Tiredness can be a real problem with this job.
The hours we do are extreme. First book-on is at 5am. Obviously this is before the trains start running and begs the question “How do drivers get to and from work when the public transport is not running?”. Not everyone has a car and to be honest, if every traindriver or member of station staff drove to work we’d need multi-storey carparks at every tube. Luckily the first answer was put in place even before it was common to have household cars. Line-taxis are in place to get staff to and from work.
Line-taxis are a strange concept. Mentally one has to consider them as a tiny little train. They are regular taxis but they follow the routes of the trains albeit obviously they go by road. They are timetabled just like trains and I am full of admiration for the person(s) who worked out the timetabling. Each taxi links in with all the other taxis at various stations – just like the real trains do. The only difference is that they don’t automatically run and staff specifically book them when needed. So if I want to get to St James Park from Finchley Road I might take a Jubilee taxi to Westminster and then switch to a Circle or District taxi. Neat.
Taxis are there for staff morning and night. This brings us to the second answer. How do staff get home? Well, some staff just don’t go home. Last book-on is after 2200 and there are a couple of drivers who do the last train and then go sit in a room somewhere and do the first train in the morning. Most sleep and there are some guys who spend years working nights this way. For the rest of us we finish with the late trains and have to get a line-taxi home.
One real problem I find is changing from dead lates to dead earlies. This is generally done across a restday to avoid breaching laws about having 12 hours off-shift. So the driver does their day of work (Monday) leaves for home at around 1am (Tuesday), has the rest of that day off and starts work at around 5am the next day (Wednesday). Spotted the problem yet? Well if you are working that particular pattern where do you sleep? Sleep on Tuesday morning and you’ll be up by the afternoon and unable to sleep again before your shift starts on Wednesday. If you wait to sleep until Tuesday evening then you’ll have been awake 24 hours at least and will be a zombie. It’s a problem I still haven’t worked out and I know many other drivers can’t seem to get to grips with it either. Nobody seems sure why LUL still use this changeover system when doing it the other way would make much more sense!
I find working earlies difficult as I am a night owl. Other drivers find the lates equally problematic if they are larks. Unsurprisingly our body-clocks don’t appreciate being forced to operate at the ‘wrong’ times and there are a frightening number of people driving trains around while suffering extreme jet lag. And unfortunately we are in a warm, comfy(ish) chair, all alone with dim lighting and are being gently rocked back and forward as the train moves. Just the right conditions for falling asleep in other words. I know of several people who have fallen asleep while driving and no matter what they say, it IS possible to keep that Deadman down whilst unconscious! Personally I won’t let myself sleep while driving but I do tend to shut my eyes at stations and have micro-sleeps. The OPO alarm goes off after 60 seconds and makes a useful alarm clock!
One valuable lesson I recieved back in training was “Talk to The Voices”. Now most drivers, if asked, will complain about The Voices being shirty or stroppy. Admittedly they can get a bit tetchy at times and their instructions and questions can seem completely random but they are there to do a job and part of that job is ensuring the safety of the passengers and driver. The other day I was too tired after no sleep on a late-to-early shift change and felt I couldn’t safely drive the train. I asked for a PNR* but discovered there was nobody spare to take my train. This leaves me with a problem because I needed to stop driving but couldn’t just magic away the train. I gave up trying to figure it out and phoned the The Voices direct. He wasn’t greatly pleased at my telling him I could not drive for a while but he does have a duty of care and arranged for me to go out of service and hide out in a siding for a little while. When I later went back into service after a short and unexpected nap (I only sat down for five minutes!) I was checked up on a lot by both the The Voices and a manager he sent to check on my condition. After a considerably longer nap over my mealbreak I felt much better and finished out the rest of the day. I have no idea if there will be anything said when I next book-on but really, I don’t care. If in doubt doing the safe thing is always right and I cannot be faulted for being plain exhausted.
Normally I can just about cope with the early starts given that I typically get at least a couple of hours sleep. It was just unfortunate on this occasion that I got no sleep at all overnight. I hope, though, that they are a thing of the past as I am due to become mafiosa and I’ll be getting rid of those earlies as fast as humanly possible!
*Personal Needs Relief. To cover…well…anything really. Bathroom break, getting a drink, headache, need to get fresh air, tiredness…it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin and that’s what spare drivers are there for.