Sometimes we have a problem. Trains go defective for any one of dozens of reasons. If you consider all the moving parts and electrical systems on a train then it really would be miraculous if a day went by without something failing. And the reality is that most trains will run with some sort of defect every day. Lightbulbs blow, switches stick, things don’t work – but so long as there’s no safety issue then it’s pointless to take trains out of service for minor defects. If it’s a safety problem though, we take a little more care.

One of our main problems is the doors. Doors are designed to do two things. Open and shut. When the train is running we’d quite like the latter to be the case. It can get messy if passengers accidentally tip out between stations. So that we don’t zoom off with our doors open we have a little light up in the cab which only goes on if everything is closed up tight. Sadly, passengers often take it upon themselves to lean against the doors and this breaks the circuit and puts the light out. Generally there is only a gap of a few millimetres (and very little can actually open the doors more than a few inches) but it’s enough to cause problems. Because not only does the little light go out but the brakes come on and the motors drop out. This can cause major issues.

One train I was running kept starting and stopping. Every time I accelerated the light would go out, the motors cut out and the brakes came on. It took a lot of veeeeerrrrryyyy gentle driving to get the train to the next station. As I went I did a PA to the passengers telling them not to lean on the doors and to make sure nothing was trapped there. This is generally sufficient to clear the ‘defect’ as most passengers will take a look around and kick out of the way anything that is holding their train up. Yes, including other passengers. *g*

On this occasion that didn’t happen and the trip to the next again station was just as bad. There’s a curious THUNK noise that the train makes when it suddenly stops drawing power. So the train basically went zoooomTHUNKdrift….zoooomTHUNKdrift….zoooomTHUNKdrift…. all the way up the road. Enough was enough, time to go back and sort the problem. A second PA to the passengers telling them we’d be in the station for a bit longer than usual whilst I sorted the problem and off I went to find the dodgy door. At which point some genius decided to inform me that there was a problem with the train.

‘Hey, you! There’s a problem with the brakes. They keep coming on.’

‘There’s something caught in one of the doors, that’s what’s putting the brakes on. I’m just going to sort it’ *Why can’t they LISTEN to the bloody PAs????*

‘No, that’s not it. There’s a problem with the brakes.’

‘Uh…no, there’s a problem with the doors which makes the brakes come on’

‘No, there’s a problem with the brakes, it’s not safe. You need to tell the driver. Come on kids!’

O-kaaaaay. I’m not sure who he thought I was and I’m not sure why he thought he knew trains better than me but I did find him pretty amusing. On the plus side he did leave so I didn’t have to bother with him any more. It’s surprising how many passengers feel they want to quiz the driver as to exactly what the defect is. I don’t mind that in an interested 10 year-old but what exactly do adults think they are going to do with the information? We live in the information age and some people seem to think that the more information they have, the more in control they are and the better they can deal with things. This is not at all relevant to trains. If it’s broken then no amount of shared knowledge will help to fix it. In fact, it just takes longer as people pester the driver.

Fortunately it is my burden and my curse to be a bit literal-minded when asked a question and I’ve invariably found that just telling them the answer shuts them up. The absolute answer. In excruciating detail. Using as much technical jargon as I possibly can. And then I gaze expectantly at them since they are no doubt capable of offering assistance. Funnily enough all the bluster dies down and they seem more interested in their paper than in my train. That doesn’t work for those who wish to know ‘how long will we be delayed?’ but happily the response ‘I don’t know, how long will this conversation take?’ seems to get the point that I’d rather be fixing the train and making ONE general announcement than having a thousand chats. Even if they are terribly nice people.

So after Mr Strange went storming up the platform I toddled off to fix the defect. As per the usual law of physics the problem was in the rear car – a newspaper was jammed into the doors. Just thick enough to cause problems when driving, just thin enough to be fine in the platform. Swiftly removed and we were probably on our way before that argumentative sod was even out of the station.