A Day in the Life of a Driver – Part 1: Train Preparation

I thought it might be of interest for my readers to see what is in a day in the life of a Train Driver at the Golden Railway. This blogpost will be a bit of an insight into what we do and when, why and how the shifts work. No two shifts are the same, so what I’ll try to do is give you a feel for what occurs at different times during the day, depending on the shift being worked. This will be a multi-part series as it’s quite a long explanation!

At the Golden Railway trains start running at about 05h30 and the working day continues until about 21h12 when the last passengers disembark at Terminal Stations – this is what the passengers see. But behind the scenes, a whole lot more happens! We start and end at least an hour to two hours before and after the first and last passengers set foot in or out of the station!

We have a calendar where we do any combination of one week of early morning shifts (where we book on any time between 03h31 until 05h53); one week middle shifts (between 06h24 and 11h44) and finally, one week late shifts (between 11h59 and 13h22). There is also the daily ‘odd’ shift we call Wash Sets that starts at 18h00. Minimum shift length is 9 hours and can go – currently – to 10 hours (including lunch hour), of which actual Driving Time is between 3 to 6 hours long. We work 6 days on and then get two days off, except when the rotation gets to weekends (but I’ll leave that explanation for another time).

You begin your day by signing on at the Biometric Machine. Then you walk to the Dispatch Office to let the Route Supervisor know you are reporting for duty. He/She will make you blow into the Alcotest machine (breatherliser) to ensure that you are sober. From there you will sign the Declaration Form, noting your sign on and off times, your result after blowing on the Alcoblow, whether or not you are taking medication, that you are qualified for your duty Safety talk and your rest period since your last shift.

Once you’ve blown and the Route Supervisor has seen that you are sober, you are issued with your Daily Driving Sheet (Journal that also lists your train number/s and the stabling track where your train is positioned and also your trips for the day), your radio and – if you are preparing a train – a certificate from the maintainers where you can list any faults and where running restrictions are listed, if any. You will read the rule of the week and memorize it and if there are any speed restrictions or any other restrictions, you will be informed by the Route Supervisor and sign that you received the info and any relevant documents, if any. You must also read the safety notices on the notice board.

Then it’s off to the stabling tracks. If you are going to Hatfield, you will depart from the Northern Side of the Depot and if you are going either to ORTIA via Sandton or Park, you will depart out the Southern Side of the Depot (with the exception of the Park Sweeper Train – more on that later). On the way you will look for any hanging objects in the Catenary Wire, that the train has no ‘Do Not Move’ boards, the Removable Coupler Cover is secured and that there are no obstructions on the tracks around your train.

Upon reaching your train, you start by preparing what will be the non-driving cab when you depart. Once you’ve entered the cab you can start by energizing the train if it has been shut down and stabled. It will begin with a self test of the on board Signalling equipment and you can begin with a visual inspection of the cab from left to right. You’ll be checking various Miniature Circuit Breakers (MCBs), switches, screens and indicators. By now the train would have finished the various self tests, so you take a seat and ‘activate’ the cab by inserting and turning your Master Key, you also raise the pantograph/s by pressing the Pan Up button. You set the train length on the in-cab Signalling Keypad and select a specific operating mode.

Next, you log-on to the touch screen interface, inserting your Driver’s ID and a specific Route Code. You can run without a Route Code, since your train will be a Dead Head anyway, but you won’t know if the Passenger Info System (PIS) is working properly if you don’t insert one. If your train was energized by you, various codes will come up indicating to you that the self tests were successful.

Now you begin with the actual tests, as follows. It was put into this order by my Route Supervisor, Mentor and Friend – Bennie. The acronym is SHEDDHPLW (pronounced Shed Horsepower Low):

– Static Break Test (The various brake pressures at different Brake Steps)
– Hill Start Test (This assists the Driver when departing on a rising gradient)
– Emergency Push Buttons (Drops the Pantograph/s and applies Emergency Brakes – raise pantograph/s afterwards)
– Driver Safety Device (The vigilance device that checks a Driver’s Alertness)
– Doors (Checking that all doors open and none are isolated or blocked)
– Horn and Depot Whistle
– Public Address System /Mobile Radio (That the speakers work in the saloon and Radio Strength when talking to the Control Center)
– Lights (Headlights and Cab Lights are working)
– Windscreen Wiper and Controls

Now you are done and you walk through the train checking that PIS displays work, there are no blown lights, the air-conditioning and body side heating is working, the general cleanliness of the saloon, no Passenger Emergency Buttons are active and no Emergency Egress handles are pulled and the doors don’t display ‘Out of Order’ (If the door was isolated, you should pick it up when testing the doors, but one never knows if there isn’t a system miscommunication, so it’s always good to double check, likewise with regards to Emergency Egress Handle and Passenger Emergency Buttons). You will also check that the Electrical, Emergency and Pantograph Equipment cupboards are closed and locked as well as the Internal Brake Isolating Cock cover. If it’s an 8 car train, you will ensure that the middle cab lights, headlights and mobile radios are off and the blinds are pulled down.

Once you get to the Driving Cab, the train is already energized so you begin with your visual inspection and then go straight to SHEDDHPLW. When you depart, or if you move closer to the signal, now is a good time to do a Running Brake Test by taking the train up to 20km/h and then applying full service brakes. The regenerative brake will kick in and then kick out and the friction brakes take over until you stop.

This is the end of Part 1 and you haven’t even left the Depot yet!

In the next part of this series, we will talk about the various trains and in a later post, look into detail into what trips a typical shift might consist of, depending on the time of day – until next time!

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