Hidden underneath short screeds about "Lincoln" and Mad Men is a little gem from train-driving blogger Electro-Kevin. In the context of the recent train crashes in Spain and Switzerland he discusses the individual tweaks towards safety he makes in his job, summarising the situation nicely:
You can't pack a rush-hour train with doctors, businessmen, scientists, politicians and have an idiot at the front driving it.A fully loaded train at rush hour, travelling into London, can easily carry many hundreds of such people to work. Assuming the average cost of a life at £1M, which is probably low for a professional in a rush hour train, you're looking at half a billion quid at risk on every single journey. On balance, you don't want this being done by a half-trained chimp. Ironically, for most lawyers and management consultants on the train, you could substitute half-trained chimps and make a net benefit for society, but I digress.
Electro-Kevin is acutely aware of this responsibility, and so aims to make his trains safer:
In addition to Press-and-Call I wear rubber charity bands. I use them in the following way:Do you see how clever this is? He has built himself an analogue reminder system - if he's proceeding towards a red light but forgets, and starts to accelerate to his normal speed, the sensation of train acceleration combined with the squeezing of his finger and palm will trigger "hey, this feels wrong" in his sensory system. He has removed the need to remember a special condition with no visual input ("I'm proceeding towards a red signal"), aware of the fallibility of human memory, and backstopped it with a sensory stimulus.
I find this system works well at all times, especially in darkness. The light tugging of the band whilst traversing a long red section means that I am thinking constantly about the red signal.
- around my palm denotes that my train is longer than normal (so I stop at the right marker on platforms)
- around my fingers denotes that I have an irregular stopping pattern (so I don't miss stations)
- wrapped around fingers AND palm denotes that I am under a cautionary sequence of signals approaching a red.
Clever, n'est ce pas? What Government agency or safety consultancy came up with this system?
This system is simple and cheap and is the most effective that I have come across and - best of all - it was invented by ME !To be fair, this works for Electro-Kevin but may not work for other drivers who process sensory stimuli differently. It is however an excellent way of providing another layer of safety in the system of driving a train through a busy and complex mesh of track. It's a reminder that if your system relies on human recollection to avoid an accident, you're going to discover how foolish is such a reliance.
This is why paying train drivers very substantial salaries can make sense; if, as a result, you can employ people with an active interest in the safety of their train then you're buying yourself a bargain in reduced risk of accident. Of course, the real trick is ensuring that salaries and safety are actually aligned. How do you objectively rate the safety of a driver in a system where the first serious accident a driver causes is usually his last, and such accidents are in any case extremely rare? The best you can do is try to spot precursors to accidents, e.g. signals passed at danger (SPADs) and base salaries on incidence of precursors, but even then you give drivers - and to a lesser extent their friends in the signal box - a strong disincentive to report such precursors, which might otherwise warn you of an imminent accident at a given junction.
Considering the number of trains on the busy criss-crossing tracks around London, it astonishes me that we don't have a serious crash every couple of months. It seems to astonish Electro-Kevin too. I'm not sure whether that reassures me or not.