Trespasser About The Track
This is another situation that crops up all too frequently - the report of a person or persons about the track. Not only do such individuals put themselves at great risk but, on occasions, cause great disruption and inconvenience to passengers (and staff too of course!).
On some parts of the line it's not an uncommon occurrence - it seems to occur quite frequently in the area between Barking and Upminster. But it's an easier situation to 'manage' - in these open sections drivers can be warned and instructed to use caution when in the area. So extra vigilance will cope with the situation and cause little delay. Usually it's youngsters involved - I presume playing some sort of perverse game of 'dare' and the sight of a train or an alerting blast on the whistle is enough to get them scurrying back to the 'right' side of the fencing!
But - very occasionally - the situation arises in 'Line Clear' areas - that is where no persons should be (authorised or unauthorised) during traffic hours, unless of course the appropriate protection is arranged for instance for a Signals Technical Officer to attend to relamp a signal or effect a repair to a track circuit.
This is what occurred in this story - it seems that there was an unauthorised person on a 'walkabout.
I had an early Sunday Spare Duty and (situation normal!) was given a whole turn as soon as I booked on. It was a long turn, with three trains involved. The 'first half' had all gone uneventfully. I'd had my meal break and picked up my second train on time at Earls Court eastbound. The train was due to go to Barking, reverse via the sidings, then to Wimbledon and I was due to be relieved at Earls Court east again. So I was due to be on the train for just under three hours.
So, I picked up at about 1055 right on time, headed off to Barking, detrained and moved the train into Barking sidings, arriving right on my due time of 1150. Just as I was arriving I heard the Controller acknowledge what, from his tone of voice, sounded like quite an urgent call. I waited a couple of minutes before shutting the cab down (which switches off the radio) to see if anything further came through. It didn't, so I shut the cab down and made my way to the west end of the train to prepare for my scheduled departure time of 1205.
On arriving at the west end of the train it became apparent from the radio that there was a problem. Initially it sounded like a train had failed in the central area - the Controller called a Circle Line train, instructed him to detrain at St. James' Park and move forward as far as signals would allow as 'we've got a train stuck in the area ahead'. This is why I thought it was a stalled train - perhaps he was considering using the C Stock to 'push out' the train ahead.
The Controller then continues calling up westbound trains right back to Tower Hill instructing them to remain in platforms and to remain until instructed further.
So when the signal clears for me to proceed from the sidings I'm not too concerned - even if it's a stalled train it's about forty-five minutes or so before I'm due to be on that part of the line, and that should be sufficient time to get a stalled train moved out of the way.
I head off from Barking, and it's as I travel west that announcements start being made that due to a trespasser the District Line is suspended in all directions around Earls Court. As I get towards Whitechapel trains are starting to 'block back' ahead of me. I'm held at Stepney green and can see there's at least one train between me and Whitechapel. It transpires that there are also two trains occupying what are normally the westbound platforms at Whitechapel. The Controller is now calling trains at various points instructing them to reverse or remain in platforms further - he's even rerouting trains to stabling points - some are being put away in Ealing Common, Parsons Green and Triangle Sidings.
Eventually I get into Whitechapel about ten minutes later than I should have arrived. The Station staff are trying to cope with platforms full of passengers, trying to get them towards their destinations. An SA asks me if I'm 'going through' to which I answer 'Well, I've not been told I am but there again I haven't been told I am!'.
After about five minutes I'm still waiting, so call the Signal Cabin 'You're going back to Upminster driver - haven't you been told?'. The temptation to reply 'If I had I'd have changed ends by now' was strong, but I managed to resist! So, down to the east end of the train - inevitably fielding questions on the way and trying to offer some advice. Fortunately the Hammersmith and City is unaffected, so at least they can use that towards Liverpool Street and Baker Street and then adjust their travel accordingly. Those for further west I suggest using the Central Line from Mile End and then changing as necessary.
I head back to Upminster - I'm a little surprised that there's no-one on the platform at Barking trying to sort the trains out. I'm held at Barking for a while - and am just about to call the Signal Cabin there (just in case they now want me to 'tip out' there - the service has now been resumed well over an hour since the original suspension) when the signal clears for me to head off towards Upminster. Dagenham East (another potential reversing point) comes and goes and I eventually get to Upminster.
Again - no Manager's on the platform, no sign of life from the Signal Cabin, so I put the train up as a Wimbledon (again), head back to the west end and await developments. Eventually the 'stick' clears and I head off west once again.
Approaching Barking again there's a queue of trains - one appears to 'tip out' at Upney and go into the sidings. I get into Barking, the signal clears and off we go again!
Of course by now the time I should have picked up my third train has come and gone - and I'm still a way away from Earls Court.
Now the problems with trains and drivers being in the wrong place is really starting to impact! The trip towards Earls Court gets slower and slower - my train's had three different destinations shown by now and I can't get a reply from the Controller to get a definitive answer - so I'm warning passengers that I think the train's for Wimbledon, but that may not eventually be the case.
Finally I arrive at Earls Court at 1520, one hour thirty-two minutes late, - I should be getting of my third train in four minutes - and by now I am also over my four hours fifteen minutes maximum driving time! I go into the DMT's office and report my arrival. 'When are you due to finish?' he asks. 'In four minutes, and I'm over my hours' I reply pre-empting the question 'Will you take it to Parsons Green and stow it?' that I could see was coming next.
The atmosphere is one of just controlled chaos. There's no drivers available, apart from one who was just about to restart the suspended Olympia service, so that's put on hold and he takes the train off me, I head off to the Piccadilly Line platforms to get back to Acton to retrieve my car and so finish just about on time.
What happened to my third train (remember I was supposed to have done a 'step back' over an hour ago) that I didn't pick up? I've no idea! I know that it was one of the trains that was stabled in Triangle Sidings at the height of the disruption, but as I'd come past on my way from Gloucester Road to Earls Court there were no trains in there, so I suppose it must have come back into service at some point.
As I write this, some six or so hours later, I see that thetube.com is showing 'No Reported Delays' on its Service Update page, so I presume eventually all was got back to normal.
But I hate to think of the amount of time that was lost, passenger journeys delayed and the amount of sorting out that was needed just because someone thought it'd be fun to take a walk round the railway!
Did they catch the individual? I don't know if anyone was found - if I find out I'll update this tale!