IamA London Underground Tube Driver AMA!
IamA Tube Driver (or Train Operator as our official title is) for London Underground. AMA!
EDIT - Sadly I am now bringing my AMA to an end as there's just too many comments for me to get through. To be honest I'm a little overwhelmed by the massive response of over 120k views and 1600+ comments so far, was just expecting a few train enthusiasts/drivers from other countries and some curious Londoners/tourists. Thank you for all your questions, I hope the ones I did get round to answering were informative for you all and brought a little insight into the role. Hope you all have a great day! :)
P.s. all posts and opinions are personal and not that of London Underground/Transport For London.
It depends really... On the ATO (automatic) lines the train drives itself. You literally just open and close doors, and (very rarely) apply the emergency brake. On the manual lines there is a bit more skill involved in terms of actually driving the train using the handle, keeping to the timetable (which is in 1/2 minutes), providing a smooth journey and not having any SPAD's (going past red signals). However it can be a bit boring, but I imagine being a mainline train driver is far more boring - driving through miles upon miles of empty countryside.
Edit - for clarity, ATO drivers actually do have to learn to drive the train manually in case the ATO system fails as it can do, and actually driving on an ATO line is probably harder than a manual as you're not doing it day in day out.
How long do people in the industry, especially you and your fellow drivers, expect this job to last? Especially at the rate of pay received.
Quite a long time - London Underground does not have the ridiculous amount of money to make the entire tube network ATO level 4 (no one on the train at all) if that's even possible - and by that I mean it's easy to make a driverless train - the technology exists and is in operation, but it's much harder to retrofit a 100+ year old infrastructure to run said driverless train. For example, can a driverless train evacuate people down an ancient tunnel miles from the nearest station and up evacuation shafts without inciting mass panic? and assist those with mobility needs off the train, etc?
However, my prediction is that the tube will, one day in the future, go to a higher level of automatic operation than is currently in use on the Victoria line and other automatic lines, most likely ATO 3 like the DLR where there is somebody normally on board but not in the drivers cab.
That's not the end of the world though, DLR PSA's make 43k a year which is not a massive drop on our salaries.
Are the ATO lines considered more for entry level / beginner tube drivers, and the older lines with more manual driving done by the more experienced drivers? Or does it not really work like that? For example does everyone start out on the Victoria line, with the more senior drivers eventually moving on to the Bakerloo etc?
Basically what happens is that when you go to the school, you get assigned a depot in your first week and you are placed according to the business needs, usually the complete opposite end of London to where you actually live because TfL like to mess with you like that.
You can start out on either an ATO or manual line when you first start the job, it's just your luck really.
Once you actually start you then get your nominations.
You can pick up to two depots that you wish to transfer to from the one they've assigned you to, and you can transfer from your line to any other line so you can go ATO to manual, or manual to ATO or ATO to ATO, etc. If you're transferring to a depot which is not on your line, you need to go through cross-transfer training for that line.
It tends to be that people wish to transfer to the outer London depots, because if you're going to buy a house nowadays, it's going to be in one of the surrounding counties rather than London itself so the outer depots are closer to your home, or where you'd like to live, and therefore more popular (one of the outer London depots has something crazy like a 5 year waiting list last time I looked). Plus the outer London depots have excellent parking, whereas some of the central ones have next to none.
What happens if you need to use the toilet?
You can take a PNR (or Personal Needs Relief).
There are drivers toilets at a handful of platforms across the network which can be accessed with a what is known as a J Door Key, whilst the ladies toilets have their own special key only given to female members of staff. There are also hot water points so you can make a quick cup of tea. So you can pop out to the toilet and pop back in to the cab in fairly short order.
Alternatively when you get to either end of the line, or are taking a train into a depot then that is an opportunity to pop to the toilet also, etc.
Worst comes to absolute worst and it's an emergency then you can leave the train at a station and go to wherever their staff toilets are, but they don't like you to do that as holding your train in the platform completely messes up the service as no trains are moving behind you.
Are you allowed to say "Ladies and Gentlemen" to the riders?
The company says no, quite a few people still do it, more out of habit than anything else.
Why do they say you shouldn't and what alternative do they offer?
It could make those who do not identify with those genders feel uncomfortable or isolated on the network, etc.
TfL is quite progressive on this front and has started installing gender-neutral toilets (alongside the traditional male and female) at some locations.
I generally instead of "ladies and gentleman we are being held at a red signal..." I just say "Good afternoon, this is the driver, we are being held at a red signal".
the one question ive always wanted to ask London Underground drivers is do you ever get depressed never seeing the sun, you know, living in London?
Depends which line you're on - if you're on the district you'll be above ground pretty much all day :)
What's the dumbest thing you've seen a tourist do? And why won't more people budge up when standing? We could stuff a few more people in this thing
There was one a while back who chained her suitcase to a bench at a central London tube station on the platform so she could go shopping before getting her plane. Caused a massive security alert.
Do you know the Rastafarian tube announcer based at Victoria underground? (Or he was in 2013-14). That guy was awesome and I would love to know that tfl recognises his skill and how much he cheers people up in rush hour - "Wimbledon crew this train is for you! Peace and love beautiful people!"
I don't but I definitely think the change in monotonous robotic announcements to allowing CSA's to use their personality has been a great change. There are some excellent personalities across the network
What actually happen when there is a "signal failure" on a line?
That is in an incredibly long and technical answer which changes depending on whether it is a semi-automatic signal or an automatic signal, if there is points and how can they be secured, etc.
Long story short if it's an automatic signal it still messes up the service but it's no where near as bad as a semi-automatic signal with points.
However, the basic principle is that when a signal fails it fails safe, so it will go to red and shut everything down. There is a procedure for passing a signal at danger when authorised to do so but to do so safely it takes time, and this is why it messes up the service because the underground runs in half minutes and applying the rule as it's known takes a while so completely ruins the service.
The procedure also differs for automatics and semi-automatics, with the automatic procedure taking a lot less time initially compared to the semi-automatic when there is points involved.
How much is the pay, annually? Also minimum qualifications to apply? What's the training like?
The pay is pretty decent - Full Time is £53K, Night Tube (Part Time - Friday and Saturday Night shifts only) is just under £25k. You also receive free travel for you and one other person that you can nominate, along with 75% off national rail and Eurostar discounts. Pension is final salary with 5% contributions.
There are no mimimim qualifications, you just need to pass all the selection tests which have a fairly high failure rate.
The two main routes in are either join the LU as a CSA on the stations and apply internally for full time when they come up, or join externally as a night tube driver then you will be placed on a waiting list for full time positions (if you so choose) without any additional tests or interviews. Full time positions are not advertised externally.
The training is fairly intensive (I have an honours degree and I found some aspects tougher than university) but shorter than mainline train driving. It can last anywhere from 12 weeks on an ATO line, to a fair bit more on the manual ones.
I hear about tube and train drivers knocking down passengers quite frequently... Are you trained for these circumstances? Has this ever happened to you? What is the process if this was to happen?
You do receive training for Person Under Train incidents but training can obviously never prepare you for the real thing.
The process is essentially that you call it in, get an emergency switch off of the traction current (power) and ideally lay down SCD's, then they don't really expect anything beyond you of that due to the shock. Then you wait for the police, ambulance, NIRT/ERU teams and occasionally the fire brigade who turn up fairly sharpish, and they do their thing.
The police take a first account off you at the scene detailing what happened - how you were driving, what you saw, etc. to determine if it was non-suspicious such as a suicide attempt or accident, but people have been pushed in front of tube trains before in which case it is murder or attempted murder.
You get mandatory leave (I say mandatory but you can waive it if you choose to do so). Thankfully it has never happened to me, but from what I've been told by other's LU's care for their staff is second to none and far above what is provided to our colleagues on the mainline.
In stations where there is glass between the platform and the track, how do you stop the train in exactly the correct spot where the doors line up? Do you have a visible mark at the end of the platform where you have to stop or is it some kind of automated system?
Platform edge doors on the jubilee line I take it you mean, and if so this line is ATO (automatic) so the train stops exactly where it needs to automatically
So what does a driver do on an automatic train?
Open and close the doors, drive if the ATO system on the line fails, press the emergency brake and deal with incidents - passenger alarms, detrainments, etc
Do you scrutinise the train operations and drivers when you visit other countries and are there any other trains which you particularly like or admire?
I must confess I am not a train geek.
Though the job naturally attracts those who are, and have things like old signal plates as garden decorations and take great pleasure in chatting to railway staff on holiday.
Each to their own though.
I do however often notice the lack of staff compared to the underground, I went to Brussels not so long ago and I don't think I saw any staff on the metro the whole time I was there.
US citizen here. Why is it called the oyster on the passes?
When it was originally brought out they were between Oyster, Gem or Pulse as the name for it. They decided on Oyster due to the whole "the world is your oyster" thing IIRC.
How stuffy is it in the driver's cab on the tube lines that don't have aircon? Do you have a portable fan to make it bearable?
Just because the passenger carriages don't have air con doesn't mean the drivers cab doesn't... I believe all the stocks drivers cabs nowadays have air con, even the older stock like the Piccadilly has been retro-fitted, but if anyone doesn't it's probably the bakerloo.
Tube drivers also have a historic uniform exemption which makes them the only role in the LU at present to be allowed to wear shorts I believe, which as far as I'm aware was due to the heat but I'm not too sure. We are still allowed to wear shorts though, and nowadays we can even get company issued ones.
Though like any other item of uniform, ordering it and actually receiving it are another matter.
Do you watch youtube while you tube?
using phones in the cab is a sacking offence
What is your opinion of the Southern Rail guard and driver strikes concerning the change to the guards role? Do you think that they probably should have seen this coming and that they will still have a role on the train or do you favor the argument concerning passenger safety?
EDIT: As a Tube Driver he is the only (wo)man on the train. On a normal train you would have a driver and a guard who would close and open the doors amongst other duties.
I have mixed feelings regarding this. LU do not have guards as you point out, but they used to back in the day and implemented measures to mitigate the risk around not having them when they removed them.
On the underground all the stations are staffed, so if you activate an alarm then I will continue to the next station (or stop if any part of the train is in a station) and investigate along with station staff.
As far as I'm aware, some of the GTR (the parent company of southern) stations are unstaffed so the driver could be on his own dealing with who knows what (fights, etc) on a train in a unstaffed station miles from any police, or potentially miles until the next station and the driver can't come back to check what's going on as he's driving so the passengers have no help.
They also have much longer trains meaning the PTI (platform train interface) is harder to manage and poses a bigger risk - During rush hour the LU will have station staff perform SATS duties (the people on the platform with the baton, announcer and high-vis vest) to assist us with our dispatching/closing the doors yet southern drivers would have no assistance, whereas I theoretically could call up the line controller and request "assisted dispatch" even outside the peak if I do not feel comfortable moving my train even on a cat B platform.
So to me, unless I have misunderstood the proposals (and I confess I am by no means an expert on the mainline) then there would be an increased risk to safety.
cat B platform
Just looked this up and found info on wikipedia about what this means https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_railway_station_categories
Apologies I should've been clearer.
London Underground has two categories of platforms.
Cat A and Cat B.
Cat A platforms always require assisted dispatch when the monitors fail, as the driver cannot see the full length of the platform if you open the cab door and look down the train, usually on slightly curved platforms.
Cat B do not require assisted dispatch as you can, theoretically, get out your cab and see the entire length of the platform from your door so you can safely close the doors without the monitors should they fail.
How do you feel with all of the terror attacks to the u derground In the past, have you ever had to prepare for the worst or been in a situation when this has happened on your train?
We do receive training on what to do in those emergency situations, but thankfully the closest I've ever come is unattended luggage which turned out to be lost property.
See that's interesting, what sort of training did you learn for these sorry of emergencies? Did you only learn with how to deal with abandoned luggage, or did you also learn what to do in case of an attack? I drive trains in France, and so far the only extra bit of training I had was how to deal with abandoned luggage, and not what to do in case of an actual attack. They just expect us to adapt whilst paying up most attention to security.
You receive training for multiple scenarios including abandoned luggage all the way to an "Active Shooter" the details of which I will not go in to for obvious reasons.
Where I'm from the tube driver's Sometimes miss the platform coming in too fast. Is this a result of excessive speed or just bad judgement?
It depends really, sometimes it's the brakes, sometimes it's weather conditions in the open sections, sometimes it's a misjudgement (maybe more passengers than normal at that time of day, which requires more braking to stop), etc.
Does it get annoying when people try holding the doors open?
Also, I've been on tube trains that have been stopped between stations for about half an hour due to someone ill on board -- what happens in situations like this? Is there an Underground Ambulance or something like that?
The British Transport Police have a medic unit who respond to medical emergencies on the underground on blue lights alongside an LU manager, they are effectively our medical response but we also call London Ambulance Service
What lines are you trained to ride on? Best model of stock to drive? Will you have to be retrained when the DTUP (Deep Tube Upgrade Programme is finished? Any stories of drivers being told off? Thanks
You are only generally trained to drive on one line, the exception was before the new S-stock was used on the Sub-Surface Lines (Circle, District and Metropolitan) some depots were trained in both the C and D Stock.
The Central Line drivers also do the Waterloo and City Line, but they are both 1992 stock although fitted out slightly differently.
Some of the assessors and trainers from Ashfield House do hold multiple licences for multiple lines though.
I'd rather not reveal my line for privacy reasons.
Do you like your job?
I actually really do enjoy my job
Hi, just used your services now! Just wanted to ask whether it's boring at all in the cab, or do you talk to other LU drivers while in the cab? Or are there a lot of things you need to do while driving?
There is a radio in the cab which covers your line, so you can sometimes hear the controller and other driver chat but that's about it. You do get some people who ride in the cab with you fairly regularly - Other drivers, etc so you're not always alone.
Do people working the underground have a secret rivalry with those working the overground?
I am generally very positive towards all TfL staff and will acknowledge everyone whether they are LU, overground, TfL rail and also bus drivers although they are technically not TfL staff. However, like everywhere there will be some overground staff who dislike the LU - for example I've heard of people in uniform asking to use the staff toilet on the way home and overground staff refusing, etc. But then again, I don't take the overground much so I can't really comment.
Have you ever noticed any paranormal stuff during your shift?
I can safely say I have not yet seen a ghost or other paranormal being on the underground, including at the abandoned tube stations.
What's a typical pathway to this career?
either apply externally as a night tube driver and go on the full time waiting list (approx 1 year) or join as station staff and apply internally
How do you drink your tea on the train?
with milk and two sugars :)
Is there an office where there is a chart of all the trains moving in real-time across the whole Tube network?
There is a control room for each line, and a senior control room for the entire network. There is a computer system which tracks all the trains across the network called trackernet.
Does anyone ever ask you to ride in the cab? Are you allowed to take people in the cab?
There are rules on who is allowed in the cab. For some you can say yes or no, for others you have no choice but to let them in your cab.
why do you guys always go on strike at christmas/new years time?
Drivers actually volunteer to work New Years eve when the tube runs through the night almost and people can travel for free.
It'd take something pretty major for us to strike on New Years Eve or carnival, etc.
How do you know how fast to go between stations? I mean, if you go too fast (but not above a limit), you'll be early. Too slow, you'll be late.
you do a few months of line training with an experiences instructor where you're expected to learn the line like the back of your hand, so you learn not only where the speed restrictions are but the gradients of the track and how fast to go in certain places.
I am a U.S. citizen who recently traveled to London and was shocked at the good behavior of people on the tube. When I mentioned this to others, I was shocked to find that most people did not agree with me, and had many complaints about loud or rude behavior on the tube. How common is it for the authoritative powers to revoke tube privileges from naughty riders?
There are actually a series of bylaws that makes pretty much everything other than being a decent human being an offence and also gives police/staff the power to eject you, or in the case of the police arrest you.
For example it is an offence to get on the tube before all the passengers at those doors have got off.
Not that they get used that much mind you, or half the tourists in London would be getting nicked every morning
My mental image is of a guy just sitting there pressing go forward, and pressing brake... is that pretty much it? And if so is it the most boring job in the world?
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