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Train Operator's Notebook

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Train Operator’s Notebook

By District Dave

In the course of his duties, every Train Operator on London Underground keeps a notebook in which he records events that occur during a duty.  There are no hard or fast rules for what is written, although some events (such as where it has been necessary to carry out a particular procedure for example) are prescribed to be recorded under London Underground’s Operating Procedures.  Here are some stories taken from mine and other driver's notebooks which show how the railway actually works from day to day.


Trespasser - Passing Signals at Danger - Disjointed Jottings  - Flash Floods - Jubilee Celebrations - Just a Normal day - Signal Failures - Iced Train - Train Stalled at Wimbledon - Football Night at West Ham - Power Down at West Ham - Main Line Burst  - A Bit of Background

See also Dave's page describing One Unders.

District Dave has his own website here.

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A Bit of Background

I’m sure that every Train Operator has his own routine for taking notes; some note very little - some write a great deal.  I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle.  I work on a two page format - on the right hand side I note such mundane details as the date, duty number, book on and off times (and the book on location to make sure I report to the right place.) and the bare bones of the duty - train number, pick up time, booked reversing points and times and time and place I expect to be relieved.

The left hand page I leave blank and use this to record events which have caused me to be late, diverted and so on.  These are noted in a factual way, but there is often a story behind these and, occasionally have an amusing and (I hope) interesting tale behind them. So, from time to time, I’m going to relate the circumstances behind some of these jottings which, I hope, may explain to the travelling public why they may suddenly find their train diverted, turned early, cancelled, not turned up at all, unduly delayed and so on. I hope too that you’ll find them amusing.

Firstly, I’d like to dispel a myth which I’m sure is shared by many members of the public.  To the best of my knowledge no member of London Underground’s operating staff deliberately sets out to cause delays and create situations that may inconvenience you.  There are a few who will do what they can to get trains turned early (because they don’t want to finish late - after all no one likes finishing work late, especially if you’ve been up since 3.30 a.m. or aren’t due to finish until 1.30 a.m.) but quite often it is us train crews who are told to divert or turn short of our booked destination.  Occasionally a driver will request a diversion, but usually because he can see that he is not going to be able to do his full trip without exceeding his permitted hours.  If this happens he has no choice but to stable his train at the first available place. 

Rather than put actual dates and times, I’m going to give the occurrences a name.  I hope you enjoy the jottings, and that it helps you understand some of the occurrences that frustrate you in your travels.


This is a 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.  I was due to be on the train for just under three hours. 

I picked up at about 10:55 right on time, headed off to Barking, detrained and moved the train into Barking sidings, arriving right on my due time of 11:50.  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 12:05.

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 close to 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.  At Barking, I’m a little surprised that there’s no-one on the platform trying to sort the trains out.  I’m held there for a while and I'm just about to call the Signal Cabin there (just in case they now want me to ‘tip out’ there since 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 WB 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 15:20, 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 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.

Passing Signals at Danger

This isn’t about SPAD’s, though of course that situation does occur and I may return to the theme later, but about the authorised passing of signals remaining at danger.  I’ve talked in the past about the delays that occur when signals fail but this was tale prompted when I was asked recently ‘but if a signal fails how can a train proceed?  After all, London Underground employs a system to stop trains should they do so.’  This is of course quite correct, and further reading of this site will find excellent explanations of the Trainstop and Tripcock system employed by London Underground on its conventional lines.

So, I thought that I’d relate a situation in which I was involved not long ago to try to explain this. I’ll tell the tale, but at various stages I will need to go into ‘proceedural’ matters, as they bear a great deal of relevance.

One evening I was doing the Edgware Road to Wimbledon service.  Whilst coming back from Wimbledon on my first trip I could hear the Controller talking to a train that was being held at a red signal between Parsons Green and Putney Bridge.  From what was being said a track circuit failure had occurred - this being one of the causes why a signal would remain at danger as the signals ‘think’ there is a train in the section ahead. 

As I went up to Edgware Road, there was still talk going on between the Controller and Driver as to what processes were under way to address the train’s predicament and dealing with the trains that would start building up behind the stationery train if not diverted.  However, as we change to the Metropolitan Lines radio channel between Notting Hill Gate and Edgware Road, I obviously heard nothing further until I returned to Notting Hill Gate on my way back to Wimbledon.

As I came down from Edgware Road, my train was described as a Wimbledon service but, as I’ve mentioned before, this didn’t necessarily mean it would be the destination I would finally go to.  Announcements were being made that the service was suspended between Parsons Green and Wimbledon, so I took the platform describers with a pinch of salt and made announcements to customers that it appeared unlikely that the train would go through to Wimbledon.

When I arrived at Earls Court the description remained and whilst I was there the Controller called me up and said he was resuming the service and that I’d be the first train to go through to Wimbledon.  This in itself didn’t indicate that the problem was fixed - it could mean that various procedures had now been put in place to allow trains to travel through the area.

On arrival at Parsons Green I saw a cluster of staff standing at the end of the platform - one was a Signals Technician, another one of our DMT’s and the third a member of Parsons Green’s station staff.  The latter requested that I phone the signal operator at Earls Court.

I got on the phone, identified myself to the signaller and confirmed my location.  The signaller confirmed the problem ahead and what he wished me to do.  The instruction given was ‘Please carry out your procedure at the following signals - WGX660, WG150and WG15 and then obey all further signals’.

We’ve now arrived at the point where I need to give you a bit of an insight into London Underground's Operating Procedures, or, as they’re still better known ‘Rules and Regs’.  As you will see if you have read Tubeprune’s explanations on our signalling (and if you haven’t I urge you to do so) our signals fall into two categories.   Automatic Signals are just that, they work themselves.  Semi- Automatic signals are operated by the signaller.

If a train is held at an Automatic signal, the driver can be authorised to pass it at danger by the Line Controller or, if the driver is unable to establish communication with a Controller or other ‘Operating Official’ he may pass it on his own authority having waited at the signal for two minutes.  You must note the details in your notebook - date, time, signal number and the reason for your action.

If a train is held at a Semi-Automatic, local authority MUST be obtained and, in this instance, the Controller cannot authorise you to proceed - only a signaller or Operating Official (this usually means either a Station Supervisor or Duty Manager) may give this authority. 

Under no circumstances may a driver proceed on his own authority. To do so is to put your job at jeopardy.  So what have I been told?   Effectively that the signaller is unable to clear the three signals for the numbers shown above and that on reaching each I am authorised to pass them at danger.  But (I hear you ask - didn’t I?) won’t the train be ‘tripped’ when I go past them?  Yes it will.  So (I hear you ask again) how do you proceed?

Actually, it’s quite simple and of course, very prescribed in our Procedures.  You arrive at the signal, stop the train and (if you’re doing the job properly) you warn your passengers that you’re about to carry out a ‘routine procedure’ which means that the train will move off, come to an abrupt stop and then, after a short delay, move off again.  You should also request that customers be seated if possible, and if not to hold on to something for their own safety and comfort.

I’ve now got my authority to proceed and am about to shut the doors when the DMT and T/O ask to ride in the cab as they’re looking for the fault - which’ll probably be a broken wire between two rails which forms part of the track circuit which has failed.  This will be between the last signal I’ve been authorised to pass (WG15) and the next signal.  But as they’ll be getting down on the track to do this we need to fully understand what the actions of the other will be - in LUL parlance this is ‘coming to a complete understanding’.

So we set off, arrive at the first signal, I stop the train and do my PA to the customers.  I blow the whistle and move off until the train passes the raised trainstop and comes to a halt.  The tripcock’s reset, the air to the brake system recharged, I blow the whistle again and we head off (now ‘at a speed which allows me to stop the train short of any obstruction’ - i.e. no more than about 8 - 10 mph) to the next signal where the procedure is repeated.

Then we set off again towards the third signal where again we stop.  This where our ‘complete understanding’ comes into play.   The DMT, T/O and I have agreed that they will be getting down at this point and examining the track between this signal and the next.  But even if the signal clears (which it will when the break is fixed) I will not move the train until they ‘call me on’ - that is signal that they’re in a safe place and are happy for me to move the train.

What I’ve described above is actually the short version of ‘Applying the Rule’ - there is more to it than that but I won’t bore you with the details - this gives the gist of what’s involved - the other steps are not important in the context.  Suffice it to say, it’s one of the matters reviewed in our ATOR (see my earlier piece about this.) and a driver MUST be able to recite the steps by rote. At your training stage failure to be able to go through the various scenarios can (and does) lead to your training coming to an abrupt end.

The DMT and T/O leave the train and start their inspection.   I do a further PA letting the customers know why we’re stopped again and may remain so for some minutes (I had done this at Parsons Green as I know there are people who get quite agitated if a train is stopped between stations for some time) but it never hurts to give a reminder.  As luck would have it, the broken wire was the first inspected in front of the train.  It was duly repaired, the signal turned to green but, in accordance with our ‘complete understanding’, the train remained where it was.

My colleagues were only a few yards ahead of me, so they returned to the cab and, once safely in, we set off for the remainder of our trip to Putney Bridge - albeit still at caution speed - this is still part of the procedure.   On arrival, my guests leave the train to keep an eye on the now repaired signal for a while to make sure the repair is going to hold.

I arrive at Wimbledon with a packed train and now about twenty-five minutes late - this has all taken that long.  It’s nice when several customers come up and take the trouble to say thanks for keeping them in the picture - they found it reassuring to know what was going on.  I change ends and head off back to Edgware Road.

The platforms on the way back are busy, so I’m not able to make up any time on the trip.  On the way back to Wimbledon, the Controller calls and instructs me to reverse at High Street Kensington on my next trip, which means I’m relieved on time for my meal break and that train is back on time.  Plenty of others are not, of course, so by the time he’s done various reformations and diversions it’ll probably be another couple of hours before the service is fully recovered.

As with many of the tales I’ve related what looks like a relatively simple situation has a long list of steps that need to be done properly - but it can all be summed up with one word - Safety.


This is, of course, an emotive subject and one that gets a great deal of attention from the media.  As I’ve already mentioned LUL, has it’s own ATP system and this does ensure that in the event of a SPAD the train (and the area ahead of it) is protected but, again, the driver must then carry out procedures correctly - if he doesn’t the consequences are serious, and not just for the driver.  

There are all sorts of reasons why SPAD’s occur - some are due to equipment problems but many are down to the driver.  It can only take a momentary lack of concentration, an assumption that an approaching signal will clear (it always does - doesn’t it?) or mishandling the train or misreading a situation and the train will come up ‘in a heap’ and the driver will find himself taken off at the next relieving point for an uncomfortable interview with a Duty Manager.

As with any TOC LUL takes SPAD’s very seriously - depending on circumstances it can lead to the loss of your job (at worst) or at the very least an ‘Action Plan’ being put in place to address any shortcomings in knowledge and technique.  If procedures following a SPAD haven’t been followed to the letter the driver concerned will be in very deep trouble, quite possibly there will be no second chance.

The emphasis is that if you do SPAD make sure you then follow procedures to the letter - if you can’t contact the Controller or a signaller do nothing - wait until someone comes to you.  I know drivers who’ve moved without authority with the best of motives, but have lost their jobs. 

A great deal of work has taken place in the last couple of years to reduce SPAD’s and this has been pretty successful.  At one time (and not so long ago) it was statistically four times more likely that a new driver would have a SPAD in his first six months as a driver than a driver who’d been ‘on the job’ for over a year.  The efforts made have now reduced the ratio to one-to-one. That isn’t to say that LUL are complacent about it - they’re not.   Steps are constantly in motion to reduce the incidence even further.  The target of course is to reduce the incidence to zero but there are human beings involved in train operations.

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Disjointed Jottings

As it’s been a while since I wrote one of these pieces for ‘Tubeprune’, I thought it time to go back over my notebook and remind myself of anything that may be of interest to his readers. Suprisingly, it was remarkably devoid of any major incidents, but a few notes I’d jotted down present the opportunity to give a few insights into some of the minor things that occur and also occasional events that occur in our lives. So, some of what follows are of an ‘operational’ nature, some relate more to ‘personal development’ and some are a mixture of both.

Late Running

This is a purely operational event but one which impacted on the service to passengers. This will become clearer as the story unfolds, I hope. The line, in common with others, has introduced new timetables - these actually came into force while I was on a period of Annual Leave, so I fully expected to return to work to hear that the revisions hadn’t made much difference. But I was surprised to find that the reactions were, on the whole, favourable and that it seemed to work.

My first personal experience was on a Sunday - not a good day to come to a balanced judgement, as there are fewer trains running so delays are always fewer.  But I found that the more generous running times that had been built in resulted in me being held to booked departure times at a number of places. On one trip I’d been held at Whitechapel and again at Mansion House, but I’d then been delayed on the remainder of my trip back to Earls Court so was surprised when I still arrived there early.

So, I was looking forward to seeing how a morning peak service duty would work out the next day.  I had an early turn - booking on at about 04:50 with my train being due to leave the depot at about 05:30. As I walked over to the depot with a couple of my colleagues I registered subconsciously that there seemed to be several trains ready to go with the drivers just sitting in their cabs - the shunters cabin was in darkness and as we walked past the phone was ringing persistently.  All a little odd.

On passing a couple of the trains it became apparent that they were overdue to depart and had no idea of the reason for the delay.  I arrived at my train and went through my pre-service checks.  Still the radio was silent (at least from the east end of the depot, although trains were being called down to the west end outlet).  I headed down to the other end and repeated the process there and, having done so, went back to the east end to await developments.

As I was walking through, the train on the next road started moving, only to come to an abrupt halt again.  It then started to reverse back - most unusual, to say the least.  What seems to have happened was that the shunter was asleep.  My colleague on the adjacent train told me later that he’d been handsignalled to draw down and had just started to move when the radio had come to life and called the train next to him to draw down too.  That would have ended in a collision, as they were on converging roads. The shunter had (fortunately) noticed, got both trains to stop and reversed one back so that the cabin shunter could take charge.

Matters then started to go from bad to worse.  Next, there was a points failure at the west end of the depot, so nothing could get out that way.  One train was on its way down A Road (which runs behind the depot sheds) and the driver was then instructed to change ends and take the train back to where he’d started from.  The east end shunter is trying to move trains out as quickly as possible but the depot staff are also bringing trains, which should have departed from the west end, back through the shed roads so that they could get out from the east end.

Eventually I departed almost exactly an hour late.   Once outside the depot limits the radio changes to the line channel and, of course, the Controller’s diverting and reforming trains to try to restore the service.   I’m told to go straight through as an Upminster, so I actually arrived at Barking for my relief right on time. 

Talking to colleagues later some were, inevitably, late but all generally felt that the new timetable had allowed for the service to be recovered more quickly.  The story of the ‘near miss’ in the depot had got around and all agreed that a potentially very serious incident had only been narrowly avoided, more by luck than judgement.  And a fair amount of all the delays were due to someone oversleeping…….

Annual Refresher Training

All London Underground operational staff have to be retested annually in various fields, depending on what role they occupy - Rules and Regulations, Fire, Railtrack and Stock Refreshers for example.  The ones that are common to both train and station staff is the Annual Test of Rules (ATOR) although it is refined according to exactly what the individuals job is. For example, drivers are given much the same test as station staff, though with some aspects added, such as procedures in the event of failed signals and, on the District Line, we are also tested on Railtrack procedures.

It is an oral exam and there are usually four candidates with an Instructor Operator officiating.  He poses the questions and you take it in turns to answer.  He’ll then ask if the others agree or want to add anything.   You go through procedures that only occasionally arise - point-to-point working and wrong direction moves for example, some that more frequently arise but have a fairly complex number of steps involved and so on.

It’s not a forgone conclusion that you’ll pass and if you don’t, you’re ‘stood down’ pending a resit.  Failure to pass on the next occasion will see a report submitted to the Line Standards Manager and a decision will then be made s to the next steps that are appropriate - in the worst case this could result in the loss of your job.  But, providing you’ve done a bit of revision just to remind yourself, them it’s straight forward enough. 

As is well known, since the Kings Cross disaster and the subsequent Fennell Report, matters relating to fire training are right at the top of the safety agenda within London Underground.  So another annual test relates to this.   This course is also common to train and station staff and various adapted courses are given to all staff, adapted as appropriate to their roles.  The course is comprehensive, incorporating identifying areas such as the causes of fire, types of extinguisher and so on. 

More specifically to train staff are the Stock refreshers. These are used to remind you about defect handling, so that should a situation arise it won’t have been too long since you were last reminded of how to deal with such situations.  Of course, we also have to be conversant with two quite different trains, so, for us, this occupies two days.  Again these are handled by an Instructor Operator and involves some theory before moving to trains in the depot where the Instructor puts the defect on the train and the group decides what the fault is and what they can do to move the train, if they can, can it remain in service, if they can’t what options are available - assisting driver, assisting train and so on.

The final refresher is actually bi-annual and relates to Railtrack - specifically do you know how to be safe about the track, your sight and hearing is tested and a number of other safety related matters.  Only lines which have running over Railtracks metals are subject to this.  It also covers matters such as the Rules and Regs appropriate to Railtrack - there are significant differences between LUL and Railtrack in a number of areas.

Overall, about five working days a year are devoted to just proving your continued theoretical knowledge.  Generally these are relatively easy days, providing of course that you’ve spent a bit of time reminding yourself of the topics before attending the sessions.  But they’re essential if you’re to be able to do your job.

Competence Assurance

This is a relatively recently introduced programme where a drivers driving, train handling and procedures are reviewed.  Personally I have no problem or complaints about the idea, though this not a view displayed by all drivers.   I view it as an extension of the annual retesting procedures but this time you are demonstrating your practical rather than theoretical skills.

It actually takes the form of two observations by a Duty Manager Trains (DMT) who has been specifically trained for the role.  The TD1 review is where you are given notice of the forthcoming event.  You’re given a briefing as to when the review will take place and its format.  You will be relieved of your normal duty for the day and instead is substituted the DMT’s chosen list of moves and timings.  I’ll expand on this later and detail some of the examination to which I was subjected. Another review is a ‘no notice’ check ride (in airline parlance) - the DMT presents him (or her) self as you’re picking up a train and do a short trip with you.  My last one was a trip from Earls Court to Wimbledon and back to Earls Court.

The DMT will note things like driving and braking techniques, accuracy of stopping at stations, signal observation and anticipation, use of mirrors and monitors to observe platforms and passengers, use of the Public Address and radio systems and how you deal with any situations involving prescribed procedures, should they arise.  He’ll also ask you to describe how you would deal with various situations.  At the end of the trip he’ll give you a bit of feedback and praise or criticism as appropriate.

The TD2 is more involved.  The DMT will be present when you book on - at this time you should check for any recent notices (such as temporary speed restrictions, known signal problems, platform issues), the SPAD board (this highlights signals know to be at risk as being passed at danger - maybe because of sighting problems due to encroaching vegetation but it also gives a running total of the line’s recent performance).  He will also be looking to see if you are correctly uniformed and also that your Personal Protective Equipment (shoes, Hi-Vi etc.) is in order and that you are using them correctly. He may even take it as far as looking for your name badge.

You’ll then make your way to the depot and prepare a train for service.  As I’ve described this process elsewhere on this site I won’t bore you again with the details. You proceed into passenger service and, effectively, carry out a normal duty. 

Part of the process is to demonstrate your line and procedural knowledge, so the trips you’ll do are to include procedures at termini, driving under Railtrack rules (the procedures vary from LUL’s in some respects).   You have to go through Earls Court a set number of times, drive both C and D Stocks and demonstrate your handling of both types of train.  You’ll also show your use of the PA in both routine use and, should circumstances dictate, to keep customers informed in the event of delays.

Depending on circumstances that may actually develop during the review you’ll also be asked to describe your actions should situations present themselves - things like the correct procedures in the event of signal failures for example.  You’ll also be asked a variety of questions to test your line knowledge - some will have been covered whilst driving, others will be covered later.

At the end of it all you’ll have the opportunity to discuss the experience, he’ll give any feedback appropriate and you then have finished the review.  In many ways it’s a bit like doing your road test all over again and, though perhaps not as stressful, it does focus you - and I’m sure that’s part of its purpose.

Performance and Development Review

In common with many employers London Underground has a system in place to encourage staff to develop themselves and their career.  My old employer called it an Annual Appraisal - London Underground calls it Performance and Development Review. This is an opportunity for a member of staff to sit down with their manager, discuss the period since the last such review and the progress of any agreed steps arising from that and then discuss any career aspirations that the individual may have. Steps towards can then be agreed towards this progress and plans made to facilitate them.

Some staff (in whatever grade) may be perfectly happy in staying where they are and this is respected, although if perhaps they’ve been identified as having potential beyond there current level they will be encouraged to reassess this.  So what has all this achieved?  Well, not only is it essential for a Train Operator to be able to continue his work but it is also now being recognised by the availibility if an NVQ Award in Train Operation.  The theory is not only to acknowledge the skills and knowledge demonstrated but also to give the individual a tangible document that should be transferable to another prospective employer.   Having done all of this, next year, you start the process all over again.

Near Miss.

Perhaps not an expression that might seem relevant to a Train Operator - but perhaps you’d be surprised.  Most of the readers of this site will be familiar with the concept of ‘a person under a train’ or in LUL parlance a ‘one under’ - the unfortunate situation where, for a variety of reasons, someone has ended up under a train.  Often this is fatal - sometimes it has been a deliberate act, sometimes it has been accidental but the laws of physics really dictate that a person’s body is really little challenge to approaching 200 tons of metal travelling at up to 50 mph.

I’m not sorry to say that (so far) I’ve not experienced this and I hope that that situation remains, but statistically the fact is that a driver is likely to experience such an occurrence about every five years. You cannot be trained for how you react - you are trained how to deal with it in terms of the ‘mechanics’ of the situation but the longer term effects can only be dealt with individually.

Another situation that is less widely known and considered is the ‘near miss’ - that is where a driver happens across a person or persons about the track who should not be there and often in a potentially life threatening situation.  Often this as a result of the use of alcohol, the perpetrators are, frankly, oblivious to the danger to themselves but nevertheless the driver receives a nasty shock and one that can be quite a shaking experience. I’ve seen quite a few - both on my time on the stations and since being on the trains - but this was an experience that shook me quite a bit.

It was a Thursday night at about midnight when I was heading towards Ealing Broadway on my last trip of the evening.  All I had left to do was get to Ealing Broadway, close up the train and put it into Ealing Common Depot.   I arrived at Hammersmith - all was quiet.  I carried out my normal duties and started off towards Ravenscourt Park.  As I rounded the quite sharp curve to the left the train was approaching 25 mph and I suddenly saw, very close to the front of the train, two individuals waving and jumping around at the side of the track.

I braked as hard as possible (in LUL parlance ‘assisted the train to a stop’) but the curvature of the track is such that I could not see back round the curve - I hadn’t heard an impact and decided to carry on, as I did so I called the Controller on the radio to warn him - and so that he could warn trains behind me - that there was a potential hazard in the area.

I carried on to Ealing and it was only after I had tipped the train out and was sitting quietly on the front waiting to go to the depot that the impact of what I had experienced hit home.  I’m not the kind of person that dwells on things and I was, frankly, surprised at myself that I felt pretty shaken when the implications hit home of what might have been - all it’d have taken is for the clearance to have been a bit less, one of them to have slipped and so on. 

Anyway, the signal cleared - I headed off towards Ealing Common, stabled the train and was a little surprised to find that the incident was still on my mind.  So instead of heading straight home, I decided to head to the DMT’s office at Acton Town - at least I’d have time for a cup of tea and a natter to take my mind of it.  The DMT on duty was great - he even made the tea.  But he called the Controller (who had received my radio call despite the fact that I hadn’t really heard a response) who had passed details to both train and station staff. Apparently two individuals had been apprehended - they’d been looking for somewhere to have a pee and decided that it’d be fun to play with the trains...

They received a dressing down from both the Station Supervisor and British Transport Police and left Hammersmith duly admonished.  I left for home and, though feeling reassured that the outcome had been positive, still found it was on my mind.  The next morning (still very short of sleep) the phone at home rang.   It was my boss - our Train Operations Manager - he’d heard what had happened - was I OK.  I assured him that I was, though short of sleep, and I’d be in for my ‘turn’ that afternoon. ‘Come and see me - we’ll sort something out’.

When I booked on he was there - a Spare had been organised to run with me for my first half and I was then to finish and the Spare would finish the duty.  A bit like riding a horse, I suppose, get back in the saddle and so on but I was grateful for the company and that certainly settled the demons.

But the things I’d pass on to you:

1. If you think it’ll be a laugh to play with the trains when you’ve had a few - don’t. There’s some poor individual on the front of the train who’ll get scared witless.

2. If you work for LUL and think all Managers are uncaring idiots - think again.  Many have ‘been there and done that’ and may well know how you’re feeling.  Don’t prejudge them all.

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Flash Floods

Early August in London isn’t really the time you’d expect a meteorological catastrophe in Central London, but this is what occurred on Wednesday 7th August 2002.

Apparently London received 1.8 inches of rain in about half an hour, right at the height of the evening peak.  Transport systems of all varieties were brought to a grinding halt and, as I write this, some forty-eight hours later, they have still not entirely recovered.

The first half of my duty had gone pretty well as planned, the only possible cloud being a signal problem between Hammersmith and Barons Court just as I was due to go to Earls Court for my meal break. However it was resolved and I arrived at Earls Court pretty well on time – just before 1700.  It was starting to rain a bit, but nothing that gave clues to the mayhem that would occur in the next hour – in fact it seemed a bit of a blessing – it had been a humid afternoon and needed a shower to ‘clear the air’.  I regretted this thought later.

My second half was to be C Stocks – plying up and down between Edgware Road and Wimbledon from about 1800 to about 2030, so fairly short and the time seems to go quickly when doing this route.  I was due to pick up my train on the westbound platform but about ten minutes before my pick up time the Duty Manager stuck his head round the canteen door and said, "Could you pick up on the eastbound at the same time – there’s a few problems on the Wimbledon branch.  I expect the Controller’ll turn you early to put you back on time at some point"

I’d been happily ensconced in the canteen (isolated from the world outside) and hadn’t realised that in the intervening forty-five minutes or so there’d been a major downpour and serious storms.

So I headed off to pick up my train.  As I walked down the platform it was raining quite hard, but nothing to suggest how extensive the storms had been.

My train arrived and the driver told me there were signalling problems as a result of the rain on the Wimbledon road and he (and the other trains going down there) had been delayed as a result.  I asked if trains were running through and his answer suggested that they were, but that there could be further delays.  In itself this isn’t that unusual.  The signalling system round Southfields and Wimbledon Park is notoriously susceptible to rain, so I had no major cause for concern at this point.

I worked the train up to Edgware Road and, as I was going up there, it became obvious from the messages being issued by the Line Controller that there were delays occurring all over the line.  At Notting Hill Gate we switch to the Metropolitan Line’s radio frequency, so it was clear that the Met. too had problems.   Baker Street station was closed, there was flooding in the Farringdon/Aldgate area and a bulging wall was giving cause for concern at Kings Cross.

But there were still no clear messages that the Wimbledon branch was effectively closed.  I changed ends at Edgware Road, set the train up to return to Wimbledon and waited for the signalman to clear the signal for me.   I’m a little concerned when I find a fair volume of water and condensation sloshing around the west end cab which suggests that the previous driver had been in and out of the cab a number of times on his last trip.

A couple of passengers enquired if the train was going to Wimbledon, to which I replied (honestly.), "Yes, as far as I know.  There are some problems and if I find out anything different, I’ll let you know over the Public Address".  Famous last words.

We set off towards Wimbledon.  I arrived at Earls Court – the train’s still being described as a Wimbledon service.   Nothing’s being said over the radio to suggest it isn’t going through, although some trains are being called to reverse at Parson Green.  We’re still described as Wimbledon at Fulham Broadway.  We’re held there (I’m not surprised – I know the train ahead’s being ‘tipped out’ at Parsons Green) and eventually I set off towards Parsons Green.  The signal clears at Parsons Green – still nothing said, although the rain’s coming down at a serious rate.

As I’m approaching Putney Bridge I’m held at the ‘home’ signal, which makes me a little suspicious, but then I see a train depart from the bay platform – this would explain that and I expect the signal to clear for me to go through.  I’m now mentally revising the procedures required for passing Railtrack Signals under Authority whilst at Danger (they’re different from London Underground’s rules) when the signal clears but gives me the ‘route’ into the bay road.  Reluctantly I open the cab door (it’s pouring down) to use the signal phone.  It’s sited at ‘eye level’ so can be reached without leaving the cab, although I now have a soaking left shirt sleeve.  I query the route and am told ‘everything’s going round at Putney Bridge – the Wimbledon road’s suspended’.  I reply (a little sarcastically) that it’d have been nice to have been told earlier, at which point the signal operator hung up.

So I make a PA apologising that I hadn’t been told earlier that this is the situation and that a train load of passengers would have to find alternative methods to complete their journey.

I pull into Putney Bridge, make a final "All change, this train terminates here" announcement and shut the train down – not at all looking forward to my walk to the other end of the train. I get a few sarcastic remarks, but probably less abuse than I expected to receive.

I reach the other end and prepare to head off back to Edgware Road.  The talk on the radio’s now of trains being diverted, terminated early and so on as they try to keep some kind of service running.  On my way back to Edgware Road I discover that the Circle Line is now suspended completely, there’s no service between Edgware Road and Kings Cross and other lines are suffering too.  It takes a good while to finally get to Edgware Road, having warned passengers at Notting Hill Gate and Paddington to try alternative routes, as they’re not going to get past Edgware Road.  Most heed my dire warnings, so there are few left on the train when I finally arrive at Edgware Road.

So off I go again to Putney Bridge.  The station staff at High Street Kensington and Earls Court are doing their best to cope with the situation, so my arrival at Putney Bridge is this time a little less fraught.

I arrive back at Earls Court at 2050 (twenty minutes after I should have been relieved).  No sign of a relief driver.  I phone the DMT – he’s forgotten about me.  So I offer to take the train to Edgware Road and back and he promises I’ll be take off when I get back.  The alternative would be to further delay the service while he found a driver and more inconvenience and delays to already disgruntled passengers.

I arrive at Edgware Road – the platforms are crowded and it takes me almost ten minutes to change ends – answering questions all the way from passengers trying to travel east.  No station staff in sight – not good at all.  Fortunately the signal operator’s are trying to turn trains on all four platforms, so I still have time to open the train up before the signal clears – but only just.  I arrive at Earls Court and am finally relieved an hour late.

Fortunately (for me) there’s no shortage of trains going to Ealing Broadway, so at least I can get back to Acton Town to retrieve my car.   But the trip’s dramatic, with forks of lightning and downpours all the way.   I can’t remember before when I’ve seen lightning like that in the UK.

It’s only as I’m listening to the radio in the car as I drive home that the full scale of the disruption becomes apparent.   There’s flooding, trains cancelled, buses disrupted and major chaos of a scale I struggle to recall all over London.


As I said at the start, two days since this all occurred, we were still suffering problems as a result of the floods.  The signals were still giving trouble around Southfields to the extent that the Edgware Road service was still terminating at Putney Bridge to reduce the number of trains using the area.  I’ve been down to Wimbledon on several occasions since, all without incident, but it’s obvious there’s still cause for concern.

More worryingly I also understand that in the midst of all the disruption a disgruntled passenger assaulted one of our drivers at Gloucester Road.   I don’t know more than that, but it’s a trend that seems more and more prevalent these days.

I also found out today that Earls Court Station is subject to a Noise Abatement Order which prevents them from using the Public Address system after 21:30.  That leaves me speechless…………………

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Jubilee Celebrations, 3rd - 5th June 2002

Trying to be reasonably topical in these stories, I thought I’d recount my experiences of this holiday period, and the time around them.  But I have to say that my notebook remained thankfully clear of specific events that affected our contribution to the celebrations.  That’s not to say that there were not occurrences that affected the District Line's service, rather that they happened either when I wasn’t on duty, or, if they did, they didn’t really significantly affect me.  As is (I think) well known, London Underground ran a service through the night on the night of the main celebrations. I was, however, not affected by this, as I was rostered on both Monday and Tuesday for early turns.

One thing that was noticeable as I came down the platforms on these days was the number of people who were obviously heading into Central London to view the various events.  Flags were much in evidence, as were Union Jack type articles of clothing.  During the day (and particularly in the peak) very little sound comes from behind you as you’re driving - occasionally the sound of a mobile phone and even that annoying sound you hear from people’s walkmans.    Occasionally you can hear snippets of people’s conversations so be warned - if you’re planning on sharing details of your life and you’re sitting right behind the driver remember he can probably hear the details too.

But these Jubilee days were different.    There were many families on board and a constant buzz of conversation and lots of excited kids.  It was a very pleasant atmosphere. The stations in the central area were busy and, I’m pleased to say, there seemed plenty of station staff in evidence to help with moving the throngs along the platforms. There were obviously people using the system who were unfamiliar with it, so lots of questions were being aimed at just about everyone wearing an Underground uniform. But they always seemed to be accompanied with a friendly smile and an almost apologetic approach that they didn’t know where they were going. So the trains were busy, but not packed.

The time trains spent at stations was probably longer than normal, as there were parties covering all age groups, from the very young to the very old, so allowance had to be made to be made for this so that push chairs and so on could be loaded and unloaded.  The atmosphere was genial though and no one seemed to get pushy in the way that often occurs during the rush hour.  Monday had been uneventful up to the point when I booked off duty at about 15:00 hrs.  My own trains had been on time throughout my duty and pick ups and reliefs all occurred pretty well as booked. But during the latter part of the day there was a shutdown between Barking and Upminster because of a cable fire at Upney. Beyond that I can’t really comment further, apart from I know it did impact on the service, though for how long and to what extent I don’t know.

Tuesday started similarly.  I was first ‘spare’ at Acton Town and was given the first half of an early turn to cover.    This was all straight forward enough, but on my way back west I had just left Mile End when my train was subjected to a flood of water coming through the tunnel roof. I duly reported this and, I found out later, so did a number of my colleagues.  When I arrived at Earls Court for my meal relief at about 09:45 the service was still running through the area.  I was told by the DMT to have my meal break and it was sometime in the next half hour or so that the word came through that the service had been suspended between Whitechapel and Bromley-by-Bow because of flooding between Mile End and Stepney Green. So we were ending up with trains and crews in the wrong place. Trains at the west end of the line were being reversed at either Whitechapel (if booked for Upminster), Tower Hill (if booked for Barking) and Mansion House (if booked for Tower Hill). The situation was also critical enough in terms of train and staff availability that the Olympia Service was suspended altogether. I presume trains at the east end of the line were being reversed at Plaistow.

I booked off duty at about 13:30 and the situation was unresolved, though I know the service was restored later in the afternoon, but, by all accounts, took a considerable time to recover.  Not surprising really, as the suspension had been considerable and prolonged.  I don’t know what alternative advice for travel was being given for those travelling to and from the east end of the line, but I would guess that the C2C services from Fenchurch Street were a prime carrier to Barking when customers could rejoin our line. 

Wednesday saw a resumption of the normal weekday timetable and, again, I was working an early turn.  My impression was that passenger volumes were down, so I guess that many had extended their holiday period.    My first run was to High Street Kensington, then Wimbledon, Upminster and back to Earls Court for my meal break.  All uneventful and I had my full turn round time at Upminster.  However, as I had headed east I had heard that there had been a signal failure at Gunnersbury, and a person ill on a train at Aldgate East. None affected me going east, but my westbound trip was delayed and I was about ten minutes late arriving back at Earls Court.

My second train was a little late when I picked it up on the eastbound platforms at Earls Court, but I made good time to Upminster and left to head back west to Earls Court still about ten minutes late.  I was running very close to the train ahead and so passenger numbers were small.  However, on arriving at Becontree I noticed a member of the public waving to attract my attention.    On investigation she turned out to be an off duty member of staff and informed me that one car on the train had been vandalised - three fire extinguishers had been let off and seats pulled up.  So I had no choice but to take the train out of service. I informed the Controller, who had me met at Barking by a Train Technician who verified the damage and confirmed my decision.  I ran empty all the way from Becontree to Earls Court where I was due for relief.  The relief man would then take the train on to Ealing Common Depot for a ‘changeover’.  So that was my Jubilee holiday - at least I got to see the Gig at the Palace on the TV in the evening though.  

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Just a Normal Day

Well, perhaps not quite but a combination of a number of incidents that happened during one early turn and the impact that they had on the service. I was doing a spare turn and was due to book on at about 05:15.  As usual I was a little early (even at this time of the day I’d rather be a few minutes early and have time for a relaxed coffee rather than have to immediately start rushing about) and on checking the ‘booking on sheet’ found that all the duties were covered.  This seemed to bode well for an easy shift.

After a few minutes the Night Duty DMT said he’d have to give me a job as the booked driver had been involved in an incident the previous day and needed to be interviewed.  "Start it off, but he should be able to pick it up later.  Even if he’s a bit delayed you’ll only have to do the first half" he said.  I had plenty of time, so I finished my coffee, had time for a bit of chat and banter with some of my colleagues and then set off for the depot to get the train ready for service. 

It was about 05:35 as I approached the depot and I think it subconsciously registered that there seemed to be a lot of trains still there for that time of the morning.  This was further reinforced as I realised that at least four were waiting with their front lights lit - indicating that the trains were ‘opened up’ and waiting to come out - and, of course, this was only one end of the depot. 

As I passed the Shunter’s Cabin, the Shunter stuck his head round the door and said, "If your mates ask why they’re being held, there’s a late surrender of possession at Earls Court."  This meaning that the overnight engineering works had overrun and the engineering staff had not yet been able to hand the railway back for passenger traffic.  So, as I passed each train I let the drivers know - the news was consistently greeted with a groan. 

I made my way to my train, got it ready and then sat down to read the paper until I was called down.  I was due to leave the depot at about 06:00.  Trains were, by this time starting to move out and, by the time it was my turn, I departed at about 06:15.  Not too bad in all the circumstances.

Normally at this time of the morning the radio is pretty well silent.  Not today - the Controller is already recovering the service, turning trains early to restore the timetable.  By the time I get to Earls Court, I’m still showing my booked destination of Tower Hill on the train but, as I come down Platform 1, I see the platform describer is stating that the train’s for Mansion House.  This makes perfect sense, as it will almost exactly recover my late running, particularly if I can then get a reasonably prompt departure from Wimbledon.

However, I try to call the Controller but can’t get through on the radio, so leave the destination as Tower Hill.  I call again on my way to Gloucester Road and finally get through as I arrive there.   Mansion House is confirmed, so I change the destination blind, make a PA to let my passengers know and carry on without further event.

I arrive at Mansion House, change ends, the signal clears immediately and off we go to Wimbledon.  Clear run all the way, so the late departure has been all but made up.  I arrive at Wimbledon.  There’s a C Stock and another D Stock already there and I’ve got about six or seven minutes before I’m due to depart.  The D Stock leaves even before I’ve shut down and by the time I reach the other end the C Stock’s also ‘plunged’ and got a signal to depart.  I’m still looking good for a scheduled departure and this is confirmed as the C Stock leaves straight away and I ‘plunge’ to let the signalman know I’m ready to go.  Signal clears and I leave less than a minute after my booked time.

A good run follows - that is until we get to West Brompton.  The station starter stays on.  At first I think this is due to a combination of the normal early morning congestion around Earls Court and the last knockings of the earlier delay but, even allowing for this, we seem to there a long time.    Just as I’m about to call the Controller the signal clears and away we go, at least as far as the next signal towards Earls Court.  And there we sit.   By this time there’s some talk on the radio of a train with no movement at High Street Kensington and this is having a ‘blocking back’ effect into Earls Court. Platform 1 is effectively out of action and the train in Platform 2 is the C Stock that left Wimbledon in front of me and that should go to Edgware Road, but now can’t get up there.

The Controller calls him up and tells him to divert to Mansion House.  This he does, and I’m now able to get into the platform.  I’ve lost about fifteen minutes due to this delay and have tried to keep my passengers informed with appropriate PA’s so at least they’ve got some idea that it’s not just me.  Eventually we leave Earls Court and, apart from a Circle Line train being put across in front of me, thus delaying me for another couple of minutes, we have a fairly decent run through the city. The train’s booked to go to Barking and reverse via the sidings.

As I leave Bow Road I check the time and see I’m due to be leaving Barking in about five minutes.  The Controller’s been calling various trains and reversing them early (again.) but he hasn’t called me.    However I’ve just left Bromley-by-Bow when the radio calls my set number. "Where are you driver?"  I duly tell him and he responds "Reverse Plaistow".  Nothing like plenty of notice. 

I make another apologetic PA saying that I’ve just been informed and that passengers will find it easier to leave the train at the next station (West Ham) and wait on the platform there to continue they’re journey.   I suggest this as the bay road at Plaistow is staggered in relation to the through platform and it saves them having to hurry down the platform for the next train which invariably arrives almost immediately after a train into the bay road.  It was also raining heavily and they’d too stay dry.

I finally leave Plaistow.  The journey back to Earls Court for my meal break is a stop/start affair and I eventually arrive at Earls Court about twenty minutes after my due time.  I’m not too concerned though.  Remember, I was only expecting to do the first half of the duty and am hoping for an easy time for the remaining three and a half or so hours.  I reported to the DMT that I was there and reminded him that the booked driver was supposed to be picking up his own second half.  "We’ve had a few problems," he said, "and I haven’t been able to do the interview yet.  Can you finish the turn inside your hours?" 

I check my Duty Book and find that I can (with twenty minutes to spare, if it runs on time) so there goes my quiet second half.    I’m even tight for a meal break, but not so tight that I don’t get the minimum.  Great. I’m due to pick up at Earls Court Eastbound at around 10:25 and I’m there in time to find a gaggle of drivers already there waiting for their pick up’s.  The longest there is now fifteen minutes late.  Apparently there’s been some sort of signal problem at Acton Town which has added yet another delay into the equation and the efforts at recovering the service have again come to little. 

Eventually my train arrives at 10:50 - twenty-five minutes late.  I’m due to do Upminster - Ealing Broadway and arrive at Acton Town (east) at 1322 to finish.  So off we go through the city.  No further delays occur and, again, as I’m approaching West Ham I’m instructed to reverse early, but this time at Dagenham East.  A clear run follows.  I leave Dagenham East back on time and the run back to Ealing Broadway is uneventful.  I even have about twelve minutes at Ealing before I depart right on time (the first time I’ve been on time all day.).  I’m relieved at Acton Town right on time and finish twenty minutes before my duty time.  And all this on a day with a ‘full book’ which looked ripe for a good early ‘cut away’ - the bonus every driver hopes for from a spare turn, but rarely gets.  So, all in all, just another day.  

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Signal Failures

Probably one of the most common reasons for which passengers hear about delays on London Underground are signal failures.  The failures come in various forms, as signalling equipment is pretty complex stuff involving the physical signals, electrical circuits, cabling and, of course, the equipment in the signalling centres themselves.  So when something goes wrong it can take time to trace the root of the problem and then resolve it.  The pages in this site on Signalling will give you some insight into these complexities, so I’m not going to go into the technical stuff here.  This piece actually comprises two separate events, both within three days of each other but which demonstrate firstly how disruptive they can be and also how they just occur without warning.  The last few weekends on the District Line have been subject to a special timetable because of works being done to a bridge in the West Ham area and, although undoubtedly inconvenient, have seen a pretty reliable and consistent service. Last weekend was the first for a while when we were working to our normal timetable.

I was on a ‘spare’ duty, which essentially means providing cover for uncovered duties, either in whole or in part.    When I booked on at about 05:50 I was given a whole ‘turn’.   My train was due to come out of Ealing Common Depot at about 06:25 and my ‘first half’ was booked to go to High Street Kensington, Richmond, Upminster and then back to Earls Court where I would be relieved for my meal break at about 10:00. 

I walked over to the depot with a couple of other drivers, and as we arrived we were greeted by the Shunter looking for one of my colleagues with the message that his train was cancelled due to a signal failure at Hammersmith, but he was to stay with the train and await further instructions.  There inevitably followed a bit of banter along the lines of ‘some people have all the luck’ and, with that, we went to our various trains to prepare them for service.   I’d only been on my train for less than five minutes when the shunter called me on the radio.   He advised me that I too was cancelled and, as with my colleague, to stay with the train and await further instructions.  So I prepared the train, went into the depot to get myself a coffee and returned to the train.

I settled down with my book (a good way to pass the time) and waited as instructed.  In situations like this you have no idea what’s going on as the train radio automatically switches to the Depot Channel as it enters the depot, so you can’t hear any conversation from the Line Controller.    Eventually at about 07:45, the Shunter calls up and tells me that I’m to put the train up as a Barking and to draw down to the outlet signal.  This is all duly done and I leave the depot at 07:50.

The trip starts quietly enough but this all changes as I come into Hammersmith platform.  I can see one of our Duty Managers standing at the end of the platform holding a red light, which overrides the green signal being displayed.  It’s now about 08:02.  He tells me that I’m going to be used to provide protection for the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) team that are working on the defect, which has been diagnosed as a broken insulated block joint (these are used to separate the various signalling sections from each other) and they are going to replace it - a job that shouldn’t take more than about ten minutes or so.  He takes my keys to ensure the train can’t be moved - a standard procedure in these circumstances.

I advise my passengers of this delay, but add the rider that as we could be held for some time they’d be well advised to take the Piccadilly Line to Earls Court and then return to the District Line there.  I told the DMT that I was going to close the train up and switch the lights off so that we wouldn’t need to re-announce the situation.  I think he thought I was being a little pessimistic, but I walked down the train and closed the doors up. This turned out to have been a wise move.

Back on the front of the train I’m watching the affected signal that is now going from red to green, back to red and then red and green together - just like Christmas.  Then I see the ERU team coming quickly back to the platform.  They’ve replaced the block joint, but have discovered there’s also a broken rail that is exacerbating the problem, and this needs to be welded up to fix it. They hurry of to their vehicle to fetch the appropriate equipment.

By this time I can hear the Controller on the radio reversing trains so that nothing else heads down to either Richmond or Ealing Broadway Westbound and instructing trains now queuing behind me to move up, applying various procedures to achieve this.  The DMT now gets me to move my train as far up to the Station Starter as possible so that the train behind me (now empty, having detrained at Ravenscourt Park) can move right up behind me. 

The ERU team are, by now, back on site and eventually indicate that all’s fixed.  It’s now 08:50 - I’ve been at Hammersmith now for over forty-five minutes.  My train is, of course, well past the end of the platform and as there’s another train right behind it’s more straight forward to leave Hammersmith empty and go back into service at Barons Court.  This is all done, and I’m running normally towards Earls Court, mentally calculating whether or not I can make Barking and back to Earls Court within my permitted driving time.    I’ve got no chance of getting through to the Controller - the radio’s one constant stream of radio calls from him advising drivers of where to go and what to do.

I’ve worked out that I can make Tower Hill and back (and possibly even Whitechapel, depending on progress through the City), so I decide to carry on until I get a bit further east and when the radio quietens down.    It’s just about 09:00 as I pull in to Platform 1 at Earls Court.   The platform describer is showing the train as an Upminster service, although I’m not really surprised at this.

As I draw up another driver walks up, tells me the train’s being reformed and to report to the DMT.  So I go over to his office and am told just to start to my meal break and to pick up my next train as booked - this isn’t due until 10:49, so I get the benefit of almost a two-hour break.    There are already others in the canteen in much the same situation, although some were due to have had their break at either Upminster or Barking where they were, of course, due to pick up their next trains.  So to make everything worse, we’ve got lots of drivers in the wrong place.

By the time I pick up my second train, everything’s pretty well back to normal, but only just.  So a failure at just after 05:00 has taken almost five hours to resolve and for the service to be recovered.    The rest of the day was much quieter.

Only two days later, I book on for a late turn at Acton at about 15:20.  I’m due to pick up my train at Acton Town Eastbound at about 15:30, but the DMT on duty warns me that it might be late as there’s yet another signal failure at Hammersmith - I’m hit with a feeling of deja vu.   In the event, my train arrives only about ten minutes late.

I’m due to go to Barking, Wimbledon, Tower Hill and back to Earls Court for my break.  All goes reasonably well.  The signalman at Barking reverses me in the bay platform (rather than via the sidings, which what the train’s booked to do) which saves some time, but I arrive back at Wimbledon about fifteen minutes late at about 18:05 - I should have departed at 18:02.  There are already trains there, but I have a word with another driver and discover he’s due out after me and he agrees that I can go first.  So I duly ‘plunge’ to let the signalman know I’m ready to depart.

Nothing happens - all the other platforms are occupied, and all the signals are red, so it’s not that he’s letting someone else go first or waiting for a train to come in. I plunge again - same result. I plunge for a third time - it’s now 18:15 and I’m supposed to go to Tower Hill and back before I get relieved.  The probability of a short meal relief is looming large.   

I get on the signal phone and am told that ‘there seems to be some sort of obstruction on the line - we can’t clear any routes.’  Great.  I announce this to my passengers and give them the gloomy news that I’ve got no idea how long we’re likely to be there.  I’m reluctant to leave my train to use the ‘Autophone’ to phone the Controller (the radio’s no good at Wimbledon - it’s well known as a ‘black hole’) as this is sited at the far end of the platform in case the situation resolves and the signal clears, so I call the Controller from my mobile phone (often a driver’s best friend these days) to see if he knows what’s going on.  He can’t really add too much - remember Wimbledon’s a Railtrack station and subject to their signalling, so he’s relying on the Wimbledon signalling staff keeping him advised.

Eventually the problem is resolved (I still don’t know the exact cause) and I depart at 18:40 - the train’s due to be leaving Tower Hill coming back in ten minutes.  As I work up to Earls Court I get further delayed by trains that have been reversed at Putney Bridge and Parsons Green.    The platform describers are clearly confused as I’m being described as an Edgware Road (not possible with a D Stock - they won’t fit.), Tower Hill (OK - that’s where it’s due to go) and finally as I arrive at Earls Court as an Upminster train.

I wonder if the train’s being reformed but there’s no sign of a relief.  I get out and use the phone.  I tell the Controller of the description and that I’m booked for Tower Hill.  He says ‘booked destination then driver’.  I point out that I should be back at Earls Court in less than ten minutes and wouldn’t it be an idea to send me to High Street Kensington and then at least the train’ll be more or less on time.    ‘Good idea driver - I’ll tell the signalman’.

I get to High Street, change ends, and leave reasonably quickly, arriving back at Earls Court at about 19:25 - only about ten minutes later than booked.  So again, there was a significant shutdown, but this time in the evening ‘peak’, so a huge number of passengers were delayed, diverted and generally inconvenienced by a situation no one could predict.  In fact, on this evening we’d had failures at Hammersmith and Wimbledon and the Metropolitan Line had suffered two similar failures, which also impacts on our Edgware Road service.  So again we had a disrupted service that took time to recover and resulted in trains being diverted - either because they were unable to make their ‘booked’ destination or reversed short to try to recover the service.

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Iced Train

During the early part of January you may recall that we had some very cold days (and nights).  This particular event occurred on one of the coldest of these days.  I was due to book on at 05:00, with my train being due out of Ealing Common Depot at about 05:30.  As I was driving into work the outside air temperature reading on my car dashboard never rose above -4 deg. C and at one point fell to -7.  I booked on in plenty of time, established where my train was stabled in the Depot and walked (briskly.) over to prepare it for service. 

As I walked into the depot I could see my train - without lights on - and it appeared to look very cold.  On getting into the cab my fears were realised - not only had the cab heaters been switched off but the car heaters too.   This was a seriously cold train.  I turned as much heat on as possible (at least to make my working environment a little more cosy) and set about my checks.  Number set, destination set, PA working, passenger alarm, brakes tested and so on.  The last check I do is to see if the train’s motors are engaged by carrying out a Traction Test.  Ooops - no movement.

The Train Monitoring System (TMS) tells me that the doors are open, but it doesn't say which car.  This usually indicates that a Miniature Circuit Breaker is ‘tripped’ (i.e. switched off) - in this case the Door Interlock MCB.  I visually check it and trip and reset it - still nothing - as confirmed by no Pilot Light (the visual indication in the cab that the doors are closed).   

I decide to go and do the checks in the cab at the other end (noting that all the doors are closed in spite of what the indication tells me) and find exactly the same situation - most odd.  I now need assistance from the depot staff, and follow the normal routine of sounding the train whistle to summon help.  No response; so I leave the train and go to the Shunters Cabin, "Oh, I thought I heard someone blowing up." says the train technician, keeping warm in the cabin.  I explain my problem and he comes to the train with me.  He repeats all I’ve done and (to my relief) he can’t get any movement either.  He needs to summon help and disappears to get assistance.

I’ve now missed my departure time.    Eventually, I’ve got four train technicians running up and down the length of the train, checking doors, tripping MCB’s, jumping up and down on couplers (where the electrical connections are passed from one unit to another), all to no avail.   We go to the Depot Duty Manager’s Office to find out where the spare train is - there isn’t one, so the trip is cancelled. 

Now I walk back to the booking on point to report back to the Duty Manager (Trains).  He's the train crew supervisor.  By the time I get there, he’s aware of the situation.  The Line Controller has told him to tell me to make my way to Upminster to get a spare train out from there and to complete the first part of my duty up to my meal break.  So I head off for the Eastbound platform to await an Upminster train.  Just as it’s arriving, I see one of my colleagues running (a rare sight indeed) down the platform waving his arms at me.  He breathlessly announces that there aren’t any spare trains at Upminster either and to come back to see the DMT.  On arrival the DMT says, "All you can do is make your way to Barking (where I’m due for my meal break) and then pick up your second half".  This is due to start at about 09:45 and all the train does is go back to Ealing and into the Depot.  I make my way to Barking, have a long, large and relaxed breakfast and read the paper from cover to cover.  I realise rather ruefully that I’ve been up since 04:00 and have spent 5 hours awake unproductively on the coldest day of the year. 

A couple of days later I run into one of the depot staff who was involved in the incident and enquired what the problem was.    Apparently, they moved the train into the depot sheds and once it had been in there a couple of hours it was OK.  The speculation was that the train had got so cold that ice had formed on the electrical connections preventing them from contacting correctly and once it had thawed out it was serviceable.  Of course, it is the custom to keep train heaters heaters on all night in cold weather to prevent things freezing. This must have been an oversight.

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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 p.m. 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.

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Football Night at West Ham

This was a late turn on a mid-week evening when West Ham were playing Chelsea at Upton Park in (I think) a Cup Match. Football fixtures are a weekly feature on the District Line - we now have three Premiership Clubs directly on our route; Chelsea, Fulham and West Ham. For the most part their fixtures are arranged in such a way as not to have the teams playing at home at the same time or on the same day, but of course it is inevitable that each are going to play the others twice each season - plus, of course, any cup fixtures.

At weekends certain train crew duties have ‘Football Specials’ attached to them, which are trains run only as directed by the Line Controller.  However, this isn’t possible mid-week as all available stock is ‘on the road’ anyway and there aren’t any spare trains available for use.

On this particular mid-week evening, I was due to pick up my first train at Earls Court (eastbound) at about 17:25 and I was due to be relieved at Barking at 21:36 - four hours eleven minutes driving.  I was supposed to take the train from Earls Court to Upminster, then to Richmond and back to Upminster again.  I was due my relief at Barking eastbound on the second Upminster trip.

The train arrived at Earls Court (EB) about ten minutes late and then things went rapidly downhill from there.  On my way through the city the journey was (not unusual in the peak) as usual slow, but the situation rapidly deteriorated through a combination of events.  Firstly, traction current had to be discharged at Aldgate East when a train got a collector shoe (the equipment which picks up the current from the power rails) jammed between the current rail and the running rail.  This took some time whilst the shoe was levered away, current recharged and the train got moving again.  The queue of trains behind was substantial and progress was very much from red signal to red signal, usually being held at each for two or three minutes.

Matters then got worse.  Football crowds were, by now, beginning to make their way to Upton Park for the match and, inevitably were getting restless to the point where the police began intervening.  Strangely enough they seemed to have let matters get to a point where it was necessary for them to call a helicopter onto the scene and were insisting that each train load of supporters were allowed to clear the station before the next load were let loose. 

I’d got to near West Ham and it was obvious that I had no chance of getting to Upminster at anything even close to my appointed time when the Controller called me up and told me I’d be reversing at Barking.  At least this would put me back to something like my schedule.  I duly made my PA announcement - few were, I suspect, concerned as most would be getting off at Upton Park anyway.  As usual the train was held on the platform at Upton Park whilst the crowd made their way from the platform - a sensible safety precaution to avoid any accidents. 

Finally I made Barking, reversed via the sidings and was sent Westbound with little delay, although following very close behind the train ahead.  The trip back to Richmond was uneventful and I made good progress.    On arrival at Richmond I quickly changed ends and departed only about five minutes late - not too bad.  It then occurred to me that I was almost certainly going to get caught again in the football crowds at the end of the match.  However, all was going well and as I got to Plaistow I could see I was going to be a little late for my relief at Barking, but should be within my four hours fifteen minutes limit of driving.  

This proved to be wishful thinking. Sure enough the football finished (Chelsea won, scoring in injury time) and trains ahead started to be held so that they could be packed to the limit at Upton Park.  It took twenty minutes to go from Plaistow to Upton Park (one stop.) and I was held at Upton Park whilst morose West Ham supporters were packed into the train - remember, this was showing Upminster as its destination. 

I eventually arrived at Barking at 22:10 - almost thirty-five minutes late.  I was greeted by my relief with ‘didn’t anyone tell you - the train’s being reversed here.’  My comment was, "If I were you I’d speak to the signalman.  If you try to ‘tip out’ here you’ll probably have a riot on your hands". With that I took his key and beat a hasty retreat for my belated meal break.  I don’t know if the train did go through, but I presume it did - there were no signs of blood stains on the platform when I went back down to pick up for my ‘second half’. This should have gone to Upminster and then back to Ealing Broadway before being stabled in Ealing Common Depot.   Inevitably it was running late, but, again, was reversed at Barking and I eventually stabled at about the scheduled time.

I think this little tale highlights a number of matters. 

  • Communication is vital both to the driver from the Controller and/or Signal Operator and from the driver to his passengers.  This would have avoided what could have developed into a very nasty situation.  
  • Passengers at the ends of the line get understandably frustrated by the seeming lack of trains getting to their intended destination.  This is particularly so for passengers trying to get to Upminster.   There are occasions when more trains seem to get turned early than actually make it to Upminster. 
  • The holding of trains at stations in this way is, of course, frustrating for both driver and passengers but the safety implications if they were not are, frankly, too unpleasant to contemplate.

So there we have it - a combination of the rush hour, a train related delay and football crowds - a recipe almost guaranteed to cause chaos.  

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Power Down at West Ham

There is an adage amongst Drivers:- ‘ If you’re doing ‘Early’s’, at least the Job's not had the time to go ‘Up the Wall’ before you’ve even started.’  In my (limited) experience there is more than a grain of truth in this.  This train of thought (excuse the pun) leads me to a more general set of ponderings which, perhaps, I will expand on at some later time, if this series of ramblings continues.  The theory is that if you’re running at the start of traffic, all is well and you are, at least going to be on time when you start your duty.  This (and the previous tale) seems to lend some credence to this.

This incident occurred on a late turn, although, in fairness, could have happened at any time during the day - it was down to a meteorological occurrence, not any fault on the part of LUL (or any other Train Operating Company come to that).  I’d booked on at about 16:55 and was due to pick up my train at about 17:05. It turned up pretty well on time and, when relieving the driver he told me the train was fine but ‘there seems to be a problem ‘going east’’, it seemed there was a power supply problem of some sort in the West Ham area, but the details were thin. At this point I was taking the train to Richmond before getting any where near West Ham, so, although there was the potential for delay, there was nothing at this point to cause undue concern.  Messages like this act as a useful reason for attention, but little more than that.

So, I headed off down to Richmond, changed ends and departed on time.  As I headed East (the train was booked to go to Upminster), it became obvious that there was a serious problem; I could hear over the radio that the Controller was instructing trains to reverse (eastbound) at Whitechapel or Bromley-by-Bow, which is a sure sign that there is a serious problem.  This was further underlined by trains being instructed to stable at Ealing Common Depot and Parsons Green - a sure sign that the Controller wants to limit the number of trains at one end of the line.

The radios work on a duplex system rather than a simplex system - this means that you only hear one side of a conversation - this results in you trying to draw conclusions without full facts.  On the District Line this is exacerbated in that there are ‘black spots’ where the radios are dead.    No hard information was coming through but, with what I could glean from the train radio and Public Address announcements at stations it was clear that we weren’t going to get anywhere near Upminster.

I arrived at Hammersmith and a driver from Barking hitched a lift in my cab.  He was one of the drivers instructed to stable at Ealing Common and, on reporting to the DMT at Acton Town had been told to make his way back to Barking.  He had more information at this time than I.  The story seemed to be that the C2C lines (which have overhead 25Kv power lines) had come down (reason not known) and were fouling our tracks and had to be cleared before either we or C2C could get past West Ham.  This had the effect of zero train services for thousands of commuters during the height of the rush hour. More later. 

I was well through the city before I got confirmation that I would reverse at Bromley-by-Bow, and advised my passengers that this was the situation and told them via the PA what I knew which was, basically, that they needed to find an alternative to there normal train journey, that there was no point in trying to use Fenchurch Street and, beyond that, all they could do was to try to get local information at whatever point they tried to interchange. Not entirely satisfactory, but the best I could do with the information at my disposal.

From my recollection, the Central Public Address (CPA) system which is transmitted from the Control Centre at Earls Court, started the recorded announcements when I got to about Blackfriars.   At each station I kept the doors open if the recorded announcement was being played.  The message stated that there was no service between Bromley-by-Bow and East Ham due to debris on the line.  I reinforced this at every station, and particularly the information if the train was at any interchange station at all.

My colleague decided to leave the train at Tower Hill to continue his efforts to get back to Barking.  I took the train on to Mile End - the last chance for anyone who could use alternative train services.  The CPA system played again; I did my PA announcement and, having allowed decent time to allow passengers to detrain, carried on.

I arrived at Bromley-by-Bow; did an "All change - this train terminates here - passengers travelling east should use local bus services" announcement and shut the train down to change ends.  Now, bear in mind that I’ve been doing PA’s for quite some time (something I take quite seriously) why is it that as I walk down the train to go west, I’m challenged by a significant number of people asking if I’m going to ……….(points east).    The urge to ask if they’ve been listening to my announcements is almost overwhelming but I resist and repeat (again) what I’ve been announcing. (I know that the view of some of colleagues is ‘what’s the point of doing PA’s - they don’t listen.  There are occasions when I wonder why I bother. 

I set off back westbound and make reasonable progress until about Victoria when things start slowing down.  We make slow progress towards Earls Court and I suspect that this is because there are problems with driver reliefs there.  Eventually I’m held so long I manage to get through to the Controller on the radio and he confirms this, "We’re blocking back into Earls Court driver - waiting for crew reliefs".  When I arrive at Earls Court I’m exactly on time - although I should have gone to Upminster and not just Bromley-by-Bow - a round trip of about forty minutes.  By this time the DOM (Duty Operations Manager -2nd I/C to God on LUL) has invoked the Emergency Timetable - second only to the second coming of Christ in LUL terms.

I’m relieved of my train (as planned) and report to the DMT.  This is at about 20:20.  My duty says my next booked train is due to be picked up at 21:20.  The train is given an Emergency Timetable number and departs.  I report to the DMT, "Duty Number xxx - due to pick up at 21:20 - shall I report back when I’m due to pick up?"  We’re only entitled to thirty minutes plus ‘walking time’, but it's worth a try.    "No, No - come back at 20:55." comes the reply (this is the bare 35 mins. we are allowed), so off I go to the canteen.

I should pick up my second train at 21:25, to be stabled at 01:13 - three hours fifty-two minutes driving.  I report back at the appointed time and am immediately given a pick up and told, "It’s in the platform - do Wimbledon - High Streets (Kensington) until you’re relieved."    So I get on the train at 20:56 - this means the latest I can get off it is at 0109 or I’ll be over my hours. 

From the messages being given by the Controller it is obvious that there’s still no service between Bromley-by-Bow and East Ham and it’s now over four hours since the incident occurred.  There is a bit of a variation when one is doing trains to and from Wimbledon and Richmond in that it’s your responsibility to let the signal operator know when you’re ready/due to depart.   This is done by pushing a button located at the end of each platform.    In the normal way you obviously know when you’re due to depart, but in the situation here you’re not working to a timetable, so it’s a matter of using common sense.

The normal service has trains departing Wimbledon at five minute intervals, so I decide to see what the situation is when I get to Wimbledon.  An eastbound train passes me at about Southfields and when I get to Wimbledon there’s nothing in the platforms at all, and a fair few passengers waiting.    So I decide that I’ll depart pretty well as soon as I’ve changed ends and set the train up.  I duly plunge, the signal clears and a final check in the monitors shows no one else arriving on the platform.  I do my PA announcement, close the doors and depart.

We get to Earls Court where I do a "This train is for one stop only to High Street Kensington - passengers for all other destinations should change here." announcement and, having given reasonable time for those who want to change to leave the train, set off to High Street.  I change ends, and wait for the signal to clear (it’s the responsibility of our signal operator now to regulate the service).  Eventually the signal clears, and it’s back to Wimbledon. This time there are other trains there, so I simply wait until I’m the first due to depart and leave five minutes after the last departure.

This continues a couple more times.  At about 22:00 the message comes through that the problem at West Ham has been cleared and trains are running through again.  It’s now approaching midnight and I calculate that I’ve not got time to do another trip to Wimbledon and back, but as I’m heading towards Earls Court the platform indicators are describing the train as an Earls Court service.  This would appear to make sense, as I can reverse the train there and make it back to Ealing Broadway and stable it in Ealing Common Depot just within my time limit. 

However, on arrival at Parsons Green the description has changed to High Street Kensington again. I decide to wait until I get to Fulham Broadway to see what I’m being described as there.  Sure enough, High Street again, so I call up the Controller.  I ask him to confirm where I’m going and he confirms High Street and then back to Wimbledon.  I tell him I’m running short of hours and all he can suggest is to call in to see the DMT at Earls Court when I leave High Street next.

It’s about 00:15 when I leave High Street and I arrive at Earls Court to find out what’s what.  The Duty Manager’s doing his best in difficult circumstances - drivers are all over the place and all he’s really got available are the night crews and there are few of these.   I say, "Well, I can do Ealing and stable, but if it’s got to go to Wimbledon, you’ll have to take me off".  In the end this is what happens.

I wait for an Ealing Broadway train (together with two other drivers who were also due to finish) and arrive back at Acton Town at about 00:50, so I’m actually finished about twenty minutes or so early. Given all the circumstances this is not much short of a miracle.

Post Script:  The next day I talk to a few other drivers and discover that what had happened was that some buildings adjacent to our lines had blown down and the debris had gone right across all of our and the adjacent C2C lines.  One driver had just been leaving West Ham heading west when it occurred and he was then stuck there for over five hours whilst the tracks were cleared.  I also ran into the Barking driver who’d travelled with me the previous night - he had eventually made it back to Barking at 21:00, a journey of almost three and a half hours from when I’d picked him up at Hammersmith. 

As I was heading east on my train, I picked up a Piccadilly Line driver at Gloucester Road who lives at Upminster Bridge and he’d also got caught up in the previous night’s carnage.  It had taken him four and a half hours to get home from Acton Town.  Pity the poor passengers who'd had to struggle through this lot as well.  Approaching West Ham we got a sight of the aftermath of the event.  There was still debris piled by the sides of the tracks and little or no sign of the former buildings.  It’s on occasions like this I’m glad I’m a driver and not a Duty Manager or Line Controller trying to juggle trains and crews to at least keep some sort of service running - they were all probably still lying down in a darkened room trying to recover, I suspect.

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Main Line Burst

Story supplied by "Metman" a former driver on the Metropolitan Line in 1973.

It was pouring with rain, cold and windy.    I was on an A Stock coming up on the 08:38 from Amersham to Liverpool Street.  In those days (1970s) we used to leave this train stabled at Liverpool Street between the rush hours.  It was the first half of a split turn.

I had a trainee driver with me this day.    He was a guard who had passed his driver's exam and was going through his driving experience.   He was doing very well.   He had been a guard for a few years and he was bright and was adapting to driving well.  As we dropped down from West Hampstead towards Finchley Road, my trainee pulled the brake on.  He only needed about half pressure to get a nice easy stop at Finchley Road but I noticed the train didn't respond very well.  He put on full e.p. and remarked to me, "She doesn't want to stop."  I judged we were OK to stop without going into emergency but it was a bit tight.  I wasn't too concerned.  "Probably a few wheels picked up with all this rain." I said. 

We stopped at Finchley Road - just.  The doors opened - we had guards to do the doors in those days - and then the guard's voice comes over the train loudaphone, "Driver, there's a lot of noise from down the train."  "OK, hang on," I shouted back.  I stuck my head out of the cab window and heard the sound of escaping air from along the train somewhere.  I looked back at the duplex gauge and noticed the main line air dropping with the train line air following.  I called back to the guard, "Meet me in the middle."

As I got out of the cab I told the trainee to shut down.  At that moment, the station inspector came up to me all of a panic and asked what was happening.  "Main Line burst" I told him, "Tip 'em out."  "What, now?"  "Yes, NOW,"  I shouted, "This train is bu**ered."  He started to call, "All Change, all change" as I continued up the train.

The train was packed but people were leaning out of the doors looking back towards the middle where the noise seemed to be coming from.    We sounded like a steam engine with the safety valves blowing.  The compressors were also running at full tilt.  It was very noisy.  A helpful passenger called out to me that there had been a big bang as the train ran past Neasden.

I met the guard in the middle.  I closed the CICs either side of the middle coupling point and told the guard he would have to get in the back cab and give me a release to get the brakes off.  He was a passed driver, a guard-motorman as we used to call them, waiting for a driving vacancy to get a full time driving job.  I knew him quite well.  He knew what to do and he had his own keys.  He walked back to the rear, tipping out passengers and closing car doors was he emptied each car.

I walked back towards the front but through the train so I could cut out the compressors and compressor governors on each trailer car.    This would stop the compressors running on the front unit and the governors from asking the compressors on the rear unit to keep running all the time.  They were now under the control of the governors on the rear unit.

When the guard got to the rear cab, he cut out the e.p. brake and audible warning to avoid the warning when he opened up to give me a release.  I got to the front, telling the inspector to tell the controller I was coming to Baker St with a main line burst on the front unit.  I took over from the trainee, cut out the e.p. and called over the phone for a release.  The brakes slowly came off as my guard opened up to give me air from the rear unit.  When the brakes were all off the train started to roll and I called for the guard to shut down.  We cautiously made our way down to Baker Street in this fashion, with me using the Westinghouse brake to slow the train on the steep downhill grade and my guard giving me a release when I called for it.

When we got to Baker Street, I got the signal for Platform 4, the short platform.  I gingerly coasted into the platform and stopped a few feet off the stops.  We shut down the train and the three of us stood on the platform wondering if someone would tell us what was to happen next.   All of a sudden, an Area Manager runs up asking, "What train is this?"  "Train 11" I replied. "I though you were stuck at Finchley Road with a burst." he said.  "We were", I replied. "You got here quickly", he said.

A relief crew showed up then to take the train back to Neasden and I told the driver what we had done.  His job was easier as he could brake and release normally from the front using Westinghouse.  I wandered round to the running office by Platform 5 (where it was then) and asked the Running Inspector what the delay was.  "Oh", he said, "The controller phoned to say it was 7 minutes and it was not bad".  Yup - not bad.  I told my trainee and the guard we had done well.  Not only that, we actually finished early because we didn't have to go to Liverpool Street.  A day which started badly turned out well for us and not too many passengers inconvenienced.  I found out later that a main reservoir drain valve had been knocked off by a p-way shovel left on the track. That was the big bang reported by the passenger.

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