A Day in the Life of a Driver – Part 3: Anatomy of Shifts (Links)

Last time we looked at the type of trains one can normally find at the Golden Railway. Today we will look at how those trains fit into the various shifts.

It’s an accepted practice that Drivers can swap duties by filling out a Swap Form and submitting it to the Roster Clerk. For example, some prefer all early morning shifts (That’s ME!), some prefer middle shifts and some prefer all late afternoon shifts. You spend a lot of spare time contacting other Drivers to swap duties around but it’s worth it in the end and there is the benefit that your weeks are more regular, minimizing the effects of Shift Work on your system – but that’s Human Factoring, so we can discuss that another time!

Here’s a brief summary of each Shift type (I will use the General Commuter Service Line as an example, since it’s my favourite):


These are the shifts that start it all. These Drivers are tasked with preparing and driving trains to the terminal stations to get the Time Table underway. There are a few Drivers that ride as passengers to terminal stations to relieve other trains later.*

A typical morning shift on the General Commuter Line can see you taking a train out the Depot to a Terminal Station (In this example, let’s use a shift where you take a train out to Hatfield where it begins service. There are a variety of ways a shift is done, this is just one example – everything is done according to a Journal). This is the side of the duty that the traveling public see. Upon arriving at Hatfield, the driver releases the doors, deactivates and makes his way to the other cab. Once there, he activates the cab, inserts his ID and the Route Code. When Departure Time comes, the Conductor will either call the Driver over his Portable/Mobile Radio or give a Hand-signal. The Driver presses the Door Close Interlock Buttons and, once he receives the indication that all doors are locked, he proceeds.

At Pretoria, he will get off the train to relieve the next train to Park. Let’s say in this instance it is a 4-car train, so, at Park, he will change ends, activate, wait for Departure Time and the Call/Signal from the Conductor and bring the Train back to Pretoria where he disembarks again.

Then he relieves the train to Park again, but this time it’s an 8-car, at Park he disembarks to relieve the next train, another 8-car. So he walks up to the rest room and waits for the next 8-car to arrive according to his Journal. Finally, he brings the train to Pretoria and now he is on lunch for an hour.

By now Peak Time is over and so the next train he relieves is a 4-car to Hatfield and back to Pretoria. Once he arrives in Pretoria, he goes on Disposal (like Standby) for 42 minutes. On his final trip, he relieves another 4-car train to Park where he will be relieved by another Driver. Now he remains on that train but travels as a passenger back to Midrand Station where he will wait for the Staff Shuttle Bus to take him and other colleagues back to the Depot to hand in his Journal and Portable Radio and sign off. This time can also be utilized to write a report if there is a need for one, say, if one of his trains failed.


These are the shifts that fill in the gaps and allow the first drivers to either go on break or allow them to return to the Depot to sign off. They are also there while the late afternoon Drivers come on duty and for when the late afternoon Drivers go on breaks.

A typical Middle Shift can start at the Dispatch Office at the Depot or at Sandton Station (We’ll use Sandton in our example). The Driver signs on as was described in the previous blogpost. His Journal tells him that he starts with an hour Disposal. After Disposal, he is Passenger to Park Station, where he will relieve the very same train – a 4-car train.

He drives the train to Pretoria and disembarks. The next train he relieves to
Hatfield – an 8-car – will become a Dead Head train back to the Depot since we are now entering Off Peak Time. Upon arriving at the Northern Side of the Depot, the Control Center will change him over into the Pocket Track where he will stop at a Signal at Danger – he is waiting for an Up Train. Moments later, he sees the headlights of the train and it zooms past. 180 seconds later the Control Center sets up his Route to enter the Depot where he will stop at the Depot Entrance Signal and call the Control Center to get his Stabling Position and the signal he will receive (either Yellow at 45 Degrees or a Flashing Red – each with their own procedure to be followed).

His Journal will now tell him that he is on Lunch and then a Passenger with the Staff Shuttle Bus to Midrand where he will be Passenger to Park. At Park he will wait for the next train which he will relieve (this happens to be our Early Morning Shift Driver from our earlier example). He takes this train to Pretoria.

At Pretoria he disembarks and waits to relieve the next train to Hatfield and back. Yet again, he relieves another train to Hatfield and back to Pretoria. For his last trip, he relieves an 8-car train to Park where he will be relieved by another Driver and then be Passenger to Sandton to hand in his Journal and Radio and sign off.


These are the Last Men (and women) Standing, it is their job to bring the trains back to the Depot for Stabling.

So let’s say our third Driver signs on at the Depot. Sometimes a Driver’s shift can need them to take out an 8-car that was brought in earlier for afternoon Peak Time, but our Driver’s Journal says he is passenger to Midrand with the Staff Shuttle Bus, thereafter he is Passenger to Pretoria and will be on Disposal for 21 minutes, relieves a train to Hatfield and back to Pretoria. He relieves the next train (an 8-car train that just came from the Depot and started service at Hatfield) to Park. Upon arriving at Park he goes on Lunch.

After Lunch he relieves – yup, you guessed it – our middle shift Driver, who just brought in an 8-car train. At Pretoria, he relieves a 4-car train to Park and back to Pretoria. He then relieves a train to Hatfield and back and ends his shift by relieving a train to Park. At Park, the train becomes a Dead Head back to the Depot. When withdrawing a train from service it’s the Driver and Conductor’s responsibility to ensure that all the passengers are off the train. This is done by physically checking each car and making sure it’s clear of passengers. This can have it’s own problems if someone’s fallen asleep and are at the wrong end of the line and there’s no more trains back. Our Driver will enter the Southern Side of the Depot and wait at the South Entrance Signal where once again he will call the Control Center and they will give him the appropriate Stabling Track and signal. He ends his day on a Disposal of 22 minutes and then signs off.

I just joined the above shifts for fun, but in real life all shifts work together to make the whole system run and the above is certainly not impossible.

Periodically, a Route Supervisor will travel with the Driver in the cab between two stations or for a whole trip and perform Task Observations on the Driver and Conductor. Most days I don’t have one done on me, but my current record is 4 in one day. Now and then different departments (for instance from Infrastructure) will send an employee with a permit to ride in the cab with you over a certain section to test or check something. You may even be visited by a Facilitator with a new trainee and, depending on the employee, may even take a trainee and teach them for a week of two.


As the name states, on this shift, the Driver washes all the train sets. I have not done this shift yet, but basically the Driver signs on at the Depot in the early evening – in time to catch the first trains coming in. He, most if the time with the help of a Maintainer, will spend the evening washing and staging all the trains – a lot of foot work! Some nights, the Maintainers will ask the Driver to take a train out onto the Mainline to test whatever they may have installed, changed or replaced. Sometimes Management also goes along with investors or engineers into the tunnel to check whatever they want to see. I hear from most Drivers that on this shift you can learn a lot of extra things outside the scope of the Drivers Course. Good to be friends with Maintainers I guess!


You could also be booked to be on Standby. This means that you don’t have an allocated shift, but are there to cover unexpected absences, uncovered duties, late running and so on. You may need to finish a shift if a colleague falls ill or has a personal emergency whilst on duty. If there is no Driver booked on the Hot Standby Train, you may be asked to go man the train. There are Standby Drivers booked to cover early and late shifts, if the Standby has to take a middle shift, the afternoon Standby will relieve them normally.

*As a side note, we refer to relieving a train also as Sliding in certain instances. Sliding occurs at Pretoria and Park where – especially in Peak Time – time is short and trains need to change direction quickly. So let’s say a Driver brings in an 8-car train to Pretoria from Park. The Dwell Time (the time allocated for a train stop in a platform and allow passengers to disembark and embark before departing again) at Pretoria is only 80 seconds. The Driver stops, releases the doors and deactivates – let’s say from the moment he stops until he gets out and closes the cab door it takes 10 seconds. It takes the Driver 30 seconds to walk briskly the length of a unit (4-cars, this is an 8-car train). By the time he gets to the other cab, opens the cab door and activates the cab inserting his ID (a unique number for each Driver) and the Route Code (This tells the train which station it is at and enables it to make the automatic announcements before, during and after a stop. It also helps the train choose the correct doors to release at certain stations where not all doors are released – the driver still has to manually press the Door Release Buttons for the correct side though), checking the details and sending it, it’s another 40 seconds. We can see here that in total he will take an average of 110 seconds – 30 seconds over his allocated Dwell Time, he is now delaying trains behind him, don’t forget that it takes 180 seconds for a track circuit to clear after a train has passed it into the next section as well (this is a built in safety aspect to ensure the next route set is really clear and protected. So, what sliding allows is for the one Driver to bring the train in, another Driver to take it to Hatfield and bring it back. The Driver that brought the train in from Park will most of the time relieve the next train from Park. The same principal happens when a Driver comes in from Hatfield and another Driver will relieve the train at Pretoria and take it to Park. All 8-car trains are relieved by another Driver at Park and only a few 4-cars.

This is the final installment in this mini-series, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did explaining it!


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