Saturday, 15 March 2014

Unkle Bob has gone.  Those who a few weeks earlier condemned him as a political dinosaur from the 70s that should be locked in the Tower and questioned whether he should be sunning himself on a beach in Brazil (or wearing those shorts) with a strike looming are now shedding crocodile tears while declaring what a great loss he is, how he stuck to his principles and how respected he was.  Now they reveal that he wasn’t the rabid Marxist bully boy he was portrayed as but a polite if determined negotiator with strong principles, it seems all you have to do is die and everyone loves you.

For myself I admired what he achieved at RMT but not the methods he employed to achieve it, whoever his successor is will find him a hard act to follow and no doubt they will suffer the same character assassination attempts that he was subjected to.  Bob was four months younger than me, a reminder that we all have a date with the undertaker and none of us know when it is.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Richard Tracey says “Accelerating driverless trains on the underground would cut the huge £141M annual tube driver wage bill. Ultimately this will help bear down on fares for Londoners and pay for vital progress like 24 hour trains and flexible ticketing.”

All very nice except we’ll be running Night Tube from autumn next year and the first line to go fully NoPO won’t be until ten years after.  As for the cutting the wage bill…..

If by 2033 30% of trains will be driverless let’s assume there will be a proportional reduction in TOps, cutting the wage bill to around £100m which is a fairly impressive saving.  However Mike Brown has said that while trains will not have drivers they won’t be unstaffed, there will be the new grade of Train Attendant who will carry out the same function as the PSAs on the DLR.  PSAs get around £36k, roughly 75% of what TOps get so let’s say that TAs will be on a similar salary which means that the wage bill will only be cut by 7.5% to £130m.

So every year LUL will save what Wayne Rooney makes in 8 months.  Terrific.

Friday, 28 February 2014

And we're off!  LUL have announced they are tendering for 250 new “air-cooled” and “walk-through” trains for the Piccadilly, Central, Bakerloo and Waterloo & City Lines that will be “capable of full automation” with the necessary upgrades to signalling at a total cost of £16.4bn.  Tendering will go through until next year with the contract awarded in 2016.

Driverless trains are on the way.

Following the link on the TfL’s webpage leads to a file that states that they don’t expect to have the Piccadilly running at the projected increased capacity until 2025, the Central until 2030, the W&C by 2032 and the Bakerloo by 2033.  Whether this means that the Lines will not be fully automated until those dates is unclear but one would assume that once the last manned trains were retired reaching the required capacity would follow soon after.  Regardless that will still leave the Jubilee, Northern, Victoria and four Sub Surface Lines running in ATO with a TOp in the cab which Mike Brown estimated as 70% of trains.

So if the Central Line will not be fully NoPO until 2030 then I will be 69, retired to the North Norfolk coast with a Staffy keeping me active, Unkle Bob will be the same age on a beach in Brazil, Boris will be 64 sitting on the back benches wondering where it all went wrong while Richard Tracey will be 87 and dribbling into his porridge.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Karma is a wonderful thing, the idea that things will cosmically balance out, that for every bad thing something good happens and vice versa.

I picked up my second half yesterday at LES and when I changed ends at WER I noticed a huge crack in the offside windscreen.  I looked through the defect log to see if it had been reported but there was no mention, just the usual traction faults, ATP problems and dodgy porter buttons on Car 2.  I noted it and carried on, went up to EPP then headed back to LES to finish, it had been a long shift and I was already dreaming of my duvet.

When I arrived at LES there was no one waiting to take me off so I waited for a couple of minutes before calling the DTSM on the desk to let them know that my relief was a no-show.  After another wait the DTSM eventually called back to say that it was meant to be a HAI night turn, they’d not booked on, HAI had no idea where they were, there were no spares available again and I’d have to take the train empty to WOO sidings.

I went back car by car, giving the passengers the bad news, closing up as I went and when the next WB train came into sight I’d closed up everything apart from the front two cars.  I hurried to get the last passengers across, hit the porter buttons, jumped in the cab and called up Wood Lane to let them know I was ready to move.  Wood Lane waited for a suitable gap in the service then cleared the signal, I pushed out the TBC and nothing happened.

I tried all the things I could think of that could be wrong but still nothing.  I called Wood Lane to let them know that I wasn’t getting any movement and they took a release on the signal while I sorted things out so that trains could run around me.  I tried everything again with no success and it was only then that I noticed that I didn’t have a “door closed visual”.  Then I remembered that note in the defect log about dodgy porter buttons on Car 2 and yes, in my hurry to get the passengers over to the arriving train I’d left the doors open.  Bugger.

So I closed the doors on Car 2, called Wood Lane to let them know I’d sorted things out, not mentioning that I’d made the simplest mistake it is possible to make, waited for another gap in the service, put the train in the sidings at WOO, waited for a train back to LES and dumped my equipment back in my locker just slightly over 45 minutes late.  Ain’t karma great.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

I have experienced quite a few strange things in the years I’ve been a TOp but yesterday was something new; getting out of work early because we didn’t have enough staff.  My duty was one of those unbalanced affairs that the clever people who write the rosters and timetables at 55 Broadway come up with, little work on the first half, everything on the second with nearly 4 hours between the end of the meal break and the finish.

The problem was that HAI had quite a few duties uncovered, one of which was meant to take me off at LES at the end of my second half and because of the absences all the spares were busy.  Normally if there is no one available to take you off you have to take the train to the nearest depot or sidings and we get hit for the overtime but as my second half was so lengthy I’d have gone over the 4 hour 15 minute limit.  So instead of going WHC-WER-DEB-WHC-LES I was told to go WHC-WER-HvN and stable.  I suppose they could have short turned me at LES EB or MAA WB but as this was in the middle of the evening peak I guess Wood Lane thought it would be too much hassle and it would be simpler to just get me out of the way.

Wood Lane radioed me to inform me of this fortuitous decision when I was at WHC EB, when I got to SHB the platform dot matrix was still showing DEB but when I got to HOP it had changed to HvN.  And then it got weird, at NHG it was displaying WHC, back to HvN at QUE and WHC again at LAG.  It alternated all the way through to BAN and LIS which both showed me as WHC but after BEG it stuck with HvN.

The fun was you could spot which SATS were paying attention and which weren’t; the attentive ones were peering at the front of the train as I arrived on the platform to check where I was going, the less attentive ones hadn’t bothered looking at the dot matrix until I arrived and started the PA “This train calls all stations to….” before they noticed the error.

I ended up getting off the train in HAI depot about the time I should have been leaving DEB on the WB, all of which illustrates that putting more trains on a timetable and actually running  a service are two very different things.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A couple of things greeted me on my return after a week off, the first being the news that STR is now the No. 1 station on the Central Line for Platform Train Interface incidents, or as one might say in the real world, people having accidents getting on and off trains.  We’ve been reminded that we must make PAs to warn the passengers when we are closing the doors both WB and EB which I find a bit odd as I’m pretty damn sure that the instructions we were given when Plat. 3B opened only specified that PAs were to be made on the WB, I don’t recall any instructions ever being given before about the EB so how can we be reminded to do so.

Regardless, from now on I’ll be doing PAs in both directions at STR although I do wonder if most of the PTI incidents are caused when people use the train as a short cut between Plat.3 and 5 via Plat. 3B to the main concourse.

The other issue is “Prompt Dispatch”, the news that in future we will be monitored to ensure that we are leaving on time and not lingering beyond our timetabled departure.  Apparently if we dawdle for more than 30 seconds at WER, EAB, WHC, LOU, EPP or HAI a computer program will record our tardiness and we will be dragged up before a DTSM to explain the delay.  If we are recorded dallying twice in six months it will be addressed as a “performance issue”.

I’ll be honest and admit that there are some TOps who turn up late for pickups or some who like to chat when they hand over a train but equally there are those who seem to like to shut the doors and disappear the moment the signal clears in an attempt to squeeze a few seconds onto their meal break or off the end of their shift.  I wait until the countdown clock tells me it's time to go, if I get delayed after that then it's usually down to the passengers.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Following my last post there have been some comments about what TOps could expect from “Fit for future; trains” and there seemed to be the opinion that we’d be facing something similar to station staff, with downgrading, wage cuts and working anywhere on the network.  I’m not so pessimistic as I think what people have missed is the fundamental difference between how stations and trains operate.

On stations you had three grades of Supervisor along with SAMFs, SACRs and CSAs, all carrying out separate functions but on trains you only have TOps or IOps and when IOps aren’t training, which is most of the time, they do exactly the same job as TOps.   

Salaries aren’t being cut on stations, CSMs will be paid the same as SSs and any SAMF/SACR who is fortunate enough to get a CSS position will actually get a pay rise.  The big difference is that there are fewer jobs at a higher salary, staff are being downgraded, not asked to do the same job for less.  Unless the plan is for TOps on ATO lines get less than those on manual lines then there isn’t much fiddling around you can do but even that would run into difficulties.

What would happen when the ATO lines had to work manual, would TOps get paid at the higher level?  When they finally get around to converting the Sub Surface lines to ATO will TOps be paid less when they cross into the sections that have been converted?  Shunting in and out of sidings, when we’re asked to go Coded because there’s trouble on the platform ahead?  Working on the Waterloo and City?  In bad weather would Wood Lane have to decide if they could afford to instruct trains in open section go Coded?

Station staff can work anywhere provided they’ve been familiarised at the station, TOps can only drive the stock they’ve been trained to operate and the line they’re licenced for.  If they wanted to send me to Golders Green or Acton Town I’d need to be trained on the stock and then spend time learning the “road”, it would be at least 6-8 weeks before I could start working on my own.

I don’t know what LUL will propose next year but the restrictions TOps work under make it very hard to mess with our jobs.  Yes, they could impose a wage cut across the board but they’d be facing another joint strike except this time they wouldn’t be able to use office staff “ambassadors” to fill in driving trains.  "Flexibility" on stations will be very different from "Flexibility" on trains.