A Typical Day for a Driver
By District Dave
As its now been some time since I wrote my
original piece for Tubeprune, I thought it might be of interest
for readers to see what the day-to-day life of a driver is like. What follows is a
bit of an insight into what we do, when and why and how the various shifts work.
Shift Work - Rostered Duties - Early Turn - Preparing a Train for Service - In Service
- Late Turns - Spare Turns - Other Turns
Well, thats actually not quite accurate as no two
duties are the same, so what Ill do is try to give you a feel for what occurs at
different times during the day, depending on the shift being worked.
Its worth remembering that London Underground trains
start running at about 05:15 in the morning and that the working day continues until about
01:30 the following morning, so a drivers shift falls somewhere in this period. If a
driver follows his own rota hell do one week of early turns (these are where you
book on from anything between 0445 until about 1200) and one week of late turns (starting
from about 1300 onwards). The longest shifts are eight and a half hours (including a
thirty minute meal break) but there are some shorter turns too.
Our working week is thirty-five hours (average) and you work
five days out of seven. The work period is from Sunday to the following Saturday.
Rest Days (non-working days) vary. Sometimes you get two together, some are
split and occasionally you get four together, two from one week and two from the next all
in one spell. In fact, most working weeks are about thirty-six and a half hours.
These extra hours are accumulated and additional annual leave days are
allowed for this over a twelve-month period.
At first this all seems very complex and confusing, but it
doesnt take too long to get into the swing of it.
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Each duty is unique and books on at slightly different times.
Allowance is made for time to book on, to check current notices and then to be in
position to pick up your train at the appointed time. If youre bringing a
train into service from a depot, the times also allow for you to walk into the depot and
carry out the various pre-service checks before the train enters passenger service.
Similarly, if youre doing lates and stabling a train at the end of the
day they also allow time for walking out of the depot.
All through the day, some drivers are rostered as
Spares. This essentially means that you dont have an allocated
duty as such, but are there to cover unexpected absences, uncovered duties, late running
and so on. There are also a few night duties, but nights dont come round too
often - about every thirty-five weeks or so and theyre a sort of mix of lates and
Its an accepted practice that drivers can swap duties
between themselves. For example, some drivers prefer all early turns, some
prefer all late turns. Some depots even have people who run a system of
trading duties - a sort of pool system (known within London Underground as a
Mafia). At my depot we dont have this, so some drivers have a regular
changeover (where they simply do each others duties on the opposite
rota) but some spend a lot of their spare time contacting other drivers to swap duties
Personally, I just follow the roster. As
far as Im concerned, earlys and lates each have their own advantages and
disadvantages and by doing this I know (or can quickly work out) what Ill be working
months in advance and when Ill be on rest days. I dont like nights
though (some drivers do) and these are the only turns Ill try to get rid of.
Ill occasionally change duties with one of my friends if they need a particular rest
day, or an earlier or later finish (for example) - and theyll then do the same for
me if I need a similar change for a particular reason.
In addition to all this, each depot has (or should have) a
pool of drivers who are often new to the depot and are not on the roster.
They will only find out on a Thursday what they will be working the following week.
They are assigned their duties but they have the flexibility to request rest days
(within reason) and to request early or late turns. But most are just waiting for a
vacant slot on the roster.
In principal, thats how it works. With me so far?
Good. To try to put all this into some sort of perspective, Ill use a couple
of duties as an example - one early, one late.
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This is a typical train crew duty as
usually posted. The duty shown here is the second duty of the day at Acton Town
(District - there is a Piccadilly depot there too). The first number (3) indicates
its an Acton duty and the next two (in this case 02) show its the second duty
on the book.
So what does that all tell me? Well, its just really a
summary of when and where the duty starts and finishes, what trains youll be
handling, where theyre due to go and when theyre due to arrive and depart from
the various destinations. Additionally, it tells when and where youll be
relieved for your meal break, then when and where you pick up after your break and also
where you finish your duty and at what time.
Before going into detail its worth translating the
abbreviations: - ECDT.E - Ealing Common depot and the final E tells the train will depart
eastbound towards Acton Town. H.ST is High Street Kensington; EAL - Ealing Broadway;
UPM - Upminster, ECT.W - Earls Court, the W indicating the westbound platforms; ECT.E -
Earls Court, the E indicating the eastbound platforms.
So, this particular duty books on at 04:48 and the first
train is due to depart from the depot at 05:12. This seems quite a generous time,
but remember the driver has to walk into the depot and prepare the train for service
before it goes out. You cant just jump into a train which no one is handing over to
you; you need to make sure its fit for service.
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Preparing a Train for Service
As I said, its really pre-service checks - seeing that
everythings working as it should and is set up properly. The checks are
relatively straight forward and every driver has his own routine for carrying them out.
Some checks are mandatory and must be signed off in the train log to
certify that theyve been done. These mainly relate to the braking system
Firstly I check that the tail lights (red) are all working
before I put the control key to on. Then with the Control key
on, I check that the red lights have gone out and the normal white front
lights have lit. Select the correct destination for the train on the destination
blind and change the train set numbers to the correct set. I then start from the
back panel on the left hand side (i.e. the side on which the drivers seat and the
control desk are sited) and work round the cab until I finish at the back panel on the
right hand side. I then start round the cab. For cab details of District trains go
to C Stock and D
At the rear panel I am just checking that the various
switches are correctly set and that the cab heating is where I want it for the time of day
and season. On the panel next to drivers desk containing the PA handset (is it
working?) and saloon lights (are they on?), I will trip out (switch off) the MAs
(Motor Alternators) and Overloads (the devices which pass the current to the motors) and
reset (switch on) those.
Is the Pilot Light (which indicates the doors are closed)
lit? If its not its probably because the cab door at the other end of
the train has been left open and I wont be able to finish all my checks at this end
until Ive gone to the other end of the train. This panel also has the train
radio control. Theres no test for this but youll soon here the depot calling
other trains, or you, when its time to depart.
On the desk itself, I check the wipers and whistle are
working and that the air pressure gauge is reading within normal limits. I then put
the Yale type key (known as the RKL 220 key) into the selector switch and select the
normal position - in this case this is FOR2 (this allows the train to move) and make sure
the CTBC (Combined Traction Brake Controller) is in its normal position for the brake test
Next I move to the TMS (Train Monitoring
System) unit. This piece of equipment does exactly what it says and draws the
attention of the driver to any faults or defects mainly by a light illuminating and an
audible alert sounding.
The various rotary switches allow a large number of faults
and defects to be either rectified or overcome from the cab, thus (in theory) allowing a
driver to get a defective train moving again fairly quickly.
Firstly I operate the Lamp Test button.
This does just that - when pressed all the lights should illuminate and the audible
Next is the Brake test. This is done using various
combinations of the Safety Brake Feed switch and the buttons on the Brake Test panel.
If all is as it should be, I can sign off the train log. As I do
this I also have a quick look to see if any past niggles have been recorded - they can act
as a warning that there may be some minor fault.
Now its on to the left hand side. Are the
Weak Field and Coasting Control switches set correctly? The left
hand side panel - is the Heat and Vent control cut in (it should be,
irrespective of the weather, as its thermostatically controlled), are the MA lights
lit - if theyre not the MAs are either tripped or the train is not
drawing current. I operate the Passenger Alarm test to make sure thats
Next I carry out a Traction Test - this allows you to make
sure that the trains motors are delivering movement. Finally I operate the
CSDE (Correct Side Door Enable) override and check that the doors on both sides of the
train open and close correctly. And finally I check the door panel on the back
bulkhead and the MCB (Miniature Circuit Breaker) panel to make sure theyre all set
correctly. And then you head off to the other end of the train to do it all again.
On my walk through I have a look to make sure all the fire
extinguishers are in place and correctly sealed and that the cars are generally fit for
service. So the checks are repeated. Additionally, if the train is stabled on a shed
road you must check to make sure the shed leads (which supply power to the end of the
train thats off juice) have been removed. If they havent and
you move off, serious damage will occur to your train, the leads, and other trains nearby
and to the shed too. You will not be popular
So, back to the front of the train and wait for the depot
shunter to call you down to leave the depot. While waiting I usually do a few bits
like put my Hi-Vi back in my bag and prepare my mug to make a coffee at either Ealing
Broadway or Acton Town, depending on which direction Ill be going.
When the shunter does call, youll follow his
instructions, depending on where in the depot you are but in all cases you will arrive at
an outlet signal. This is a shunt signal which also confirms the route
thats been set for you and is operated from the Signal Centre at Earls Court (for
Ealing Common Depot). When the signal operator is ready for you to depart the signal
clears and away you go. At this point the train radio automatically switches from the
depot channel to the line channel.
So finally youre in service. All that seems
pretty complex and it all happens in less than half an hour. In fact, if you develop
a routine (and what Ive described is mine - each driver has his own variations) it
can all be done with time to spare.
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This is reasonably self-explanatory and is the part of the
duty that the travelling public sees. But there are a number of things that, I
suppose, passengers either just take for granted or are not aware of. The obvious
ones are being watchful at stations - allowing enough time for passengers to safely
board or leave the train, whilst keeping the dwell time down to a minimum.
At stations where passengers can cross the platform from one
train to another (like at Acton Town, Hammersmith, Barons Court and Earls Court - and
these are just a few) we should try to watch for trains arriving on the adjacent platform,
so that they can change trains. This isnt always easy.
At some places you have a very restricted view of the
adjacent platform and its easy to miss a train pulling in. I know that sounds
odd, but its true. Most of the time you focus on the mirrors or monitors and
they do not give a view across the platform and, if the platform has a curve (such as at
Acton Town), this makes the situation even worse.
You have to watch your route. That may sound obvious
but its easy for a signal operator to give you a wrong route (particularly at
somewhere like Earls Court where the options are many), so you need to be vigilant to look
for these errors. If youre not you can end up going the wrong way and that
displeases many (and not just passengers). Story here.
You have to watch signals. That may sound obvious, but
its true. Through the central area (between Gloucester Road and Tower Hill)
theres a train about every two minutes. If the train ahead is late for any
reason, there is very little space between you, so you must expect the next signal to be
red. If you dont (or your attention wanders) a SPAD is the likely
. I once had a driver from one of the TOCs in my cab and he was amazed
not only at the number of signals that we have but also how often you see the tail lights
of the train ahead. You should do appropriate Public Address announcements, not only
at stations but also if youre held between stations for more than two
minutes you should keep the passengers informed.
There are a few other things to do - listening out for radio
calls, looking for persons about the track, watching out for any hazards, temporary speed
restrictions and many more. Perhaps the odd signal failure or other service
disruption can creep into the equation as well. So in the example of this duty you
have to keep up this level of concentration for about three and a half hours and
thats only the first half. So thats an early turn.
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These are really pretty much the reverse of the above, in
that you will pick up trains in service and, often, end the day by stabling
the train back into the depot.
The following is fairly typical for a
Dead Late. The duty starts at 1701 and finishes at 0113 the next
morning, involves running two trains around and finishing the day by stabling the train
back into Ealing Common Depot. The difference is that stabling a train has its own
When withdrawing a train from service its the
drivers responsibility to ensure that all the passengers are off the train.
This is done by physically checking each car and making sure its clear of
passengers. This can have its own problems if someones fallen asleep and
are at the wrong end of the line and theres no more trains back. Theyre
often angry (with themselves, I suppose) but take it out on you - you need to develop a
thick skin for occasions such as this. But (eventually!) youll persuade them
off the train, get all the doors closed and then wait for the signal to clear so that you
can make your way towards the depot.
Although this is all timetabled too, it doesnt always
quite go according to the book. Its quite common to move up slowly
from signal to signal, while trains ahead make their way into the depot and perhaps with a
few Piccadilly Line trains making their way to and from Rayners Lane.
Finally you arrive at the inlet signal to the depot.
When the points clear a route indicator tells whether youre being directed onto one
of the two reception roads (in which case you follow the signals) or onto one of the
stabling roads, either inside or outside the sheds. If the latter is the case the
duty shunter will give you a green light and indicate where youre going. You proceed
as directed, stop the train in the appropriate place, shut the train down and thats
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This is a term that you may have heard and one that often
leaves people puzzled. A Spare duty is where you dont have any
trains rostered to you. You book on for duty at the appointed time and place and
then run as directed. The duty also has a book off time, so you will do
as much (or as little!) as the Duty Managers give you. This can vary a lot.
If there is an unexpected absence (through illness for
example) and the uncovered duty falls within your duty times, you may be given the whole
turn and perhaps run right up to your time. On the other hand, if there
is a full book (i.e. no duties uncovered) you may just be used to cover things
such as short meal breaks or PNRs. This is a Physical Needs Relief.
The driver needs to use the toilet and rather than just leave the train in
the platform, a Spare may take it (say) from Earls Court to Wimbledon and
back, where the original driver will take the train over again.
Some Spare turns end up being a mix of both.
But what every driver hopes for is that hell get to cut away
early, that is finish before their appointed time. It doesnt often happen but
when it does its a bonus. As an example, I recently had a spare turn that was
due to book on at about 1515 - the duty was due to finish at about 2345. I arrived
early (as I usually do) at about 1445. Within ten minutes it was clear that a driver
who should have booked on hadnt done so and the Duty Manager asked if I was prepared
to start early to cover the duty, which I was. He asked me to cover the whole duty
(which was due to finish at about 2130) and that it would be job and finish -
that is when Id done it, I was free to go.
So Id be cutting away over two hours early - very nice.
In addition hed pay me two hours overtime for the fact that Id started
before my appointed time, helped him out and prevented a train being cancelled.
Whilst that seems generous (which - for me - it is), in terms of the money saved by not
cancelling the train, it was insignificant. So for the sake of a bit of co-operation
I finished over two hours early and got two hours overtime as well. Not all my
colleagues will help out like this, however, but they are within their rights not to start
before their due time, so this is a personal thing.
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Of course, there are other duties that book on and off at
different times of the day, some of which may involve some (or all) of the above, and some
that just involve running the trains in service. Night duties also come
up occasionally. Again there are running and spare turns at
night. These mostly deal with the very last and first trains and can, if required,
run during the night as required, for example if there are snow falls and
sleet working is required to keep running and current rails clear. On
our roster, nights occur about every thirty-eight weeks. Personally I try to avoid
them and will exchange duties with someone who does like them and there are quite a few
who do. But all are slightly different. Some are considered rough
(long and hard) or snips (short and sweet!). But the basic idea is
that over a two-week period you should be booked on for about seventy-six
hours. So there it is - a few examples that I hope will give some insight into a
See also the Train Operator's