This week has been spent learning how to handle the trains and getting some idea of the routes. The first part is relatively easy as I am already accustomed to the ways in which different signals work and how to judge speed and distance and so on. There’s still a lot of learning to be done in some areas. Not least of which is the different layout of each cab and the slightly differing equipment for driving and braking. Handling can take a while to get comfortable with. Different trains weigh different amounts and some can go much faster than others. So it takes a while to learn how to adapt to this when driving. Days like today are a real education in how to actually drive as opposed to how to turn handles. Driving in nice, dry weather is lovely but it takes quite a bit of skill to learn how to handle a 200-odd ton vehicle in poor weather. A train has thin metal wheels which balance on thin metal rails and the whole thing is basically ice-skating writ large. It is very easy to have wheels lock or spin uselessly against the rails and that’s the point at which you need to know what you’re doing to prevent the whole thing just sliding on through stations or bouncing off the rails altogether.
Route learning is also a big deal. The basics of this are simple: Trains go from A to B or A to C and so on. There are interchanges with lines X and Y here and X and Z there. This is the simple stuff that the passengers know. Where it gets more complicated is knowing which roads you should be taking, which points at which you will be turning, where all the signals are and what each one means. Signals are never as simple as go or stop. They can guide you down multiple different routes, tell you what’s coming up, let you know how the service is running and sometimes tell barefaced lies. And Gord help you if you believe those ones because it won’t be The Voices who get in trouble if you mess up because a signal is saying the wrong thing and you accept it. Then of course there are speed changes in different parts of track and an insane amount of variation in platforms which I need to get to grips with.
All the detail is learnt pretty much by doing and a lot of route training is just driving up and down until it sinks in. Of course there’s also an experienced instructor present who will talk through what’s going on and remind me of things like speed reduction and how the upcoming signals are. Even though a lot of this will pass over my head at the time it is useful as a few days later the information will suddenly seem relevant and help me to predict the road. I’m only on my third day of driving with an instructor and I’m fairly pleased that I can remember some speed limits and signalling already. Route learning is what I’m generally poorest at – go and find some of my entries about being customered for the reality of that! – and it’s nice that I am remembering some of the (very important) minutiae already. Of course some of that is just ‘this is a terminus, there’s a brick wall at the end of it, it would *not* be a good idea to go charging in at speed here’ but at least it’s a start!