Friday, 17 October 2008

Going Underground

I spent Wednesday from 9pm through to 6am on Thursday filming gang workers fixing the Victoria Line on the London Underground for the ITV programme "/london".

I actually managed to take my personal camera with me, so there will be some photographs going up shortly. It's a strange business alright. Because there's very little available time to do the work, everything is on a very tight schedule. But because everything has to be safe, there's a hell of a lot that has to be done, checked, signed and double-checked before certain jobs can be done.

What struck me most about the whole experience, and I hope this comes across in the piece, is the relish with which these gang-workers attack their jobs. I was expecting professional, but moody, taciturn types getting on with it. Not so. Communication is a big part of the job, and as a result confident, verbose people are a requirement.

They also have to be fit (some of the lads clearly work out, very few are overweight) and they have to trust each other, look out for each other and demonstrate they know exactly what they are doing at all times.

There are no passengers (excuse the pun) on any track gang, and there is no time for anyone who doesn't have a specific, and clearly defined role. As a result - happy campers. It's well-ish paid (a track op starts at around £26K rising to £43 for a SPIC - site person in charge) and there's plenty of overtime.

The work is intense, but the hours are short - clock on at 9.45pm - done by 4.30am (unless something goes wrong or overtime, in which case there is an inquest back at the depot). None of the team seem to mind working nights and they seem very engaged with the work - they sense they are doing something that is precise and useful, oiling the cogs in a very big machine.

They also tolerated us, and when they had decided we weren't complete prats were actually quite friendly. Our chaperones for the evening - a PR guy who was ex-ITN and an engineer from London Underground couldn't have been more helpful.

The night I was there all the jobs got done (some cutting and welding of replacement rails and cracking out of old wooden sleepers to be replaced by cement ones) on time or early and everyone was pleased with a good night's work. I think we got what we needed, but I'm writing this as the rushes are ingesting, and I'll only really know when I've logged them.

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