'The commuters have Twitter so they know more than me about delays' - a train driver speaks (From Borehamwood Times)
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'I hate being stuck as much as the next guy' - confessions of a First Capital Connect driver
5:06pm Tuesday 12th February 2013 in News
Every year, over three million people travel through Elstree and Borehamwood station to get to work in central London. Commuters constantly complain about the delays to the train service - so Borehamwood Times reporter Anna Slater spent the afternoon in a train cab with a driver and met First Capital Connect staff to find out more about the delays.
In the early 1900s, the gentle chug of the steam train as it rolled into the station was a gateway to another universe.
For those who had never travelled further than their village shop, it was the sound of promise, the sound of excitement, the sound of a world filled with endless possibilities.
But time has made us weary, and the breezy chatter that once filled the platform has now been replaced with an electronic voice, which is ‘sorry to announce the 12.43 from Hendon is delayed by nine minutes’.
After countless calls to First Capital Connect, to find out more about the signal failure at Blackfriars or when the train at Borehmwood is likely to be on the move, the poor press officers must have got tired of hearing my voice.
Over the last few months, angry commuters have e-mailed me with details about another late service or to vent their anger about another packed train - and I was keen to find out why.
I might be 24-years-old but I still think of trains as being called Annie and Clarabel - so with a nostalgic wave to my Thomas the Tank Engine days, I climbed into the train cab with driver, Dave Newman, at Harpenden.
Last week, over 95 per cent of trains ran on time on the Luton to Sutton line, which runs also runs through Elstree & Borehamwood and Radlett stations.
Dave has been driving the train on this route every day for the last 12 years and loves his job, but when something go wrong he bears the brunt.
“I hate being stuck as much as the next guy,” he said, as the train looped through the track to get to St Albans.
“The commuters have Twitter on their phones so know more than me during delays, I never know what is going on - which is ironic because I am the one taking the blame.”
If a train breaks down or a signal fails, it can takes engineers up to half an hour to get on site and longer than that to fix the problem.
After a quick stop at Elstree and Borehamwood, the train gurgled into life again and we were off - zooming through the tracks at a speed of 90 miles an hour.
The thought of revving up to a solid 70 down the M1 is enough to make me weak at the knees - and Dave must have noticed the colour drain from my face because he said: “This is nothing - the fast trains get up to 120 miles an hour.”
The soft choo-choo of the horn filled the cab as we glided through the tracks and into the tunnel, before reaching West Hampstead.
Here, I met FCC worker Derrick Kingdom - “the only manager in the world who loves it when his staff sit around twiddling their thumbs”.
He led me to an impressive control room near the station. The computerised board spanning the entire wall, with multicolored dots showing where the trains are, has a very James Bond feel to it.
The guys who work here are the ones who tirelessly try to regulate the service after a track fire, signal failure or broken down train - so you lot can get home in time to catch the 7.30pm showing of EastEnders.
Trains struggle in the cold. Luckily, here in bright old Britain it rarely gets colder than 27C so the only train problems we have is when some clumsy commuter drops their suncream on the track. Oh, wait...
During last month's snow, people were left stranded in Borehamwood for up to an hour, watching train after train whizz pass them on en route to Mill Hill.
Despite the chaos outside, train controller Steve kept his cool (quite literally, it was minus ten out there) and hatched a clever plan to make sure nobody was left out in the cold.
Making the trains skip stations is actually a clever way to make the service catch up with itself. It is a complicated job and while Steve is explained it to me I was struck with how difficult running a train network actually is.
So next time you got up on the wrong side of the bed, spare a thought for the poor rail workers who are doing the best they can to make sure you get to work not a minute later than 9.01am. After all, they are only human.