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Lara Balogun TYOK Tube Driver
Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re a tube driver

James FitzGerald

…according to Lara Balogun, 52.

Some drivers spend their entire career on a single tube line

Training as a driver is intense – there’s a lot of physics and engineering – and it’s very specific to a single line. I’ve driven on the Jubilee line for almost 20 years, but if I wanted to switch route, I would have to start all over again. Thankfully, I love the Jubilee. I love learning its quirks.

It takes technique to keep things running on time

Driving a train is a real skill – the doors literally will not open if you haven’t stopped in the exact right place. There’s one lever that controls a train’s movement: push forwards to accelerate, pull back to slow down. It’s called a “dead man’s handle” because if a driver suffers a heart attack at the controls (heaven forbid), simply letting go of the handle triggers an emergency brake.

Not everyone hates rush hour

The peak period is the most intense part of the day – but it’s the most fulfilling too. A tube driver likes to have stuff going on, because once you’ve done the job for a while, the hardest thing is the monotony down in the tunnels. That’s why we’re not allowed to drive for more than four hours and 15 minutes at a time: it’s for safety. You can’t concentrate much beyond that.

On the Underground, even tea breaks are supposed to run like clockwork

Drivers get abuse for closing the doors too quickly, but the Underground only works if it runs to a very strict timetable. For example, I’m given no more than 29 seconds to wait at Canary Wharf station, or 17 at Bond Street. In fact, that level of discipline applies to the whole job. When I get in for work, I’m allowed precisely seven minutes to have a cup of tea.

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