This happened a long time ago. Back when I was a baby traindriver.

I’d only been driving on my own for about three months. So I generally knew what I was doing but was still fairly inexperienced. And I’m pretty sure that most mistakes made by drivers are born of inexperience rather than lack of knowledge. We do lots (and lots and lots) of training but much of it is theoretical and it’s not until a situation is actually experienced that ways to deal with it are truly learnt. Defect handling is a good example of this. Although we certainly do lots of practical training on how to fix broken trains, it all takes place in a nice quiet depot with no passengers around or Voice making polite enquiries as to your progress. So when a train does actually have a defect a new driver will have to sit and think about how to fix it whereas a more experienced driver will have likely had that defect before and know immediately how to fix it.

It’s pretty much the same story for driving. Although there’s been lots and lots of training it is still expected that new drivers will be the ones going around making the basic mistakes (though hopefully also learning from them!). In my first six months if there was a signal passed at danger on my line it was uncanny the way every driver I met automatically assumed it had been me. And on one occasion it nearly was.

During a late evening of trundling up and down I came into a station, opened the doors and went into hibernate mode while the computer did all the announcements. As it got to ‘Get out of the bloody way you idiots’ I came back to life, hit the button for the doors to close and carried on my merry way. And only then did I notice that the station starter signal had not cleared and I was rapidly winding up towards a red. Oh noes! One emergency application of the brakes later and the train was at a standstill and I was able to watch the signal change to green. In one sense this was good news as I was on the correct side of the signal and thus happy to watch it change. On the other hand, it was a bit annoying to realise that had I not noticed the red and just kept going it would have changed as I passed and I probably wouldn’t have spadded or been tripped.

Still, here I had a train fully stopped and partway into the tunnel and I had to do something about it. Just driving on was out of the question as if the driver is unable to see the platform monitors he is unable to tell whether passengers are trying to board or have fallen down the Gap or have otherwise put themselves in danger. Station staff have to come down and act as the driver’s eyes and in order obtain station staff the driver has to talk to The Voices. Arse. This would mean confessing that I’d screwed up and had not followed the correct procedure before leaving the platform. And as the whole thing was entirely my fault I wasn’t wildly looking forward to it. They can be very polite, you know. 😦

I called them up and identified my train and location. Procedure is not to just launch into a long story about what is going on because they need a moment to glance up at the Tracker and see where you are and what is going on around you. So they had no idea why I was calling, just that I was calling. Bear in mind that I was calling them about five seconds after I stopped and the signal had changed.

I was immediately called back and heard The Voice say “Sorry driver, you weren’t supposed to be held there. If you do get any further red signals call me immediately and I’ll clear them for you”. Ummm…….what? O-kaaaay….The Voices think I’m calling up to complain about getting an unexpectedly long red. It rather flustered me to receive an apology when actually I was the one at fault and I quite forgot how I’d been going to word my story. Resulting in me replying “Um, thanks…but actually I was calling to say I’m past the monitors and I need station staff to assist me”. This was technically true. I was past the monitors. The fact that I came to be past them because of winding up against a red signal and thus was an utter screw-up was also true but as I say, I was flustered by the apology and was just trying to deal with the situation. And after the cheery “Ok driver, I’ll send staff down” I was even more flustered by wondering had any of The Voices noticed that I hadn’t just messed up the braking and gone past the monitors but had stopped precisely, allowed passengers off and on and had only then moved past the monitors on my way through a red signal. CCTV can be a blessing and a curse.

Fortunately the control room didn’t appear to be viewing the cameras on my platform. The same was not true for the station staff who had clocked exactly what was going on and were kind enough to make announcements to the passengers coming onto my platform that due to ‘a defect’ the doors wouldn’t be opening and to wait for the next train. Bearing in mind the train is partway into the tunnel so no doors will be opened. They were also kind enough to pretend not to know that the only defect was my driving when they dispatched me from the platform.

So no harm done and everything is fine and dandy. As as a bonus I learnt to pay attention properly and do all the things my instructors told me to when on a platform. Of course, I already knew that they were giving excellent advice but sometimes it takes doing it the wrong way to realise exactly why the right way is so much better. Experience is a great teacher.