26 November 2019 Part 2 · From Bank Manager to Train Driver

Presenter: Alan Nichols, Train Driver retired

Alan kindly stepped in at short notice when Andrew Haines advised that he would have to leave early because of his work commitments. He confirmed that he was the bank manager mentioned by Andrew Haines with one of the strangest letters of application he had ever received. Alan highlighted the importance of communication. So much seems to have broken down and the days of ‘can do’ seem to have gone, so listening to Andrew was a ‘breath of fresh air’. Alan talked about his career as a train driver and gave examples of some of the ways that good communication can get trains moving again when things do not go according to plan and gave examples to show how it can be done; and how, as a driver, he kept communication open by making announcements to passengers himself if he was unable to contact the guard on his train, with a little humour sometimes being well received.

Alan described Andrew as a very accomplished manager but not all managers have the necessary passion and, again, he showed how this can make communications less effective. Another example is the promise of lots of extra trains which looks good on paper but cannot be done. Railways run to time if there are no problems anywhere and if passengers do not cause a delay eg by holding doors open, but a few seconds can soon have a knock-on effect and this needs to be taken into consideration.Andrew Haines clearly understood this when he was MD of South West Trains, but others do not seem to understand this so clearly.

Then came rostering and the importance of local knowledge. It is important to listen, hear what is going on and to understand.Touching very briefly on the strike on South Western Railways, it was mentioned that the unions do not always see the bigger picture. Alan is very much for retaining guards on trains and gave good reasons for this but again highlighted the importance of good communication. RAIB reports cite examples of poor or mis-managed incidents where communications have gone wrong because people make mistakes before going on to outline a number of other problems involving communication with passengers, issues with new rolling stock, First’s attitude towards the 700s – are now proving very reliable, and availability issues. It appears that SWR is now understaffed with little thought for having sufficient train crew available when train crew have to go for training on new rolling stock and new safety and operating systems for example.

There was a short video of a SPAD (signal passed at danger) at Fareham complete with interviews with those involved. Weather conditions were poor but the driver and signalman did everything correctly which meant that a possible disaster was averted. It is not funny when this happens and perhaps the media should joke less about ‘leaves on the line’.

Questions and answers included diagrams, the importance of driver route knowledge; the need to know the rule book; drivers making announcements; managers not getting out and about enough to learn their railways properly; and known distractions along the route appearing in train crew bulletins as a warning to prevent SPADs.

The vote of thanks to Alan was given by indoor fixtures officer Tom Kolisch.