I was running an empty train the other day. We do this one daily. In the morning the train works the morning peak and then is taken to the depot to be cleaned up, checked over and readied for service. A while later somebody runs it empty down to the other end of the line so that it can sit in readiness just in case we need to replace a defective train.

It’s quite weird running empty. Firstly it’s difficult to get the speed right. We use the dot-matrix on the platform to tell us how far back the train behind is but there’s no way of knowing how far on the train in front is. Well…there is…but that involves lots of red signals and chasing reds is a Bad Thing. Ideally I will try to ensure the train behind is at least three or four minutes away so that I am not holding them up. This involves going reasonably fast in the tunnel section. The trouble is that the station starter signals are always red as a train enters the platform. This pretty much obliges the driver to stop of their own volition or be forced to do so in a great big hissing rush of air and embarrassment. Difficulties arise as the train has to go fast in the tunnels but slowly through the platforms. We’d never want to stop an empty train on a platform if we can possibly avoid it as sometimes customers get weird ideas about trying to board empty, dark trains.

Dark is another issue. When we run empty we turn the saloon lights out. This freaks me the hell out.

There’s two sorts of lighting in the saloons. The normal lighting which runs straight off the power rails is the one that stutters and blinks occasionally. This happens because the train has gone over a rail gap or some points where there are no power rails ergo no power to keep the lights going. It can be a bit disconcerting to be driven slowly over a longish rail gap as the lights will dim or go out for ages. Fortunately each car also has emergency lighting which runs on a separate circuit and is powered by the train battery. So it never goes off. I now have visions of random passengers reading this and then sitting on trains gazing at the ceiling and trying to work out which light is which. 😀

When we run empty we turn of ALL the lights: normal and emergency. I’ve mentioned previously that a fair bit of the saloon light is reflected off the tunnel walls and into the cab. This is nice. Not so nice is sitting there in the dark with only the headlights and a few small lights in the cab. Ironically, one of these lights is the one that tells me that I’ve turned my saloon lights off*. But still, it’s bloody dark! Oh look, here come the heebie jeebies. 😦

My normal environment = warm, comfy glow of lights all around and noise, chatter and movement from the customers. My running empty environment = complete darkness behind me and utter silence. Actually, not utter silence. Trains make all sorts of odd noises and you only ever hear them if there are no customers (or if you are on your sweat day). Naturally these noises take the form of doors banging open due to some violent braking, rhythmic thudding noises sounding remarkably like footsteps and which I hope are caused by the air vents, the creak of the inter-car-barriers and the faint call of ‘braaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnns’ from somewhere far back in the train. It can be quite unnerving.

It’s the dark that I find most disconcerting. I usually don’t mind the dark whether that be Surface dark or driving dark. Frankly, it would be a bit silly to drive a train underground if I was! But the dark in the tunnels is something extra. I’ve never not seen dark like it. In fact, my first thought on returning from leave is usually ‘Bloody hell it’s dark down here!’. Trust me on this – there’s lots and lots of dark piling up down there.

And they make me turn off the bloody lights. 😦

*We do a nice line in irony. We also have a light called the Train Secure light. It only lights up when the security of the train has been breached.