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Yesterday I met Inspector Sands. He’s a nice old guy.

I bet you thought he wasn’t a real person. Not true. He’s now registered blind and doesn’t work but that doesn’t stop him from travelling around the combine. Yesterday he was returning from Somewhere Outside London (I’ve forgotten where) and decided to take a trip up my line for his own amusement. We had a chat as I boarded the train and I made a mental note to look out for his escort at the other end.

We have a system for escorting visually or mobility impaired customers around the system. Customers turn up at their station and ask for someone to take them to the correct platform for their train. The escorting (usually) CSA then takes them to the front of the train, helps them board and finds them a seat. Then the driver is told of the customer’s intended destination and provides their train number. This serves two purposes. The CSA can then call ahead to the destination station and tell them to have a second escort meet the specific train and help the customer to make their connection or exit the station. And the driver knows to look out for the second escort and give extra time in that platform for the customer to get off (and occasionally to rescue the customer and raise merry hell on the radio as to the whereabouts of the escort, but I digress πŸ˜€ ).We don’t get as many MIP requests as VIPs because the infrastructure means that the majority of platforms are too difficult for wheelchair users to access or board. We have plenty of MIPs travelling but those tend to be people on crutches, the elderly etc. So mostly it’s VIPs.

I quite like it when I get VIPs/MIPs. Mostly because it means a CSA is going to come to talk to me and it’s somebody to say hello to. Also because it’s quite useful to know who is on my train. If I notice someone elderly or MIP/VIP on the platform then I’ll try to hold in the station for a bit longer to give them time to get a seat or a secure hold if they are standing. It’s also handy when school parties have an escorting CSA because then I know that they are going to make sure all of the kids are on/off the train before I move. It’s never happened to me but I am vaguely haunted by the thought of accidentally kidnapping some little tyke who is too slow to get off. I do wish more school parties would use escorts though. Hey teachers, if you get off a train with a group of kids and it doesn’t move for a bit then assume that the driver is leaning out the window watching you count heads. A little wave would be nice so I know it’s ok to go. Otherwise I drive off and hope for the best.

I don’t always notice MIPs/VIPs though because when I come into a platform my eyes are flicking between the place I want to stop and a vague place at the edge of the platform that I mentally term The Space. When I come into a platform I want to have a clear space towards the edge of the platform where no bags, feet or people are intruding. It means I can safely ignore the rest of the platform as nobody is in imminent danger and this in turn means I can focus more on the stopping point and in adjusting my braking to get in more smoothly. I am inscensed beyond all rationality if people stand in The Space because then I have to look at them carefully and quickly assess if they are going to be in danger if I keep on or if they look suicidal. I’ve never quite worked out what I consider ‘looks suicidal’ to be but I’m still assessing it. It’s all completely irrational because The Space doesn’t equate to any specific place on the platform. It’s definitely behind the white line but depending on the layout may or may not extend up to or beyond the yellow line. Regardless of this, now that I’ve explained things so clearly I fully expect every single one of you to respect The Space and not stand in it. *stern look*

When Inspector Sands got off at the other end there was nobody to meet him. So I jumped out to help him off the train. And then was rather surprised when he said he’d walk down the platform with me as he was heading back into London anyway. It was at this point he told me he often just rides around the tube for fun. Then he roundly mocked me for a braking failure I’d had at one outdoor station. I’ve mentioned before that when it rains it can be more like ice-skating than driving trains. Yesterday the heavens suddenly opened and as I carefully and perfectly braked into a station something went oddly wrong and it all went to pot. There followed an exciting few seconds as I fought with a 300ish ton vehicle running at speed that was very unwilling to stop where I wanted it to. What amuses me most about the whole thing is that Inspector Sands reckoned none of the other passengers had even noticed what was going on. I guess that’s a good thing really. I know when I am travelling I am aware of when a train skids or can’t get traction or has little defects going on but it’s probably best not to have the usual sort of passenger worrying about these things. 99% of the time it’s barely worth attending to.

What was interesting, when talking to Inspector Sands, was discovering how the journey works from the position of someone who has almost no vision. He told me that he knows the sounds of the trains so well that he can even tell how we are running the motors! Of course, it takes a lot of knowledge of how trains work to get to that point but it does give me a different perspective on how different passengers experience the journey.

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