A day in my working life

Collette Gibson, Driver at Paddington.

I usually arrive at work about 30 minutes before I am due to book on. For me personally my day can start as early as 0400 or finish at 0130, but we can book on or off at any time of day or night. Today I am starting at 0552.

Booking on involves ringing control to let them know you are there and ready for your day. It confirms that you are fit for duty (not under the influence of drink or drugs) and that you have all your uniform and equipment. You have time then to read all the late notices and notice boards which tell you about any last minute changes such as engineering work, technical changes and anything else relevant to keep your train safe during the course of your day. You then check your diagram – which is your job sheet for the day – and head out for the first train you are working.

On this day I am working a High Speed Train (HST) from Paddington to Oxford. I meet the train as it arrives from its previous journey so that the driver can tell me anything I need to know about the train, such as any defects that affect the way it needs to be driven. I walk to the front cab and prepare it for its journey. Today the train is 10 vehicles long, 8 carriages and 2 power cars and the top speed is 125mph.

At departure time the Train Manager signals that it’s time to leave and I pull the train out of the station. The track outside Paddington is very complex with 6 lines of bi-directional track and various speed limits, all of which Drivers need to know well. I move the train up through the speed restrictions until we reach line-speed of 125mph. While I’m driving I need to keep alert for the signals in front of me and be aware of the track workers out and about on the track. I’m also looking at trains that pass to make sure that they are OK. There’s a lot to think about as you drive but train drivers are a friendly bunch and always find time to wave as they pass.

I stop at the first station on the journey, there’s a lot of skill involved in knowing where to start braking and how much brake to use to stop in the right place on the platform, but you get plenty of training and practice to be able to do this and eventually it becomes routine. Most days are uneventful and it can become monotonous but the skill of being a professional train driver is to stay focused and relaxed when you can but be alert when necessary.   There’s plenty of out of course issues that can liven things up, train failures – when you would be required to fix your train and get it moving, or signal/track failures, which can delay you or require you to pass a signal at danger in a controlled manner. Today is routine though and I stop at each of the stations with no difficulties. In autumn braking can be tricky due to slippery rails but today it is lovely and dry.

There’s a lot to distract me outside the window as it’s a very ‘busy’ section of line from London to Reading, but part of the job is to remain focused. Once we leave Reading it becomes less urban and we move in to the beautiful countryside. When I get to Oxford I drive the train in to the sidings. There’s time for a quick cuppa and a chat with the Train Manger before taking the train back up to London. When I arrive it’s time for a break. This is my main meal break of the day, sometimes I may only have been at work a couple of hours so meal times can be erratic and not too regular, and there may be 6 to 8 hours work after your break. Today I have 40 minutes, which is enough to sit in the mess room and catch up with some of my colleagues . Then I have to drive an empty train down to the depot where it will get refuelled, cleaned and washed and have any routine maintenance that is due. At the depot I secure the train and wait in the mess room. Now I’m required to wait there for 3 hours to do any shunting that is needed. Today there is a train that has been repaired by the engineers and they need it to be moved from the maintenance shed to the fuel road so it can be topped up with diesel ready to be returned to service. Some days there’s a lot of moves to make and you can be busy, today there’s just that one move. Waiting for something to happen can be tedious but there’s usually another driver to keep you company. I use the time today to read as there’s a lot of football talk at the moment and I’m not interested in that.

When my day is up there’s a taxi booked to take me back to Paddington. It brings the relief shunt drivers down from Paddington so we exchange a bit of banter passing in the car park. Back at Padd there’s no need to sign off, so I put my kit bag in my locker and make my way to the tube home. I’m not back to work until next week now because I work part-time, only two days a week, when I’ll be working lates.