People often complain that traindrivers earn far too much for sitting on their arses all day. To this most drivers will nod, look grave and then solemnly repeat the traindrivers’ mantra, ‘We don’t get paid for what we do; we get paid for what we know’. Then – depending on the driver – they’ll either bore you to tears with lengthy explanations of everything they need to know about trains or they’ll scarper quick before you can annoy them further. We do have a lot of knowledge. In fact, just the other night a few of us were sitting around discussing the huge amount of useless information trainees are obliged to learn before they can become drivers. Knowing the names of valves which none of us ever see, touch or have any ability to fix should they go wrong is just one example of stuff we don’t need to know. I think sometimes the trainers go a little bit overboard.

I’ve been having an eventful week. Today I picked up a train and had words with the driver. Not those kind of words. The kind of words where he tells me there is this odd knocking noise at the back of the train and he’s asked for a Train Maintainer. I asked a couple of questions and quickly worked out what the defect must be – something vaguely annoying but not really requiring a TM. So I called up The Voices and cancelled the TM and spun the train round in the siding. (No, not literally. Tsk).

As the signal cleared I wound up and moved about an inch before hearing the ‘odd’ noise. Then I dropped the handle in terror and wondered what the hell had just fallen off my train. This was in no way an ‘odd’ noise. It was the most godawful wrenching, grinding clanking sound I’ve ever heard in my life. The previous driver was either a lying bastard or an absolute master of understatement. Haven’t decided which yet. I looked over at the driver in the siding next to me and gently enquired what the fuck that was????

Repeating line breakers was the answer. I know what line breakers are. I even know what the word ‘repeating’ means. There are no gaps in my knowledge there. Put those concepts together and you get…um…. The other driver shouted over that I’d need a TM and not to bother opening my doors in the platform. Good plan. I called for a TM only to be told he’d been sent on another job. ‘OK, um…I’m running empty then’. ‘Ok Driver’.

Off I toddled to the south end of the line with that groaning, clanking din chasing me every time I wound up. I’m thankful that I was going downhill and could mostly coast. I consoled myself that at least the train couldn’t actually fall to bits. Well, it could, but I’d definitely know if it did that and I couldn’t just drive off and leave bits of my train behind. Well, I could, but…now I think about it, there’s no ‘but’ there. Let’s gloss over. Anyways, I got to the end of the line and considered what to do. I’d had no instructions and was still baffled as to what this defect was. Had a quick flick through the DISI and came up with nothing. I decided I needed instructions and dashed for the nearest phone – surely a DMT would know what to do! The phone rang on and on with no answer. I picked up the other phone to the other DMTs’ office and let it ring on too. So there I was, standing with a phone pressed to each ear, no idea what to do with the shrieking lump of metal whose sorry arse I’d just dragged down the road wondering if it was going to blow up, fall to bits or who knows what, kicking the wall and quietly muttering ‘fucksocks’ to myself.

Other drivers appeared. Much explanation of the defect was given. Crucially this all centred around what the hell it was and not how to actually fix it. Glancing at the platform I could see my signal was green. Clearly somebody wanted me to go somewhere with the train but where? And should I take passengers with me or take a brave stance and die alone? Thankfully somebody who spoke more sense than the rest wanted a lift and advised just driving it north for a bit. As we travelled he explained what the problem was and that while it was unfixable by a driver there was a simple remedy which would mean the train could stay in service. Then he left and I continued on. It wasn’t so bad driving in this direction as the problem was at the other end of the train. It’s amazing how reassuring it is not to hear an awful noise every time you accelerate. Eventually a TM appeared and tinkered for all of thirty seconds. In fact, I’d say it took him longer to walk to the other end of the train than it did to deal with the problem. I like TMs.

So I returned to the place I’d started in and asked The Voices if they’d like me to re-enter service. They politely indicated they had a preference for me to do so and I let the passengers on the train. I take great issue with this response. In fact, if they hadn’t been so agreeable in the first place there’d have been fewer problems. The trouble with calling them up and confidently stating that you have problem x and that you’re going out of service is that they often just take your word for it. Honestly! I wouldn’t mind if they argued a little now and then. Or tried to persuade me otherwise. At least I’d gain some idea of what the hell was wrong with the bloody trains. But no, there they go assuming that just because i sound like I knwo what I’m talking about I actually do. It’s not right.