Public Safety versus Railway Profits. III The Driver.

[continued from last issue.]

How often has one gone on any busy station and seen a crowd of people gathered round a large engine just about to “get away” with a world famous train ! And how often have we heard very harsh and untrue things said about the men thereon, especially in the neighbour­hood of August 1911, by the master class, and even by many misguided workers !

“The men have fine jobs and get good money, and they ought not to be allowed anywhere where beer and spirits are sold, nor to smoke, for the responsibility of these men is great, and every precaution should betaken.” That is what I have often heard from “gentlemen,” and that, no doubt, expresses the ideas of many people on the subject.

I will attempt to show what a “fine job” and what “good money” falls to the lot of the engine driver.

As regards beer, Carrie Nation herself could not have said anything stronger ; besides, it im­plies that the majority of accidents are due to drink, which is not the case—though doubtless there have been times when a loco. man has been at fault in this respect.

I am not advocating the “Standard’s” “right to get drunk.” I agree that “every precaution should be taken.” But to debar the men from having any beer or tobacco is not precaution, but only tyranny. Real precautions cost money, and hence lower dividends, so they are not taken.

At the commencement of these articles I stated that in order to cope with the dangers of their calling, all men of the running department should be assured of a decent living, decent conditions, perfect machinery, good education, and encouragement. All this is essential to making a man thoroughly efficient. But all, alas! is sadly lacking.

The fireman who has done about sixteen years swinging the shovel first undergoes a very stiff exam, to see if the fire has “killed” his eyes. If such is the case he is ruthlessly cast aside, but if he gets through he is in for an exam. of the engine that no one has taught him—unless it is his driver, who only tells him what he has had to find out for himself. If he passes he is then a “spare driver” : i.e., he drives if there is a job, but if not he has to go firing, with a corresponding reduction in pay. He is usually “spare driving” about four years, and then, after passing more exams, and tests, he becomes a full-blown driver.

Let us look at this man, whom we perhaps have seen with a pipe on as he sits down for a minute or two before running something like 350 miles. Upon his presence of mind and vigilence depends the safe running of the train, and one would think that, to keep him fit for a task that must tax him to the utmost, he above all men would be assured of decent conditions, pay, and rest. But far from this is the case.

The driver’s hours are ten, and there is plenty of overtime. And besides being “in steam” at home, for which he is not paid, he is a victim of “lodging out.”

It will be quickest, perhaps, to describe a driver’s day’s work. His first duty is to “sign on.” He must then read the notices—whether they concern him or not he must read and know them—and sign a book saying that he has read them. He then proceeds to get his engine ready. “Everything that could possibly go wrong must be examined” (“British Locomotives,” p. 348). At the same time he must oil the whole of the working parts. Often he must make a shunt to get water and coal. Having done all this, he “whistles up,” and goes right away to back on to his train at a terminus or wait for it at a road-side station.

From signing on to “right away” half an hour is allowed (in the interest of safety) which is far too short a time in which to do the work satisfactorily on the big engines of to-day. This is well known to the officials, as Mr. Bowen Cooke says that the statement that the firemen should come on before booked applies equally to the drivers. (“British Locomotive,” p. 383.)

Often only a quarter of an hour is allowed to get on the train, and this is the first the public sees of the driver—when he has been at work an hour and a half.

When the driver backs on the train he delivers a “ticket” to the guard, who times the train throughout the trip, stating whether he is early or late at various points and why. And if the driver is not “to time,” and no “satisfactory” excuse is forthcoming, it means a fine or suspension, even if the engine is vastly overloaded.

Another examination of the brake apparatus is made here to see if it is all right on the train, in accordance with rule 3d Vacuum Appendix, and the guard tells him what load he has on, and the brake-power under his control.

The average express-train load throughout tbe country is about 350 tons behind the tender on passenger, and about 45 waggons (average capacity 10 tons) or about 750 tons on goods trains. (These waggons, by the way, are loose coupled, and have no brake-power provided to “hold” them, except it be a 10- or 20-ton egg-box). Even this seems, in the eyes of those jeal­ous guardians of the “public safety,” the rail­way directors, to be too much, for within the last few weeks a goods guard on the Midland Railway was dismissed for refusing to take a train with insufficient brake-power, according to that company’s own rules. To have taken the train would have directly affected the driver in working it, and woe betide him if he lost control over it !

We must now consider the “homework” a driver has to do to properly work his train. He has an Appendix consisting of about 1,200 pages, with the working time-table, which he must know—for he dare not take his eyes off the road while he is running. Weekly notices are issued to him in reference to any alterations of signals and repairs to the road, and he must be prepared to act on them. Many a “day off” of a driver is taken up in learning all this printed matter, which is, in effect, part of his work, and for which he receives nothing.

We must not, however, forget the Rule Book, containing over 260 rules, which it is impera­tive he must know.

Still now the signal is “off,” the flag waved and whistle blown and we are on the move. Through rain, snow, fog, wind, and boiling sun this frail hero is now “doing his duty,” ever mindful of what he has behind him, and knowing only too well what it means if he does not get over the road to time—at speeds which are sometimes criminally excessive. But we are a queer people in a queer system.

Bdsides driving his own train the driver must be prepared to safeguard trains travelling on the opposite road (Rule 191c), and occasionally to assist the fireman, either manually or viva-voce. He must make no “unnecessary” noise in the working, nor must smoke be emitted from the engine, for either of these offences are re­warded with a fine or suspension, and in the case of smoke it falls on the fireman as well, for “being concerned with driver in making a smoke when working train” (“British Locomo­tives,” p. 346.)

After he has worked one way according to written orders, the driver “comes off” the train and gets into a siding or the nearest loco. shed, and there “another examination must be made by the driver in readiness for the return jour­ney” (“British Locomotives,” p. 370). The return trip is performed as before, after which the engine is taken to the shed and again exa­mined, and put away.

When the driver leaves his train the guard gives him back his tickets, which he then has to copy out on to a “way-bill,” also stating what coal and oil he has had, what coaches attached and detached, and make out a report of any irregularity in the day’s work.

This bill sometimes takes half an hour to write out, and then the driver has to enter in the “repair book” whatever he may have found wrong with the engine during his examinations and in the running. He then finds out his turn for the next day, “books off,” and goes home.

From the time of arriving on the shed half an hour is allowed to get clear away and “book off,” but it usually takes nearer an hour.

Such is a very brief outline of a day’s work on the footplate. The number of hours worked by a driver in a week actually on the job amounts to anything between 60 and 80, to say nothing of the work of memorising he has to get through at home.

Now a word as to the pay. “Spare” drivers, as a rule, get 5s. 6d. per day, and when firing 6d. less. The “registered” driver usually starts at 6s., and continues at this for three years or so, until he has advanced to occasionally getting a “running” job. Many companies then “brac­ket” the pay of drivers. If a “bracketed” man runs six miles he is entitled to 7s. a day; if he runs less he only gets 6s. And, needless to say, the mileage is made up as a rule so that he only gets the 6s, I know of a case where one mile is deliberately cut out of the mileage table in order to “dish” drivers out of 1s. a day. From A to B is three miles, but the return trip over the opposite pair of rails is only given as two, so the driver making that journey, though he actually runs six miles, is only allowed to book five !

Generally when a man is properly “on the road” (i.e., does little or no shunting), his wage is 7s. a day. Occasionally 8s. is the highest wage of a main-line driver in this country, and this, with all expenses to be paid, including “lodging” away from home, is shamefully ina­ dequate.

The average shunting and local drivers’ wage is from 36s. to 42s. a week, and on the main lines it is higher where the mileage rates are in force. Long distance engine working is a favourite dodge of the companies’ to save additional engines and men ; so, as a general thing, many companies lay it down that 150 miles shall be a day’s work. But owing to the long distance working, many men get 1¼ , 1½, or 2 days in one, which looks very nice—on paper.

The men, however, are worn out after these long trips, and where they are in vogue, usually follow a long trip by a short one. This often means 9 hours off after having worked 12, 13, and sometimes even 14 hours on the job, which is clearly a menace to public safety.

Other companies have the “trip” system—so much for the trip—which on a number of lines means hours worked for nothing at all. A few companies work on “classification,” paying different rates for different trains worked ; so many a man’s hours are paid at two or three different ratings in one day.

Anyway, the average “crack” driver’s earnings are a little less than £2 10s. per week, for which, as in the case of the fireman, something like 950 miles must be run.

The safety of the driver or the public is not allowed to stand in the way of the sweating of the railway servants and the heaping up of profits. Signals are placed anywhere, and not in the best position to be read ; and many of them cannot be seen until one is quite close to them. On most lines no difference is shown by night between a “home” and a “distant” signal, nor are the slackening notice-boards illuminated. In the “interests of public safety” the driver has to guess where these notices—in fact, many lines discard them altogether. The same applies to water trough, and crane notice boards, and also gradient boards. Chance rules the road. The driver is even placed on the wrong side of the engine to see the signals and station work himself, and he has to ask his mate to look for him. Even in the matter of stopping a train the “actual” brake-power is not known : only the “absolute” power is shown when running, and the actual power at the driver’s command often falls short of that shown on the brake gauge. Nothing is told him as to where to apply the brake—he has to find this out from his own experience.

A further example of the elaborate precau­tions taken to procure safety is found when, in long-distance working, the driver has to leave the regulator and swing the shovel because the half-starved fireman becomes exhausted. And again in the common practice of putting a young and inexperienced fireman on a heavy job in order to save a few pence—which re-acts on the driver. At the best his hands and mind are over-crowded, and it is murder to impose these additions to his duties.

Now that we have briefly looked at the con­ditions under which our enginemen work, we can truthfully say that their lot is a hard one, and that it is a period of continual overwork. Any child knows full well that such a state of affairs cannot exist side by side with safety. A study of what is here laid bare will show that the conditions of labour of the men upon whom the safety of those using the railways depends constitute a public scandal. But there is still more speeding-up in the air so far as the Loco. Dept. is concerned, which will make railway travelling still more dangerous. And until the railway magnates, together with all other property owners, are dispossessed, and the railways, together with all the other means and instruments of production and distribution, become socially owned, profit will be the first consider­ation, and the public welfare and safe services quite a secondary matter.


[To be Continued.]

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