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Being a loco driver in UK

First chapter of interview with Jools, a loco driver in UK:

Hi Jools. Thank you for accepting this interview. Can we get a few words about you?

I am 48 and have been working on the railway since I was 18. I started as a secondman and was promoted to driver after passing the driving exams at the age of 21. I have been driving since then.

Secondman? What’s that?

A secondman, or assistant driver, was responsible for helping the driver carry out his duties, and be able to protect the train in case of emergency etc.

So locos are driven by 2 drivers as in Turkey?

No, not any more. There is normally only one person in the cab in the UK now. This has been the case since the 1980s. The only time there is a second person is through training reasons or on occasion due to faults.

Isn’t it a safety risk?

To enable this to be safe there are various safety systems in place. The first is the drivers safety device (dsd) which is either a handle or pedal that must be kept depressed at all times to prevent the brakes going on a few seconds after it is released. This is coupled with a vigilance device, which is a warning alarm that must be cancelled by releasing and reapplying the dsd instantly every minute or so. If this is not done the brakes will apply and the train will stop.

You think it’s sufficient?

There are also other safety devices such as AWS which requires that we cancel an alarm for a cautionary signal to prevent the brakes applying. This is now linked to another system called TPWS which is in place to prevent a driver passing a danger signal at red without authority, and again this will apply the brakes should it be triggered.

Still scared of the idea that there’s only one person managing the whole train alone in the cab..

Single manning is a very emotive subject. It has been the norm in the UK for 30 years now. I personally think it is safe subject to the safety devices being in order, and the drivers being correctly trained, and the systems being correctly managed. An example of when this is not the case was the accident at Southall in 1997, which involved safety systems being isolated.

All locos have these devices?

It is notable that now the systems I mentioned above must be working or the locomotive or unit is not permitted to run. There are no exceptions to this.

Ok. Feel better now. So although not easily undersood, you are old enough to see the times of British Railways, I guess?

Yes, I originally was based in the south of England when it was all British Railways (BR), a nationalised company responsible for all the trains in the UK at the time (other than heritage steam & diesel lines).

Which trains were you working at?

As a driver for BR, I was required to learn various diesel and electric traction. In the UK a driver has to be trained on each type of locomotive and unit, to know the differences etc. As a result of this I was driving freight, mail and passenger trains on a regular basis in the south east of England.

But then British Railways came to an end?

With privatisation booming in 1993, and a new opportunity becoming available I left my original depot and transferred to a freight company who were responsible for the freight traffic through the soon to be opened Channel Tunnel. This entailed learning a type of French locomotive, and once the tunnel was open working through it to Calais with freight trains as well as going various places in the UK.

Then you shift to high speed trains?

After 7 years of doing this I got a drivers job with Eurostar, and I have been there since. This entailed firstly driving to the North of England on some trains they leased to a company called GNER to run to and from London to York and Leeds. Once this contract was dealt with I was trained to work the normal Eurostar trains from London to Paris, Eurodisney, and more recently Brussels.

Turkey is investing in high speed trains. How is the situation in UK?

In the UK we only have one true high speed line (300kmh) which runs from London to the Channel Tunnel. The other main lines in the UK to the North and West are limited to 200kmh, and have run as such since the mid 1970s on the whole.

The high speed line is run using French technology from their high speed lines which have worked well since the early 1980s. Eurostar are the only high speed operator on this line, running at up to 300kmh, although South Eastern run a commuter service along it as 225kmh.

No other HST in UK?

The next high speed line is planned to run towards the north of England and is currently going through the process of being agreed on a governmental level despite some notable opposition from some.

Interview: Onur Uysal
Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©

Categories: Railway Companies

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