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It was an interesting sort of day. With all sorts of peculiar things done with trains. The strangest of which began when I was happily zipping down the line without a care in the world. The radio chirruped and one of The Voices informed me that he was confiscating my train. Naturally I was distraught but was soon comforted by the knowledge that he just wanted me to swap trains with someone else. We call it a stock and crew changeover. These are done for various reasons but mostly because earlier disruption has put the trains all out of sequence. At some point you need to put it back together again and one of the ways that can happen is by putting the train back to it’s original service pattern and switching in a driver who was working to that pattern.

So far so good except two minutes later the Voice mentioned that he was confiscating my train again. Well, not him, exactly. The depot had decided that my train needed working on and wanted it returned to them. This is a very odd situation as we would never normally take a train out of service for work but lately the maintenance crews have not been working overtime. As there are not enough of them employed there have been a number of middling-to-serious defects not attended to. Apparently my new train had such a defect and was now about to be repaired. So I was to take it into the depot and swap to yet another train and bring that out instead. Confused yet?

On entry to any depot a driver calls up the Train Movements Room which is generally known as ‘The Tower’. The Tower contains a Voice who oversees movement of trains within the depot. The Voice today firstly told me where to stable my train and then where to find my replacement. I repeated back the message to him and trundled off to the pits.

Pits are usually found in sheds. They allow access to the underside of the train and are pretty much identical to inspection pits for cars other than being very, very long. The only way a pit road differs from a normal road is that it tends not to have any power rails. It is just two running rails suspended over a five-foot drop. The train cannot move once it is on a pit road unless the depot crew use what amounts to an extension lead to plug it into the power supply. The absence of power rails is so that staff can work in safety so any train brought onto a pit road will be stopped ‘off juice’. That is, in a position where no part of the train comes into contact with the power rails which stop just before the pit.

Driving onto a pit road is always a little bit tricky. Not least because you are hovering over the aforementioned five-foot drop. Usually before a pit road starts there is a large walkway where people can cross. This means the power rails stop some distance from the pit. So to get onto the pit road and right to the far end you need to give the train a bit of a boost so that you don’t find yourself grinding to a halt halfway. The whole proceedings would be much easier if it weren’t for the fact that the train is being driven into an area where people are walking around and potentially distracted by work and which therefore has a speed limit of 5mph. Trying to boost the train forwards while also keeping approximately to the speed limit and not running anyone over is a difficult combination.

Today I was spared the usual mental gymnastics by a rather odd sight in my pit road. It was another train. I stopped just outside the shed and mentioned this to the Tower Voice. He responded with an incisive “Oh. Is there?”. The Tower Voice cannot ‘see’ on his systems whether there is a train in these sheds or not because the fact there is no power to any rail means he is effectively blinded. But still, he should have known he’d already put a train in that particular road. It was certainly completely obvious to everyone who stopped work to stroll over and stare at me that there should be only one train in this area and no attempt at two should be made. This appeared to flummox The Voice as much as it flummoxed me and our radio conversation was a little less than our normally professional standards:

“So what’s the plan then?”

“Um…dunno…um…just leave that one there”.

“Seriously? Just abandon my train here?!”

“Yeah”.

“Um…ok then”.

So I did. Actually I didn’t. As I attempted to abandon it a few of the more curious members of the growing crowd enquired of my plans for that train and where did I think I was going and didn’t I know that they needed to work on that train and have I gapped it or something? I pointed out that they should finish playing with one train and put it away before taking out the next and stalked off towards the depot manager’s office to ask him WTF. Other than a bit of head-scratching I didn’t get much out of him other than an enquiry as to the possibility of double-decker trains and confirmation that it was OK to just abandon the train there. It’s really not done to just leave trains lying about the place. Every depot is laid out with very specific places for trains and abandoning one in a strange place is a recipe for trouble.

After that the day got…well it got more interesting but that’s a story for another time…

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