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One Unders

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One Unders


District Dave

There are over 100 incident of persons falling or jumping under trains each year on the London Underground.  The person often doesn't survive the experience or ends up badly injured.  A few are very lucky and survive with a few cuts and bruises.  In this article, District Dave writes about the effects of such incidents, known as "One Unders".


A ‘One Under’ is the term used by London Underground staff to describe the unfortunate situation of a person under a train. This situation arises for a number of reasons, some are deliberate acts but many arise accidentally. But sadly in many cases the result is a fatality, after all the human body is not designed to cope with the trauma of the best part of two hundred tons of train hitting it at a speed of 30 mph.

I’m pleased to say that (so far) I’ve not had a One Under myself.  I’ve had a near miss which is described in the Disjointed Jottings page - but there have been three such incidents affecting the District Line in only the last three weeks and I was involved in the resulting delays and disruptions.   I certainly don’t intend going into the details of the individual incidents, though it will be necessary to try (as best as I can) to explain how the incidents occurred.

Notting Hill Gate

The first incident occurred at Notting Hill Gate on the Inner Rail.  From a driver’s point of view the approach to this station is both unsighted until quite close to the station and, as with most platforms, the train is arriving at about 30 mph.  It was late in the evening, just before midnight, when a young man who’d been out for the evening with his mates decided that he needed to relieve himself of some of the excess liquid he’d consumed during the evening but, rather than find a toilet he decided to go down the ramp at the end of the platform for the purpose.  Unfortunately for him a train was approaching. The driver saw him and, quite correctly, applied the emergency brake. 

It appears that the front of the train missed the individual but the driver stopped the train about half into the platform, got out and walked back with the intention of taking the individual to task. It was then that it became apparent that the young man had been hit by the train and dragged down between the train and the platform. The procedures in place to address this all to frequent situation came into operation (I’ll describe these more fully later) and it was at this point that I became aware that something was wrong.

The duty I was doing on this evening meant that I was bringing the last train from Olympia down to Earls Court and then to High Street Kensington.  I’d left Olympia on time at 23:50, had departed Earls Court and was just approaching Platform 3 at High Street Kensington.  I’d checked the speed of the train down to ensure the speed-controlled trainstop had dropped and was coasting into the platform. This is an uphill approach, so I moved the CTBC to a motoring position but got nothing!

At this point there had been no radio calls, so I thought I had a defect of some description.  I started going through my checks, having apologised over the PA to the passengers on the train, but quickly realised that the problem was not with the train but that the Traction Current had been turned off underneath me. Fortunately I’d got the first two cars into the platform. I couldn’t get a reply from the Controller, so I resorted to blowing the train whistle to summon assistance from Station Staff.

A young Station Assistant appeared quickly and told me they’d just been informed of the emergency and confirmed that the ‘juice’ had indeed been switched off.  So, I’ve got a train only about a third into the platform, with passengers on board and I can’t open the doors in the normal way.   So I need to get them off by walking them to the front of the train and opening one door on the front car by the butterfly cock provided for this purpose if possible.   Alternatively I’d be able to bring them through the cab.

I made a PA advising of what had occurred and requested they start making their way towards the front of the train using the emergency doors between the cars.  I could now see I’d in fact got enough of the train into the platform that I could in fact butterfly the doors on two cars.  The SA and I walked through the train and made sure everyone got off and, understandably, being asked questions along the way.  Most passengers were understanding of the situation but a few (and I’ll come back to this point later!) were very aggressive and couldn’t understand why the train service had been stopped.  I’m afraid at this point I did get a little impatient and I had to draw a rather graphic and gruesome word picture for them!

By now it’s about 00:10.  I should be on my way back to Ealing Broadway on my last trip and then stabling the train in Ealing Common Depot but of course I’m not going to be moving until the ‘juice’ is back on.   The Station Supervisor then appears and reiterates the situation.  Firstly I make a point of commending his young SA (who I find out has only been on the job a couple of weeks) for his help and calm assistance and then (in true railway style) enquire if he’s got a kettle as I might as well make a coffee to pass the time.

The Supervisor’s office is on the platforms at High Street Kensington, so we head off down there.  He’s got a hand held train radio, so I can hear the chat going on and give an ear to developments.  At about 00:30 I decide to go back down to my train.  I get back in the cab and wait.  By this time the air pressure in the reservoirs has been gradually leaking away, so I know that when the current is restored I’ll have to wait for that to recharge before I’m able to move the train.

At about 00:45 the current comes back on - the Alternators start up, the compressors start working and the lights come back on.  As pressure builds up I can hear the various safety devices cutting back in, so I select ‘Slow Speed’ on the TMS (I’m subject to a three minute delay before Full Speed can be used - the train reacts in the same way as if it’s been ‘tripped’) and bring the train fully into the platform. Now I can shut the train down and change ends ready to start my delayed trip to Ealing Broadway. 

As I start walking down the platform, I’m quite surprised to see the signal clear for me to depart, so I open up the train and immediately head off towards Earls Court.  On arrival I find that there’s been no trains westbound for quite a while, despite the fact that the current has been on all the time.   Apparently there’s been a ‘shut down’ at South Kensington caused by a disgruntled (and drunk) Circle Line passenger who’s decided to start a fight with station staff because he can’t get to his desired destination, so that’s caused even more delays to the service.

I eventually arrive in Ealing Common Depot about forty-five minutes late which, in all the circumstances, wasn’t too bad. I’m sorry to have to relate though that the young man who was the victim of the ‘one under’ was fatally injured.  I believe he was pronounced dead at the scene.


Another accidental death occurred only a couple of days later in the Plaistow area.  I wasn’t working on this occasion, but will relate the outline of what occurred.  The Metropolitan Police had been called to a house which backs onto the railway by concerned neighbours who believed it was being used for the purpose of illegal drugs.  The Police raided the house but one of the occupants decided to try to escape by vaulting the fence at the bottom of the garden and escaping via the railway. Unfortunately for him one of our trains was approaching at full speed and he was hit and I understand killed instantly.

Again, the emergency procedures all came into action to deal with the occurrence but it was more complicated on this occasion as the Police also had to deal with what had occurred as a scene of crime.  I believe the resulting delay was in excess of two hours and, as you can imagine, decimated the service. 

Stepney Green

The final incident I relate occurred towards the end of the evening peak one day earlier in June.  I’d had a pretty typical eastbound trip but, as is normal at that time of day, was running probably two or three minutes late.   I had departed from Barking sidings a couple of minutes after my booked time of 1814, so was a little surprised when I was held in the platform for three or four minutes. I could see that there was a Hammersmith and City Line train in the bay platform, but his doors were still open.

Eventually the signal cleared and I moved off towards East Ham.  I noticed the H & C train moved off too but I was given the route and had a clear run through to East Ham.  On arrival there, the Station Starter signal remained at danger - most unusual as I knew no trains would’ve passed through there for several minutes and there was no train in the section ahead.  However, I could see one in the platform ahead at Upton Park.

Nothing had come over the radio to indicate all was not well at that point, but radio reception at East Ham isn’t great. I try to call the Controller but can’t get a channel to open.  At this point, an SA arrives and tells me there’s a ‘one under’ at Stepney Green and the service is suspended between Bromley-by-Bow and Whitechapel.  At the same time, the Central Public Address system comes to life with the same information being broadcast to passengers. I make a PA telling the passengers again that given what’s occurred it’s unlikely that the train will be moving for some considerable time and suggesting that they find alternative methods of travel.

Eventually, the Autophone next to my cab rings.   It’s the Signaller at Barking to say that he’s going to clear the signal and that I’m to move up to Upton Park,but to remain there irrespective of what signal is displayed until he tells me it’s OK to leave.  So after about twenty minutes at East Ham we depart - I’ve warned the passengers that it’s only to the next station and that the process will repeat again there.  Again I’m doing PA’s telling that I’ve no idea how long we’ll be remaining at Upton Park and as I have to walk the length of the platform to use the Autophone I’m answering the same questions.  I wonder if they’ve been listening to the announcements by me, the Central PA and the Station Staff.  I’m held at Upton Park for about thirty-five minutes until the Signaller gives me the OK to move up to Plaistow but that again the process will be repeated there. 

I’ve only been at Plaistow about five minutes when the word comes over the radio that the situation has been resolved and that service is resumed but that trains are to non-stop Stepney Green.  I speak to the Signaller who confirms it’s OK to depart and to then obey all further signals but that, of course, the trip may be slower than normal.  That proves to be an understatement, but things improve once west of Whitechapel. 

The radio is, of course, now very busy as the Controller starts to recover the service.  Trains are being re-routed, turned short, reformed and all the other choices he has at his disposal.  I’m due to go to Wimbledon and then back as far as Earls Court for my meal break.  But there’s no instructions for me.  It occurs to me that I’m going to get to Earls Court westbound at about the time I should be getting back there eastbound and that maybe they’re going to take me off at about my booked time and reform the train or short trip it later.

At Earls Court there’s no sign of any relief for me, so I continue down to Wimbledon.  A quick change of ends and departing straight away makes up a few minutes of the time I’ve lost but this comes to no avail as all the problems have now caused huge congestion around Earls Court and I get there over an hour and ten minutes late.  By now I'm over my four hours fifteen minutes maximum driving time too.

There’s a DMT on the platform just trying to keep the service running and of course then has to find a relief for me.  I take my belated meal break and go back to the DMT’s office where I’m told to reform another train into my ‘second half’.  Of course I should have picked this up well over an hour previously and I’m meant to do Richmond, Upminster, Ealing Broadway and then stable.  If this were to happen then I’d not be stabling until well after 01:30.  The train I pick us is showing a Wimbledon destination and it’s confirmed that it is still to go there.

I depart Wimbledon at 22:17 - an hour and five minutes after I should have left Richmond.  But, as I come up from Wimbledon, the train’s being described as a High Street Kensington service.  Now, I know I’m late but not THAT late - unless of course it’s going to be stabled early, so I call the Controller from the phone at Putney Bridge.  He confirms that the description is wrong and tells me to reverse at Plaistow.  The rest of the trip’s uneventful.   A quick change of ends at Plaistow and I’m now back to being about fifteen minutes late.  A bit more time is recovered heading back and I finally stable twelve minutes late.

As for the victim of the incident, I don’t know whether it was an attempted suicide or an accident but I believe it was not fatal, albeit that the person was seriously injured.  So, there we have it - three incidents, all possibly accidental, two fatalities and three drivers (and not to mention any other staff and passengers who may have witnessed the events) at least badly shocked and who may be absent from work for quite a period of time.  Some drivers cope quite well, but some will never drive a train again. 

Operational Procedures

I mentioned earlier that there are a number of prescribed steps in dealing with such occurrences. The first is of course that the driver must advise what’s occurred and the normal method is a ‘Mayday’ call over the radio.   Next the current must be discharged - this can either be done by the Line Controller or by the driver using (in a tunnel station) the equipment provided for the purpose. The driver will also lay Short Circuiting Devices (SCD’s) to prevent it being recharged.

The Controller will call the Emergency Services and get our Emergency Response Unit (ERU) to attend. The Station Staff will assist in evacuating the train and probably the whole station - or at least shut the affected platforms down.   Once all the initial steps have been taken the service has to be adjusted to try to keep it running as best as possible as I’ve tried to describe above. 

The Controller may have put out one of two code messages to trains - Code Red or Code Amber.  The former means ‘STOP’ wherever you are, the latter means ‘Proceed as far as you can and remain in platforms wherever possible’.  The ERU are, in my opinion, often the heroes of these incidents.   They will often be involved in recovering the victims - maybe having to jack up trains to free the victims and generally to assist the Ambulance crews and doctors should they attend.  Once the victim is removed they then have to clean up the site. Not a job I think I could do. 

Of course, others will attend too, such as the mobile duty DMT.  Recently a system has been introduced to look after the needs of the driver who’s been involved and a representative of this Trauma Support team may also attend to support the driver and look after his situation. 

Passenger Attitudes

Of course most passengers understand that following such an incident there is going to be delay and disruption, but the number who seem to have no concern beyond their own self-interest and the delay they are suffering frankly astounds me.  Many seem to think it’s been done on purpose to delay them - I even had one say to me ‘why can’t the trains run?’  I’m afraid I was rather short and replied, ‘What are we supposed to do? Run through over the remains and staff can deal with the person between trains?’ - I think he took my point!

The number who get aggressive and violent is quite unbelievable - though this tends to be late at night when alcohol is taking its toll.   So, if you do get caught up in such a delay, please remember that there is a person at least seriously injured and probably dead under a train somewhere, that there’s a driver who is deeply shocked and others who have to deal with the aftermath of the incident.  We do what we can to deal with such incidents as quickly as possible, but there will be delays and these may well last for hours after the actual incident has been resolved.


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