Stories from a tube driver

What’s it really like to be a tube driver? A guest post by Andy Ross.

I started working for London Underground in June 1989, after arriving in March from New Zealand and seeing adverts for guards on the trains.

A naive 20 year old, one day I had gone to Portobello Market and when I caught the train home, the driver was a punk guy with bright green hair –  I thought if he can get a job, then so can I. 

Since then I’ve been a station supervisor, a guard, and for the last 19 years a tube driver on the Piccadilly Line.

Andy Ross tube driver

Credit: Andy Ross

One of the best parts about my job is that every day is different. You never know what to expect. I  love it when kids wave at me. I always wave back and it really makes their day (and mine) and it’s an easy job when everything runs well, and when it doesn’t the training kicks in.

On the tracks

I’ve dealt with my fair share of incidents over the years.  I’ve had to break up the occasional fight, I’ve had plenty of people faint on my train, especially in summer – and I’ve had people on the tracks – more times than I care to remember.

Two particularly scary incidents spring to mind.  

Arriving at kings Cross on the Victoria Line and a blind man coming through a cross passageway nearly went over the edge of the platform… a passenger sprang out of his seat and pulled him back. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast!

I also had a small child run across the tracks on the Heathrow branch. It happened so fast I wondered if I’d dreamt it, but it did happen. That really shook me up.

tube driver

Credit: Robert S. Donovan

Person under train

Then there was my one and only suicide when someone jumped in front of my train. London Underground are very experienced in dealing with this type of incident. My responsibility is to stop the train and make a Mayday call to the Line Controller. After that a well rehearsed operation swings into action. Emergency Services are called, station staff take over initially, the driver is removed from the scene and taken for a cup of tea until the Police arrive to take a statement.

As mine involved a death, I had to attend Coroners Court, but in the end the Coroner decided he didn’t need to hear my evidence.

The funny thing about my incident was two old ladies. When I stopped, and had made the mayday call, I opened the cab door and they were looking at me (as I’d stopped 1/2 way into the platform).

I looked at them and said “Considering what just happened, I feel surprisingly calm”, they just looked at me as if I was talking a foreign language. They’d been so engrossed in conversation they hadn’t even witnessed the incident.

When all runs smoothly

My shifts can be anything from four hours to eight hours 15 minutes.   Every duty varies but during a typical working day, I may not see or even talk to any of my managers again after reporting to them first thing in the morning. The exception to this is when we finish in the depot, rather than on a platform, as we have to phone them to report when we are in a place of safety. 

Access all areas

It’s a fairly straightforward job, paid well, and I have got to see some interesting parts of the tube network that aren’t open to the public. 

Hatton Cross Tube station

Planes over Hatton Cross. Credit: Chesdovi

The Piccadilly Line Control room at Earls Court is particularly interesting to see where everything is controlled from, and the people we speak to on the radio every day. It’s a circular room, with a diagram of the whole line, and all the signallers at different parts of the diagram, with lots of buttons in front of them to control the signalling.

Behind them, and slightly above them are the Line Controllers. They have an overview of everything which is going on, they can turn the power off to the tracks at the flick of a switch, can contact any train via radio. It’s interesting to watch when there’s an incident. It’s absolutely manic for about five minutes, then it becomes very calm and controlled.

The roof of Hatton Cross Station is another place. Great for watching planes arriving at Heathrow – you’re so close you can almost touch them. 

What I think of passengers

Passengers can drive you round the bend though. There are so many annoying things they do! I’ve even had people trying to force me to re-open the doors by using a pram. Do people really think catching a train is more important than the safety of their child? 

What passengers think of me

 I think the general attitude of Londoner’s is a selfish one. They want to be able to get from A to B, and if they can’t do that then it’s our fault. They forget the heroism of 7/7, and just think greedy tube drivers who get paid far too much.  They forget that a driver has much the same responsibility as an airline pilot. They certainly don’t moan about pilots’ pay!

Tube strike

Credit: CGPGrey

However, I do think the general public are against the idea of driverless trains, and I think the support for the current strike action has much stronger public support. I’m not sure it’s fully supported by staff though, as no one wants to go on strike for three days at a time!

The biggest issue facing tube drivers

The attacks on jobs and safety are a paramount concern to all staff. Driverless trains are not suitable for a system like ours, in deep tunnels, nor is a setup like the DLR. Boris Johnson has mismanaged TfL since day one, and all these changes are just his way of furthering his political ambitions. The DLR is purpose built for driverless trains, the London Underground is not. 

And what would I do if I wasn’t a tube driver? I would probably do something with cars. Car salesman, car hire or something like that. I would love to sell cars.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @andyross37 



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