (or do not) find should start guiding you down the next path to follow in resolving the fault.

So we looked at possible causes and remedies for the faults. How do you overcome a "burst", what can be done to overcome a main fuse failure, what happens if compressors are failing to operate and much more – this is really only scraping the surface and trying to give the reader of feeling of what we were going through.

Finally, if all else fails, you learn about "Assisting Train Procedures", that is if all else fails how can another train get you out of the way, what trains are compatible, how the trains couple, do they couple fully or only mechanically, how another driver can drive from the rear cab, how you communicate with the driver of a training pushing from the rear and so on.

So, after about four days in the classroom, it was off to Hammersmith Depot to put into practice what we had learnt. Again, the group was split into two groups of four and a second Instructor used.

We saw what we had learnt in practice – where under seats different equipment was located such as door engines and how you can open the doors if air pressure is lost, the valves to release brakes, compressor governor and cut-out switches, auto couplers, Fault Isolation Switches and (as always) much more.

The Instructor would disappear, remove or isolate some piece of equipment, return to the cab and then get one of us to "Open Up" the train and try to move it. When it wouldn't we would go through our checks to diagnose the problem and then set about rectifying it.

We spent four days doing this, dealing with a myriad of faults and resolving them and, if we could not, describing what actions would be used using another driver or train to assist and what actions we would need to take to enable this to occur.

Once again, evenings were spent revising what we had learnt and I know we all felt that there was just too much knowledge to retain and that we had no chance to pass the final, critical, examination. It so happened that, for me, this final hurdle coincided with my wife's study for an Open University examination and we would both spend our evenings at the dining room table desperately revising, and becoming more and more agitated and irritable with each other.

On the Wednesday of the second week we were told that the great day (or days) had arrived and that Thursday and Friday would be taken up with the final examinations that were on a one-to-one basis with the Instructors. As two of our number would be remaining at Edgware Road, providing they passed this hurdle, they would be the first to be examined. The rest of us were allowed to decide amongst ourselves who would be examined when and I volunteered to go on the Thursday after the Edgware Road candidate had been assessed.

We were told that the examination could last anything up to three and a half hours and that no one had ever done it in less than one hour forty-five minutes. On this basis I was told to report at 11.00 am for my review.

The exams would comprise four defects being set, or more if you failed to handle any correctly and verbal questioning and discussion would check our underpinning knowledge with the Instructor.

The Wednesday evening was spent trying desperately to remember at least something of what I had been taught – I was becoming increasingly convinced that I had no chance and I would be back on the stations by Friday morning. The family had a particularly rough evening from my state of near-panic and when I finally went to bed all I could think of was Train Equipment and Defect Handling. I don't remember sleeping too well and, by the time the great day dawned, I had convinced myself that it wasn't even worth turning up but that I might as well go through the motions having gone so far.

I arrived at Hammersmith Depot at about 9.30 and decided to go and have breakfast in the Café in the station – at least the condemned man would have eaten a hearty breakfast. I went to the place where we had been told to assemble to learn that the first two candidates were being examined. The air of apprehension was palpable, even amongst the four who would not be examined until the next day.

The first of our number returned after about two hours with a large grin on his face – he'd passed. Unfortunately, his examiner was not to be mine, so I was still waiting.

Midday came and went; one o'clock came and went and I was still waiting. Finally at about 1.30 my examiner appeared and apologised that it had taken so long and that unfortunately my colleague had failed to pass. I have to say this did nothing to lessen my feelings of dome and gloom. We made our way to the train we were to use and after the examiner ran through again the way it would progress, the examination began.

I was told to open up the train and, having done so, he disappeared and set the first defect. On returning to the cab he told me to attempt to move the train, which I did and, of course, was unable to do so. After the initial panic and several deep breaths, I set about my checks and diagnosing the fault, all the time describing what I was doing and why. Finally (thankfully) I got movement and the fault was diagnosed and resolved all, much to my surprise, correctly and safely. Questioning followed and I answered correctly and was told that I'd passed that one with no problem.

I started to feel a little better and, after a bit of general chat, was asked if I was ready to go onto the next defect. So the scenario was repeated a further three times and I was delighted at the end to be told that I'd passed with no problems at all. I was astounded to find that the process had taken only one hour twenty minutes – it had felt like a lifetime.

The feeling of elation was almost indescribable and I returned to my remaining colleagues with a grin on my face from ear to ear, only stopping to call my wife on my mobile to let her know all was well. It was, of course, now about 3.15 and she was sure that something had gone drastically wrong and that I'd jumped off Hammersmith Bridge, never to be seen again.

Friday dawned and I went off to Hammersmith again, still on cloud nine, to give my support to my remaining colleagues. All passed, so we had only lost one other at this stage. We returned to Edgware Road to see the Training Manager who told us what stood ahead over the next two weeks – Job Training; finally we would get to drive a train in passenger service, but, of course, still under the watchful eye of an Instructor Operator.

But it was emphasised that we were now Train Operators and would receive the full pay and benefits that go with the job – we were almost there.

Weeks Eight and Nine

The next two weeks would comprise of "Job Training"; that is actual experience of operating trains in passenger service. Those of use who were due to go to the District Line were told that we were to do our Job Training from Edgware Road on the Hammersmith and City and Circle Lines on their routes and on C69 Stock under the watchful eyes of their Instructor Operators.

This was because at the time the District Line were short of Instructor Operators and as there is a fair degree of commonality on the routes. As a District Line Train Operator you do also use the C69 Stock as well as the D78 Stock which most people associate with the District Line. So this was a far from wasted period in the long term, as well as being essential in the short term.

I believe this has now changed under the current training programme and that the Train Equipment and Job Training that the current trainees receive is dealt with by the specific Lines and Depots at which they will finally work. I know I've seen small groups of trainees going around with our Instructor Operators and I've spoken to a number of DROPs who have hitched a lift in my cab whilst travelling to and from work.

We were allocated our duties, met with the Instructor Operators (I/O) who were to have the dubious pleasure of our company for the next two weeks and told when and where to report for our first day "on the road". I duly met with my Instructor Operator for my first duty. This would start by taking a train into service from the siding at Farringdon at the start of traffic on a cold October morning.

The I/O showed me how to prepare the train, carrying out the various tests and checks needed to ensure the train is fit for service. On completion we duly "plunged" to alert the Signal Operator that we were ready to go. So far so good.

The shunt signal cleared and the Instructor told me to "wind up" and move off. Traction Brake Controller to Shunt, brakes released, train rolled forward – no motors!

The sidings at Farringdon are on a slight down hill slope and the train did roll gently forward – just enough for the wheels to pass over the Insulated Block Joint which returns the signal to Danger and for the Trainstop (the device which causes the train's brakes to be applied if a signal is passed at Danger) to rise. Unfortunately the tripcock arm on the train had not passed the Trainstop and we were promptly tripped, causing an emergency application of the brakes and the train came to an abrupt halt. The one thing my Instructor had overlooked was to check that the overloads were engaged; they weren't so we had now "locked up" the Circle Line Inner Road whilst the Instructor tried to raise the Line Controller on the Radio.

Eventually he did, explained what had occurred and, having also spoken to the Signal Operator we were given authority to proceed into service. All this had taken about ten minutes. Not a very auspicious start to my career as a driver, but, as with all such occurrences, you learn from the experience; I've never since forgotten to check the overloads.

What had occurred was that, each night at the close of traffic, each train is checked and tested by a technician who often trips various equipment and circuits. The theory is that he should reset everything; theory and practice are not always the same. Anyway, that was the only near disaster encountered over the period that followed. I gradually started becoming more confident in my abilities and confident in the routes we used. I moved trains in and out of Hammersmith Depot and actually did most of the possible "moves" on the H & C and Circle Lines over the next two weeks.

Road training is a whole new challenge; learning where signals are sighted, which stations need to be approached with caution because of gradients, short platforms, which routes you are looking to be set to make sure you don't suddenly find yourself going to the wrong place. Add to this the fact that you're now carrying passengers, making announcements and keeping passengers informed of delays and so on. You are also trying to keep up with the timetable and making sure the train is functioning correctly.

One of the greatest challenges driving a C69 Stock is the use of the Westinghouse brake. This is a secondary braking system, which is used either in the event of a failure of the "normal" brake system or in the event of some unit supply defects. It takes some practice to become confident and accurate in its use (I know, I'm still trying.) but when used correctly is a satisfying experience. By the end of the two weeks I was getting reasonably accurate with it – at least enough to get the OK from my Instructor.

When possible, I use it as a service brake, when I'm doing "locals", to try to increase my confidence and also to break up the otherwise very routine tasks you inevitably do as a driver. It should be used routinely on every trip to test it works correctly. This doesn't always happen and if it hasn't been used for a while is slow to come into effect when applied which does cause, to put it mildly, some concern as you wonder if it is ever going to get the train to stop at all.

And so the two weeks came to an end. Our record Books were duly written up and marked as necessary by our Instructors and DMT to finalise our time at Edgware Road. Goodbyes were said to our Instructors and it was back to Ashfield House on Monday Morning of Week Ten for the "Final Consolidation" test – pass this and it would be off to the District Line.

Week Ten

Monday arrived, as did all the survivors of our original group. The other group had also lost one candidate who had failed at the Train Equipment Assessment stage. There was comparison between the experiences of the two groups and, I have to say, I felt that my training at Edgware Road had been a little more structured than my colleagues from the other group.

In discussion with candidates from earlier groups, we had rather been given the impression that this final test would be a bit of a formality; I have to say I don't agree that it was. The test was a combination of multiple choice and written answers and the idea was to bring together elements of all that we had learned in the previous nine weeks. There were questions on Train Equipment and Operational Procedures, what you would do in given circumstances and so on. Some of it seemed a very long time ago and you felt you had to really rack your brain to recall what the answer was. But of course, we did, and all successfully concluded the course. The final phase of our Training Records were signed off by the Trains Training Team Leader and handed back to us individually with a handshake and congratulations that we had completed the course.

I sensed that, even at this stage, there was a certain amount of inter-line rivalry showing up. Whether this was because of our new found confidence and achievement or of an "us and them" attitude I'm not sure. So now it really was off to our "home" depots to start the next phase.

Stock Training on the District Line

So now we were four. We travelled down to Acton Town and reported to the Duty Managers' Offices to be told that we were expected and that one of the Line's Instructor Operators would be with us later to outline what lay ahead for the next few weeks. We also met with our Train Operations Manager (TOM) who formally welcomed us to the Depot and to the Line and gave us a run down on what the domestic arrangements at the Depot were and who we would need to speak to on a wide variety of matters and covering all manner of things such as uniform issue and leave arrangements. We spent some time sorting out things like lockers and meeting with the Administration Staff who were most helpful in sorting out any bits of equipment and uniform we needed and setting up our personal correspondence files and so on.

As promised, later in the day we met with one of the Line's Instructor Operators. We were told that we would now undergo training on the D78 Stock and C69 Stock (despite our previous training) before our Road Training commenced and that we would also be trained and qualified on Railtrack Rules and Regulations and Track Access as, of course, the District Line runs over Railtrack on the Wimbledon and Richmond branches. We were also put down for Fire Refresher Training to keep our existing licences up to date. All this would happen over the next two weeks and, until it had occurred, we should spend our time doing "Road Observation" – that is finding yourself a driver and going out on the road getting to know the routes.

So, apart from the days when we were training, this is what was done. This time also gave the opportunity to meet with a number of your new colleagues who, for the most part, were quite happy to let you travel with them and give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience and (quite often) the benefit of their opinions on the District Line in particular and London Underground in general.

The D78 Stock Training took place at Upminster Depot and we covered similar ground as we had previously; looking at the circuits, braking systems etc. in the classroom and then putting them into practice on the train. The D78 Stock is not at all the C69 Stock. As it was a later design and build, many of the electrical systems have been duplicated so that if one fails, the other takes over and, as a Train Operator, you might never know there's a problem unless of course both circuits fail. The braking system is different – it's an all-electrical system known as Westcode and instead of there being main line and train line air pipes, there's only main line air.

Additionally, in the cab, there's a piece of equipment called the Train Monitoring System (TMS) that alerts the driver to when there is a fault and where on the train it is located. The TMS has a number of controls that allow defects to be dealt with from the cab, as opposed to having to physically locate equipment somewhere on the train. The TMS even tells you which car is affected by items such as unclosed doors or if a Passenger Emergency Alarm (PEA) is activated, allowing you to investigate more quickly.

The process was then repeated for the C69 Stock, although I will admit that as we done this same stuff so recently it did feel a little unnecessary. Still, it should be remembered that we were now involved in the same process is followed for any existing Train Operator transferring to the line – indeed there were such transferees who joined us. The Training all has to be documented and signed off and certified, so procedures must be followed.

In fact the transferees were, at first, a little cynical about being put in with a bunch of "DROPS", but they did later admit that they were surprised at the knowledge we displayed and, in fact, felt a little intimidated but what we knew and they felt they had forgotten. So having got all the necessary certificates and courses out of the way, the next stage would be Road Training.

Road Training on the District Line

The object of Road Training is to get you confident and knowledgeable not only of physically driving the various Stocks used, but also with all the moves, routes, reversing points, terminus routines and so on that you will encounter on the Line. This would culminate with a "Road Test" with a Duty Manager (Trains) who would then pass you out as being competent to drive a train in passenger service on your own – more on this later.

The Road Training on the District Line takes about three and a half weeks and you're in the tender care of the same Instructor Operator throughout this period, so you get to know him pretty well – how he takes his tea/coffee, what he eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner – as you cover his various shifts over the period.

Additionally to the driving you "hike" the various depots and sidings when all the routes, signals and moves specific to each are covered in depth. On the District Line this alone takes up two whole days, as you have to cover Ealing Common and Upminster Depots and the sidings at Barking, Parsons Green, Acton Town (although rarely used, but can be used in an emergency) and Triangle Sidings (which are between Earls Court and High Street Kensington). During the training you do most of these moves, sometimes several times, as it is essential that you are familiar with them all.

Once out on the road you also deal with the reversal of trains at places such as Mansion House, Tower Hill, High Street Kensington, Kensington Olympia, Whitechapel, Dagenham East, The "Yard" at Earls Court and using the bay road platform at Barking. All of these are frequently used moves. The Instructor will also brief you on, and question you about, less frequently used moves such as reversing at South Kensington, Embankment, Gunnersbury, Wimbledon Park, Putney Bridge and quite a few more which can be used in the event of service disruptions, when instructed to do so by the Line Controller.

It was often emphasised that the District Line has more of these moves and also more controlled signals, than any other Line on London Underground. You learn which signal cabins control which areas, the cabin codes for these cabins and the instructor will get you to go through and describe the moves as you're on the road. Again, the amount of information coming at you is immense and you know that you're going to questioned on it by the DMT when the day of your Road Test dawns. Before the Road Test itself there is also another computer based test, this time specific to line knowledge – again it must be passed to demonstrate that you are confident with route knowledge.

The Instructor will tailor the shifts you cover to ensure that you become familiar with preparing a train for service – all the checks you need to make to ensure its fitness to carry passengers, its entry into service from all possible locations (particularly in Ealing Common Depot where there is a wide variety of options) and for the stabling of trains at the end of traffic. All the while this is going on you continue to hone your driving skills; braking techniques, public address announcements and many other things as situations present themselves. You also get to know were facilities such as tea points, toilets, good coffee shops and cafes are to be found. All essential to the comfort and well being of any self-respecting Train Operator.

Finally the day arrives for your Road Test and you are told when, where and to whom you are to present yourself for this final step before being let loose on the public on your own.

The Road Test

This is an experience not dissimilar to taking your Driving Test for a car or whatever. The DMT is the examiner, you the trembling, nervous candidate. The experience starts with the DMT asking you something over fifty questions covering all aspects of the Line, getting you to describe how you would make various moves, what you would do in given circumstances and so on. He will then feed back any areas he may feel that you need to concentrate on, assuming you've demonstrated enough knowledge to satisfy him thus far.

He then looks at your driving skills. My test comprised driving a C69 Stock down from Earls Court to Wimbledon and, in the process demonstrating, every aspect of driving in passenger service. You also demonstrate your use of the Westinghouse Brake – fortunately the train I had for my test had a good one. You then return from Wimbledon to Earls Court driving a D78 Stock, once again handling the train as you would in passenger service. Indeed, both trains were in passenger service – the DMT simply gets the Train Operator of these trains to hand over the train to you – he remains in the cab, it is after all his train, so not only do you have the DMT watching your every move, but another driver too.

We arrived back at Earls Court and returned to his office to hear the final verdict. A common yardstick used by many Instructors and DMT's in assessing your abilities is "would I be happy letting my family or friends be in the care of this individual?" This sounds simplistic but I think there's always a gut feeling to this process. An individual can describe and demonstrate all the knowledge in the world but that alone won't necessarily make him or her a safe Train Operator.

He gave me a couple of points to "swot up" on which he said were common items of any new driver to the line due to it's complexity but said I'd passed without problems and, indeed, praised a number of aspects of my driving. He signed off the various papers and handed me my temporary licence, which I would then need to take to the TOM at Acton Town for him to counter sign.

So now it was back to Acton Town, to get the Licence signed and to be allocated duties from the following day for the rest of the week. These were duly done and from tomorrow I would be on my own – at last, the training (but not the learning, I hasten to add) was over.

The Sweat Day and the First Week

Your first day out on your own is known as your "Sweat Day" and rightly so. For the first time you're going to be out there on your own, putting everything that you've learnt into practice for the first time – no one to ask, no one in the cab with you – it is an awesome feeling. My first duty was a late turn, preparing a train in Ealing Common depot and taking it into service for the evening "peak".

I arrived in plenty of time – the last thing I wanted was to be late and have to rush. Fortunately all went to plan, the train was duly prepared, put into service and I came to the end of my "first half" without dramas, crisis or mishaps. I was starting to feel a little more relaxed. I enjoyed my meal break and, in fact, looked forward to picking up my second train, which would be in service until the close of traffic in my hands. Again all went well; I think I even arrived at Ealing Common Depot on time and made my way home, very tired but happy that I'd got through it all.

Over the remainder of that first week all continued well enough and I gradually began to relax a little. However, situations still arose that I hadn't encountered before and a few gave me a nasty start by close encounters with signals in combinations that I hadn't encountered before and these came as timely reminders that I was still learning and still had much to learn and remember.

The Next Few Weeks

Over the next few weeks new situations began to present themselves for the first time. One morning when I was "spare" at Acton Town, a Tannoy call came over for me to report to the DMT's office with my bag (an indication that he's got a job for you right then) as quickly as possible. On arriving, he asked "how's your knowledge on Train Equipment?" I responded "OK, I think, but I've got my book (every driver is issued with a book covering defects particular to their Stock) with me."

There was a train stalled at Chiswick Park and I was to go down to act as the Assisting Driver and help the Train Operator get the thing moving again. On went my Hi-Vi (the High Visibility waistcoat that we all have to wear when on or about the track) and I jumped in with the Driver of the first Piccadilly Line Train that was going east and asked the driver to "draw up" alongside our stalled train, so I could assist my colleague.

On arrival I found that the train wouldn't move; the driver had broken all the sealed switches on the TMS and still couldn't get it to budge. He asked me to go down to the rear cab and try from there. On arrival at the back, I found the TMS in the same situation. I spoke to my colleague over the cab-to-cab telephone and confirmed I couldn't get movement.

I told him that I was going to set all the TMS switches back to their normal position and see what the situation then was. This I did, and then went through the PLATO checks described earlier. No air pressure. Out with the defect book – the indication was of a Mainline burst. I tripped and reset the compressor MCB's in the cab – still nothing. I told my colleague this, and we agreed to meet in the middle of the train (a D78 Stock is effectively two trains coupled together) and we would check out the indications from the shunting panels on either unit. This we did – no air on either side. We returned to the front cab. On arrival, we reset all the switches on the TMS and, lo and behold, the same fault was indicated. My colleague tripped and reset the Compressor MCB and much to our relief, the compressors started charging and air pressure was restored – he could move the train.

As he wasn't sure why the problem had presented itself, it was agreed with the mobile DMT (who had now arrived on the scene) that the train would go out of service, run empty to West Kensington and reverse there (the first available point to do so) to go back to Acton Town for a "changeover". This was all duly achieved and I'd been involved in my first defect "for real". It was an interesting experience but I was relieved it was not "my" defect but gave a good introduction to such an event.

Over the next couple of weeks I had experience of my first Passenger Alarms. The first was for a passenger being taken ill on my train at Upton Park with an epileptic fit. This was resolved with the help of Station Staff and the Emergency Services but which, of course, did hold the service up for about twenty minutes.

The next was a suspect package on my train at Stamford Brook only a couple of days after the terrorist bomb at the BBC at White City. I was on my way back to Earls Court from Richmond on the last leg of my first half looking forward to my breakfast, when the peace was shattered by the PEA going off just as I drew to a halt.

I rapidly contacted the Line Controller on the radio, telling him I had a PEA and that I was going to investigate. On leaving my cab I could see passengers waving their arms frantically towards the rear of the train. On arrival, they told me there was an unattended item. On investigation, I was not happy that it was innocent and evacuated the train and told passengers to leave the station as quickly as possible.

I called the Line Controller from the Autophone on the platform, told him what the situation was and requested assistance from station staff and the emergency services as soon as possible. I closed up the train, apart from the suspect car, with the help of the station supervisor and also made my way down to the booking hall where I helped the station supervisor keep the public informed, pending the arrival of the Bomb Squad. Eventually they arrived after about twenty-five minutes. By this time both the District and Piccadilly Lines were shut down in both directions.

On investigation, the Police were able to give the "All Clear" – the item was innocent but they agreed with me that they hadn't liked the look of it either on first examination, and that I'd done absolutely the right thing and "if you get any hassle refer them to us!" I didn't and eventually got to Earls Court for my delayed breakfast. Of course, incidents such as these are few and far between and, for the most part, the job is routine.


If you've managed to reach this far, congratulations – I never intended it to be so long when I offered to write it, but "I've started, so I'll finish!" I hope this gives some insight in what it's like to go through this process and I must say I do enjoy my work. If you've never done shift work, it does take some acclimatisation and you'll need to find your own way of coping with the ups and downs of it. Each shift has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some Train Operators swap shifts so as to do only "early's" or "late's"; I just follow my own roster, but that's my choice.

As I hope I've got over, the training's long and hard, but if you get through the selection process you should be able to do it. If you do, I wish you good luck and, who knows, perhaps one day I'll see you "On the Road".

Now that I've finished this missive I'd like to emphasise that I've written all of it from memories of over twelve months ago and I apologise to any of my colleagues with whom I trained, or those who carried out or were responsible for my training, if my recollections have faded, become distorted or inaccurate. If I've become confused or I've recalled events wrongly I'm sorry. Each and every one of you are characters and I recall these events with great fondness and whenever we bump into each other the memories are only of teamwork and camaraderie. You're all a great bunch of people.


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