I’m a tube driver for London Underground - AMA!

All posts and opinions are personal and not those of TfL or London Underground.

Proof: http://imgur.com/NlXaQlF

Comments: 1950 • Responses: 62  • Date: 

47q8AmLjRGfn1741 karma

An old friend of mine worked the district line. I was at Earls Court station and he pull up, noticed me and ushered me into his cabin. I thought, "Wow, this'll be interesting, never seen the route from front on before"

I was bored senseless within a couple of stops. How on earth do you stop from falling asleep?

AnonTubeDriver3250 karma

You get taught certain concentration tricks/tips.

Changing driving position - sit for one station, stand for the next

Commentary driving - say out loud what you see in front of you.

Put the air con on,


It’s not for everyone, it’s why before you get the job they do a series of tests to determine your ability to concentrate whilst doing repetitive tasks.

VeryExpensiveSundae840 karma

How do you feel about these drivers who were recently in the news because they were working a lot of overtime, and therefore getting paid quite a lot?

AnonTubeDriver2157 karma

Train Operators (Tube drivers) have a ban on voluntary overtime, so any overtime would be compulsory.

On some lines, most notably the Piccadilly atm, drivers earn a fair bit of overtime through no fault of their own - it’s not their fault they are an hour late off work, and 40 minutes the next day, etc, etc.

That are a number of factors behind that - poor management, lack of drivers, lack of proactivity from service control, etc. Drivers do not actually enjoy finishing work late regularly (in line with most people) as it ruins their life outside work.

That article was also very misleading - it included pension payments and benefits like staff travel, whilst comparing that figure against the base salary of other careers (excluding pensions and travel benefits for pilots for example) and was, in my view, deliberately manipulative to paint tube drivers in a bad light, because it did not make that clear, and even then that those salaries are earned by a few highly skilled members of staff like test train operators who have a very different role to that of a normal tube driver.

GundeSvan780 karma

What is the highlight of your workday?

AnonTubeDriver2980 karma

Getting a galaxy caramel from the vending machine.

BIGSEB84UK767 karma

Is it true that you get paid leave after a ‘one under’?

AnonTubeDriver1325 karma

You get paid sick leave.

You take as long as you need.

TheOatmealMuffin753 karma

Do you wave back to children when you come into a station? I remember always waving to the drivers as a kid.

AnonTubeDriver1029 karma

Children, staff and BTP.

woodydeck526 karma

How many signal failures are actually real failures, and how many of them are really just euphemisms for suicides?

AnonTubeDriver812 karma

Signal failures are not used as a euphemism for that, there is a different phrase they use as a catch all for that (and other incidents like fights or stabbing, etc)

itsraecee482 karma

Have you been on other city's tubes /metros? What do you think of them compared to London Underground?

AnonTubeDriver976 karma

I love Barcelona’s metro.

I found Brussels very confusing (the complete lack of staff did not help)

I am ambivalent towards Paris.

LittleTXBigAZ411 karma

Good afternoon! I'm a light rail train operator in the United States. I'm currently in the process of writing a report about the importance of proper ergonomics in the design of this kind of equipment. Mostly I'm focused on what the engineers can do to make our workspaces more comfortable since we're sitting in those little cabs for the majority of an eight to ten hour shift. Are there any features of your trains that you particularly like a far as how your cab is laid out? Anything you really dislike? I'm looking for anything at all; hopefully I'll be able to get access to more transit systems for further input as part of an employee exchange of transit systems in the US.

For a less serious question, what's your favorite story to share with people who don't believe some of the weird things we see as transit operators?

EDIT: didn't account for the difference in time. Good evening would be more appropriate.

AnonTubeDriver185 karma

The seat is very adjustable to your tastes, and is not bad in terms of comfort.

Could be better if it was like memory foam or something.

I’d appreciate the ability to change the strength of the air con rather than just the temperature.

I mean you could go all the way up to a mini fridge to keep your food in but that’s a bit far fetched.

lankyteabags337 karma

anything nice or considerate we can do as “customers” to improve your time/experience when working? or even anything people should stop doing?

AnonTubeDriver867 karma

If I re-open the doors for you I always appreciate a wave, I can see you (hence why I re-opened them).

But other than that no

crazyjonyjon465312 karma

What's the one thing you wish they'd change about the Tube system?

AnonTubeDriver892 karma

More public toilets.

I’m lucky and can use the staff ones anywhere I want, but it’s a real inconvenience having only a few stations with public toilets imho.

Gundog75309 karma

When I was little, I always imagined it being ominous and exciting, sitting at the front of the train staring into the gaping hole in front of you, before you leave the platform.

Similarly, I imagined it being cool to see the literal “light at the end of the tunnel” rush towards you.

So my question: is it an exciting view you get up there at the front? Does it continue to impress or does any novelty wear off?

AnonTubeDriver876 karma

It’s pretty boring tbh.

The biggest thing I hate is people who do stupid things on the edge of the platform.

I can’t even begin to explain what it’s like to slam a train into emergency, and thinking you’re about to kill someone and it turns out to be just a drunken idiot who thinks they’re funny and moves back when you’re about to hit them.

PandaTheRabbit231 karma

Is there more than one rule book or is it just poorly titled?

AnonTubeDriver323 karma

It’s a box with lots of different rule books in it.

Echo006223 karma

What happens when the train gets to the end of the tunnel? Where do they all go at night time too?

AnonTubeDriver418 karma

The driver changes ends and drives it back the other way.

Sidings and depots.

chillipepz217 karma

Has anyone come up banging on the door of the cab because something dramatic was happening? If so what was it and what happened?

AnonTubeDriver538 karma

Unattended bags, fights, someone masturbating, someone pissing on the seats, etc, etc

will_fisher196 karma

Do you worry that the large number of strikes that tube drivers go on (relative to bus drivers and aircraft pilots) is pushing the drive towards automated trains like the DLR, which could put you out of a job?

AnonTubeDriver259 karma

The DLR is not truly automated, it is only ATO 3.

DLR staff still go on strike.

The tube is not likely to be truly automated (ATO 4) in any of our lifetimes.

HobbitFoot98 karma

What is the difference between ATO 3&4?

AnonTubeDriver300 karma

ATO 2 - train drives itself, someone in the drivers cab, e.g. the Victoria line.

ATO 3 - Someone on the train but not in a drivers cab, DLR

ATO 4 - no one on the train at all.

Huskerzfan13 karma

Why wouldn’t it be automated? (That seems naive to think as an outsider looking in!)

AnonTubeDriver79 karma

It’s easy to make an automated train, it’s harder to retrofit a 100+ year old crumbling system that was originally multiple separate railways forced together to make one big one, and make it fully automated.

Most ATO 4 systems are either recently built, or recent extensions.

It would cost billions and decades to make the entire underground ATO 4, and TfL has no money.

CountSpectacular180 karma

What would you do if I said “paging inspector sands”?

AnonTubeDriver376 karma

I’d wonder who burnt the toast this time.

primefun24 karma

I bet it was the Temp again

AnonTubeDriver22 karma

It’s usually Dave at my depot, he’s always burning his toast.

blrlalnldloln179 karma

I was in London for the first time this year and my wife and I were astonished by how clean London was. Most specifically how clean the underground facilitiesare compared to other large cities around the world.

What does London do differently?

AnonTubeDriver557 karma

We have a lot of cleaners.

They are very poorly paid, and do not get free travel, both of which I am not happy about, but we have a lot of them.


Which stock trains do you drive? Are you assigned to a specific line or do you change depending on the day?

AnonTubeDriver268 karma

You only drive one stock at a time unless you are a test train operator.

Some staff have multiple stock licences - assessors at the school, for example, but they do not drive day to day - only every so often to keep their licences.

Normal tube drivers only drive one stock day in day out.

neonshakers148 karma

Is if true that if you hit people attempting suicide 3 times, you're paid off and retired due to the psychological trauma?

AnonTubeDriver443 karma

That is a myth based on a movie

CaptainBane110 karma

What's the best way to get a job as a tube driver? Always been interested working on the underground.


AnonTubeDriver211 karma

Join as a CSA, apply when in.

Join as a night tube driver, apply to transfer to “full time”.

gwinerreniwg71 karma

How realistic though, is it for an average person to go that route? Even for night tube, I hear the jobs are highly competitive. What might qualify one person over another for this type of work?

AnonTubeDriver198 karma

It is a very difficult job to get into, it’s more about skills and personality traits than anything else tbh.

When they ran the last night tube campaign they had 16,000 applicants for 200 jobs.

When you’re doing your first assessment day, if you’re ultimately successful, you are likely to be the only one in the room who has been.

Sometimes no one in the room will get the job, to put in perspective.

HullabalooUniverse108 karma

I've been on many Central Line trains where the power cuts/jolts the train due to someone leaning on the doors. Are the doors just overly sensitive? A safety feature for those specific trains?

AnonTubeDriver281 karma

As far as I understand it, it basically works like this:

When someone is leaning against the doors and the train moves, sometimes they are forced back onto the doors (like bouncing off them type of thing)

This causes the doors to open very slightly for a fraction of a second as the person effectively bounces off them (we’re talking invisible to the human eye, and no where near enough for something to get through the gap)

The train knows it happens though, and as the door circuit is incomplete the train cuts out (safety feature).

So in effect, an over-sensitive safety feature.

Better to be over-sensitive than under sensitive though.

TaaviBap99 karma

So cool! London Tube is so clean and efficient!!! How do you guys handle sick passengers? Our NYC subway can be tied up for up to 45 minutes due to sick passengers. Not to blame the sick passengers, of course.

AnonTubeDriver169 karma

The principle on the underground is generally move the person or move the train, depending on the situation.

You either get them off the train, or you move the train to somewhere you can get them help more easily (and avoid shutting down the network). Obviously sometimes this is not practical, e.g. when the person is in cardiac arrest.

We also have our own medical response team in conjuction with British Transport Police.

It consists of a police officer, who undergoes additional medical training equivalent to that of emergency ambulance crew (the level below a paramedic) and a senior underground operational manager called a NIRM.

They blue light to medical and other disruption related calls around London to keep the network moving.

TaaviBap46 karma

Thank you for answering this question! It is a well thought out plan! I love the can-do attitude!

AnonTubeDriver154 karma

We also have an emergency team of engineers who deal with the big jobs - rerailing a derailed train, or lifting a train off a person.

They are called the ERU, and are like the underground Swiss Army knife.

They are also driven around by a British Transport Police Officer on blue lights.

So if you ever see a giant fire engine with Police markings all over it flying round London on blue lights and wonder what the hell that is, it’s the ERU:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/34303563131

Filthy_Ramhole28 karma

when i last worked with ERU they’d trained their own drivers, since BTP didn’t have the HGV drivers available.

AnonTubeDriver46 karma

They have their own drivers but they can’t drive on blue lights.

So they change the signs on the front from police to “emergency” and switch the blues to amber.

BTP have put a load more officers through the fire engine driving course recently.

liquidpig92 karma

What’s your favorite station?

Favorite stretch of track to drive?

AnonTubeDriver180 karma

I love driving empty (out of passenger service) anywhere on the line.

black10725 karma

Are you allowed to drive faster when the train is out of service? Do you find yourself accelerating/decelerating more abruptly when you know the cars are empty?

AnonTubeDriver57 karma

It’s just so much more chill not having a train full of passengers to worry about.

Peachesx90 karma

How would you best describe the central line in summer?

AnonTubeDriver245 karma

A sweaty furnace

Shivvers82 karma

What is a signal failure and why are they failing every Monday morning without fail (ironically) at Acton Town??

AnonTubeDriver155 karma

Signals are like the train version of traffic lights.

When they fail, it messes everything up.

Some of the signalling equipment is older than my dad, so it breaks a lot.

mazrim_lol82 karma

How did you get the job? From what I have heard you have to have family connections or get extremely lucky because the pay is massively inflated over the job difficulty.

Why do you go on strike every other week when your starting pay is £49,000, up to 3 times what any other equivalent low skill job can pay along with having close to 100% job security.

bbc - " driver's starting salary - which follows about six months of training - is £49,673, according to Transport for London (TfL), which adds that this "doesn't alter depending on length of time in role". They typically work a 36-hour week and get 43 days of leave every year, including bank holidays. Six of the days off are compensation for working 36, rather than 35, hours a week throughout the year."

Do you think your strikes and inflated wages contribute to the high price of London underground over every other city in the US and europe?

AnonTubeDriver151 karma

To get the job you need to join the underground and apply internally, or join as a night tube driver and put yourself on a waiting list.

Family connections do you no good, certainly not nowadays. Tests are administered centrally, and interviews done with head office staff (unlike other train companies where you still need to have an interview with a depot manager). So your brothers wife being a train op will offer no benefit.

We do not go on strike every other week, we rarely go on strike - when we do we don’t get paid, so we actually have to have a reason to do it - I don’t want to lose 2/3 days pay just for a laugh.

You say low skill, I say otherwise.

I have an honours degree and my driver training was harder than anything I did at university. It’s intensive, safety-critical training where every test is usually preceeded by “if you don’t get 100% you lose your job”, and the tests are not easy.

Now yes if you have a degree in medicine or engineering from a Russell Group university then it’s going to be a lot more difficult than becoming a tube driver, but if you have a degree in PPE or the arts then the training to become a tube driver is much more intense.

We make a good living but our wages are not necessarily inflated - we make less than most other train drivers in and around London - thameslink, southern, virgin, TfL Rail, etc.

We earn our money when things go wrong, when you’re in a tunnel on your own and your train isn’t moving. You’ve got 1000 people on board, trains building up behind and you need to fix it - either permanently or at least temporarily to get it to the station to take it out of service.

There are plenty of underpaid jobs in London who earn less than us that should be getting more than us - nurses, coppers, firefighters to name a few.

But equally there are plenty of cushy overpaid graduate jobs who shouldn’t be getting paid more than them, or us, either.

We’re just an easy target because of all the media hate.

You don’t see the evening standard outraged that developers make more than nurses do you?

theyerg81 karma

I’m on south ken to Richmond with the district line, I’m a full time crutches user and getting a seat sometimes is hard, can I ride up front with you?

AnonTubeDriver181 karma

No sorry - security risk.

Only certain people are allowed in my cab.

littleko54 karma

which certain people?

AnonTubeDriver297 karma

A secret list.


There is an actual list of people who can get in my cab, but I can’t tell you.

gregcrispy79 karma

How much for that backpack? You can say you lost it :)

AnonTubeDriver121 karma

I’ve had CSA’s offer me all sorts of things to get their hands on one.

1649570172224 karma

What's a CSA?

AnonTubeDriver39 karma

Station staff, who do not get the backpack.

mjbnz68 karma

Do you all know of Geoff Marshall?

What's your nickname for train "enthusiasts"?

AnonTubeDriver95 karma

I have never met him sadly, but know of him.


jerrybaboona62 karma

Do you feel the publics resentment for tube drivers going on strikes is justified or not?

AnonTubeDriver151 karma

I feel the reasons for striking could be better explained.

The communications from LU are always (naturally) one sided, and the communications from the union are often very poor.

I understand why strikes are happening, but the public often have no idea.

I feel like better explanations could help, but equally we have come to see unions as a bad thing in this country.

It’s sad really.

PeteUKinUSA57 karma

What’s the best part of the tube that’s not open to the public ? “Frozen in time” advertisements, tiling, architecture, etc.

AnonTubeDriver171 karma

Down Street probably - Churchill used it as a bunker whilst the cabinet war rooms were being built, and there is still some original signage in there from it.

You could also sit on his toilet.

They started selling tickets to the public not so long ago via the transport museum for a guided tour 2/3 times a year so it’s no longer a staff secret sadly.

comrademikey54 karma

Is black snot still a thing? Back in the day I'd get on the tube for 20 minutes and my snot would be jet black by the end of it.

AnonTubeDriver79 karma

Back pain yes, black snot no

antonzaga51 karma

Is there anything I can do to perhaps signal you if I'm near the doors as they close? And I'm the only one on the platform? With the next train being 10 min away?

AnonTubeDriver326 karma

I’ve seen you, and knowing the next train is 10 minutes away, have closed the doors with a massive smile on my face.

Not really.

But in all seriousness, if I’m running early I’d re-open the doors, if I’m late then I’d continue and you’d just have to wait - the needs of the many outweigh the few or however that quote goes.

danbriant50 karma

What's the strangest thing you have seen while working underground?

AnonTubeDriver290 karma

When I was in training I was getting a depot familiarisation and a hawk swooped over my head and I almost had a heart attack wondering what the hell it was.

Turns out he’s a staff member, he’s there to kill all the pigeons, but I was very confused at the time.

Waybide47 karma

Are you, or will you ever get tired of, “mind the gap” jokes?

AnonTubeDriver171 karma

I get really tired of people holding their hand out when I come into the platform like I’m a bus and thinking they’re hilarious.

Yes, you are totally hilarious, and not the 5th person to do that to me today.

Zorky9841 karma

U've always wondered, how and where do you go to the toilet? What if it is urgent and you have diarrhea?

AnonTubeDriver82 karma

There are secret drivers toilets at strategic platforms.

And if it’s urgent you just leave your train in the platform and go to the staff toilet upstairs.

jackplaysdrums34 karma

If you had to make a new route to alleviate congestion and stress, where would it go from and to, and what stations would it include?

AnonTubeDriver148 karma

From my house to the depot

Trudar32 karma

Are you a 'driver', or just 'line follower'?

Do you have any control on track split positions, or you have to radio control for every change?

AnonTubeDriver65 karma

The signaller controls the points (track switches) on the running line, the shunter controls them in the depot. When a signal fails an operational manager secures them manually.

I do not touch them.

nickgasm27 karma

Is it true there's a shop at the Northumberland Park depot that a driver can go into and have any snacks/drinks they want for free?

AnonTubeDriver62 karma

I do not work on that line so cannot comment, but it is unlikely.

Our canteens are reasonably priced (the Baker Street one is filled with coppers normally for this reason) and the vending machines are standard price.

I get free tea and coffee out of a machine, but that’s about it.

diswittlepiggy17 karma

Way late, but are you able to feel the difference between an empty and full train?

AnonTubeDriver37 karma

Yeah quite easily.

When you pull away you can feel the train dragging initially when it’s full.

TheAnswersAlwaysGuns14 karma

How often do you guys make train related puns?

AnonTubeDriver71 karma

Never, I hate trains.

macronhere14 karma

There was an article in the Metro last week on Tube driver pay. IIRC it stated that the majority of drivers were paid over £50k and a few made over £100k. The writer asked if these salaries were justified and a TFL representative responded that the pay was reflective of the training and skill of the drivers to deliver a reliable service. For a service that is perpetually delayed, cancelled and on strike, do you think the relatively high salary (vs teachers, nurses, etc) is warranted?

AnonTubeDriver50 karma

I’ve already touched on that above, that those who earn close to 100k includes pension payments, travel benefits not just base salary - and is for highly skilled drivers like test train operators who have a very different role to that of normal tube drivers.

Now as for our pay, we make a relatively high salary compared to teachers and nurses, and yes they should be paid more - my sister is a teacher, and my missus is a copper - so it’s something I feel strongly about personally, but as far as train drivers go we are actually fairly low down on the table just to put it in perspective of market rates.

Drivers on thameslink, southern, virgin, Eurostar, TfL Rail, overground, etc - all earn a fair bit more than us.

Now as I say, we are certainly not hard done by, and we earn a decent living, but we just tend to be a target for certain newspapers compared to TOC’s.

As far as the delays and cancellations go, we do fairly well on that front, especially when you compare to the TOC’s listed above.

Curator_of_Freedom11 karma

Was there a real terrorist threat during your career in the London subway? / What are you supposed to do in a case of emergency ?

AnonTubeDriver19 karma

There are procedures for every eventuality, they are not public knowledge so I will not discuss them naturally.

Peachesx5 karma

How many times do you plan to go on strike next year?

AnonTubeDriver10 karma

The union reps are having their Christmas do tonight and that’s when it’s usually decided, we’ll find out next week hopefully.


(And just in case any journos are reading this /s = sarcasm, before you try and misquote that as serious).

loonyduck15 karma

What made you want to become a tube driver? Also do you feel tube drivers are unfairly represented in the media?

AnonTubeDriver12 karma

Being honest the money and benefits.

It’s a fantastic job, the underground is a (generally) good career.

shadowpawn2 karma

How can I get one of these £75,000 a year salaries as an Underground driver?

AnonTubeDriver4 karma

Join the underground