17 Secrets About The London Tube, As Unveiled By A Tube Driver

Did you know there are special places where tube drivers can make a cup of tea?

#Fact: 😲 😲 😲 😲 😲 😲 😲 😲 😲 9/10

Where do tube drivers go to pee?

If you’ve ever wondered this – or many other tube wonderings – one tube driver is here to clear the air once and for all.

One of London’s most iconic trademarks and much-needed/loved/used transport systems is the London Underground, or the ‘tube’ for all those in the know. Speeding anywhere from the outer zones into the buzzing city centre, the tube is definitely the best way to get around London, fast and traffic-free (bar the occasional delay, ofc).

Cr: Nigel Howard

However, there are several secrets the tube holds that most passengers aren’t aware of. For instance, where do tube drivers go when they need to pee? Do they play games on their phones between stops? What do they do in a medical emergency? And why exactly is it called an ‘Oyster card’??

Giving us the answers to all these questions, a reddit user named IAmA London Underground Tube Driver held an ‘Ask Me Anything’ sesh last week, where eager reddit users were able to submit questions they always wanted answered by a tube driver.

From cups of tea to never saying ‘ladies and gentlemen’, read what he had to say below:

(Please note some questions have been edited for clarity, the answers remain original.)

1. Where do tube drivers go to use the toilet?

TubeDriverAMA: You can take a PNR (or Personal Needs Relief).

There are drivers toilets at a handful of platforms across the network which can be accessed with a what is known as a J Door Key, whilst the ladies toilets have their own special key only given to female members of staff. There are also hot water points so you can make a quick cup of tea. So you can pop out to the toilet and pop back in to the cab in fairly short order.

Alternatively when you get to either end of the line, or are taking a train into a depot then that is an opportunity to pop to the toilet also, etc.

Worst comes to absolute worst and it’s an emergency then you can leave the train at a station and go to wherever their staff toilets are, but they don’t like you to do that as holding your train in the platform completely messes up the service as no trains are moving behind you.

2. Is it a boring job?

TubeDriverAMA: It depends really… On the ATO (automatic) lines the train drives itself. You literally just open and close doors, and (very rarely) apply the emergency brake. On the manual lines there is a bit more skill involved in terms of actually driving the train using the handle, keeping to the timetable (which is in 1/2 minutes), providing a smooth journey and not having any SPAD’s (going past red signals). However it can be a bit boring, but I imagine being a mainline train driver is far more boring – driving through miles upon miles of empty countryside.

Edit – for clarity, ATO drivers actually do have to learn to drive the train manually in case the ATO system fails as it can do, and actually driving on an ATO line is probably harder than a manual as you’re not doing it day in day out.

3. What’s the dumbest thing a tourist has done?

TubeDriverAMA: There was one a while back who chained her suitcase to a bench at a central London tube station on the platform so she could go shopping before getting her plane. Caused a massive security alert.

4. Is it stuffy in the driver’s cab on lines without air conditioning? Do you have a portable fan?

TubeDriverAMA: Just because the passenger carriages don’t have air con doesn’t mean the drivers cab doesn’t… I believe all the stocks drivers cabs nowadays have air con, even the older stock like the Piccadilly has been retro-fitted, but if anyone doesn’t it’s probably the bakerloo.

Tube drivers also have a historic uniform exemption which makes them the only role in the LU at present to be allowed to wear shorts I believe, which as far as I’m aware was due to the heat but I’m not too sure. We are still allowed to wear shorts though, and nowadays we can even get company issued ones.

Though like any other item of uniform, ordering it and actually receiving it are another matter.

5. Are you allowed to say ‘ladies and gentlemen’ when making announcements to passengers?

TubeDriverAMA: The company says no, quite a few people still do it, more out of habit than anything else.

It could make those who do not identify with those genders feel uncomfortable or isolated on the network, etc.

TfL is quite progressive on this front and has started installing gender-neutral toilets (alongside the traditional male and female) at some locations.

I generally instead of “ladies and gentleman we are being held at a red signal…” I just say “Good afternoon, this is the driver, we are being held at a red signal”.

6. How much is the pay and what is the training like?

TubeDriverAMA: The pay is pretty decent – Full Time is £53K, Night Tube (Part Time – Friday and Saturday Night shifts only) is just under £25k. You also receive free travel for you and one other person that you can nominate, along with 75% off national rail and Eurostar discounts. Pension is final salary with 5% contributions.

There are no mimimim qualifications, you just need to pass all the selection tests which have a fairly high failure rate.

The two main routes in are either join the LU as a CSA on the stations and apply internally for full time when they come up, or join externally as a night tube driver then you will be placed on a waiting list for full time positions (if you so choose) without any additional tests or interviews. Full time positions are not advertised externally.

The training is fairly intensive (I have an honours degree and I found some aspects tougher than university) but shorter than mainline train driving. It can last anywhere from 12 weeks on an ATO line, to a fair bit more on the manual ones.

7. Do you ever get depressed not seeing the sun/being underground all day?

TubeDriverAMA: Depends which line you’re on – if you’re on the district you’ll be above ground pretty much all day 🙂

Cr: https://giphy.com/channel/trolli

8. What actually happens when there is a ‘signal failure’?

TubeDriverAMA: That is in an incredibly long and technical answer which changes depending on whether it is a semi-automatic signal or an automatic signal, if there is points and how can they be secured, etc.

Long story short if it’s an automatic signal it still messes up the service but it’s no where near as bad as a semi-automatic signal with points.

However, the basic principle is that when a signal fails it fails safe, so it will go to red and shut everything down. There is a procedure for passing a signal at danger when authorised to do so but to do so safely it takes time, and this is why it messes up the service because the underground runs in half minutes and applying the rule as it’s known takes a while so completely ruins the service.

The procedure also differs for automatics and semi-automatics, with the automatic procedure taking a lot less time initially compared to the semi-automatic when there is points involved.

9. What happens in emergencies when someone is ill on the train?

TubeDriverAMA: The British Transport Police have a medic unit who respond to medical emergencies on the underground on blue lights alongside an LU manager, they are effectively our medical response but we also call London Ambulance Service

10. What happens if a train knocks over a passenger? Are you trained for this kind of situation?

TubeDriverAMA: You do receive training for Person Under Train incidents but training can obviously never prepare you for the real thing.

The process is essentially that you call it in, get an emergency switch off of the traction current (power) and ideally lay down SCD’s, then they don’t really expect anything beyond you of that due to the shock. Then you wait for the police, ambulance, NIRT/ERU teams and occasionally the fire brigade who turn up fairly sharpish, and they do their thing.

The police take a first account off you at the scene detailing what happened – how you were driving, what you saw, etc. to determine if it was non-suspicious such as a suicide attempt or accident, but people have been pushed in front of tube trains before in which case it is murder or attempted murder.

You get mandatory leave (I say mandatory but you can waive it if you choose to do so). Thankfully it has never happened to me, but from what I’ve been told by other’s LU’s care for their staff is second to none and far above what is provided to our colleagues on the mainline.

Cr: https://www.buzzfeed.com/scottybryan/8-tube-hacks-that-every-londoner-needs-to-know

11. Do you get bored on the job? Do you talk to other drivers while in the train?

TubeDriverAMA: There is a radio in the cab which covers your line, so you can sometimes hear the controller and other driver chat but that’s about it. You do get some people who ride in the cab with you fairly regularly – Other drivers, etc so you’re not always alone.

12. Is there some sort of rivalry between London underground and London overground workers?

TubeDriverAMA: I am generally very positive towards all TfL staff and will acknowledge everyone whether they are LU, overground, TfL rail and also bus drivers although they are technically not TfL staff. However, like everywhere there will be some overground staff who dislike the LU – for example I’ve heard of people in uniform asking to use the staff toilet on the way home and overground staff refusing, etc. But then again, I don’t take the overground much so I can’t really comment.

13. Do you watch YouTube while you tube?

TubeDriverAMA: Using phones in the cab is a sacking offence

Cr: https://www.velikabritanija.net/2016/04/06/najgori-putnici-london-javni…

14. Is there a special room where you can see all the tube lines moving in real time?

TubeDriverAMA: There is a control room for each line, and a senior control room for the entire network. There is a computer system which tracks all the trains across the network called trackernet.

15. Do you receive training for potential terrorist attacks? And has anything like that ever happened on your train?

TubeDriverAMA: We do receive training on what to do in those emergency situations, but thankfully the closest I’ve ever come is unattended luggage which turned out to be lost property.

16. Why is it called an ‘oyster’ card?

TubeDriverAMA: When it was originally brought out they were between Oyster, Gem or Pulse as the name for it. They decided on Oyster due to the whole “the world is your oyster” thing IIRC.

17. And lastly, do you like your job?

TubeDriverAMA: I actually really do enjoy my job.

Cr: https://giphy.com/channel/rebeccahendin

Find out more and read on for more deets over on the IAmA London Underground Tube Driver AMA thread.

Happy commuting!