Last month 15 of our members headed to Acton to find out more about London Underground's Emergency Response Unit.
Dennis Hindley, the ERU's Duty Manager, set up a fascinating behind the scenes tour which gave us a real insight into the incredible work carried out by the dedicated team of specialists who respond to critical problems and emergencies on the Transport for London network.
They are ready to deal with anything from delivering urgent signalling equipment, fixing damaged track and repairing holes in wire fences to incidents such as derailments, passengers on the track and major disasters such as terrorist attacks. Their mission is to keep the London Underground moving and deal with disruptions as quickly as possible. As well as the tube they also cover the DLR and Croydon Tramlink networks.
Dennis, and his colleague Darren Sawyer, kicked of the session, by telling us about the wide range of responsibilities of the ERU and how it is set up to deal with them. Its 135 members work in teams and shifts to provide emergency cover on a 24/7 basis. Since the unit was originally formed in 1993, it has developed and progressed considerably.
As well as training their own team in the requisite skills, the ERU also provides training for the London Fire Brigade and Ambulance services in dealing with rail emergencies. Since 2012 the ERU has been afforded the same authority to travel under blue lights as the other emergency services.
The Q & A session moved us into the area of gender balance. It was no secret, Dennis said, that only three females work in the unit and only one of those is on the operational team. He stressed that they are very keen to get more women on board. We had to call time on the lively and interesting discussion that followed to move on to the practical experience that we had all been looking forward to.
Out in the training area, we got to meet the on-duty team who gave us a tour of the emergency response vehicles and the enormous range of equipment they carry to deal with the equally enormous range of incidents they meet. This includes water pumps, hydraulic lifting equipment, manual jacks and a whole lot more.
Then it was time for us to show what they were made of when we were invited to take part in a training exercise – crawling under a tube carriage.
This was not a task for the weak or faint-hearted. Not only was the cramped space and lack of headroom extremely challenging, but strength and stamina were needed in abundance to keep going. And, in truth, this was the easy version - in a real emergency, the underneath of the train would be hot, probably in pitch darkness and there could well be a lot more than one carriage to crawl under – not to mention the equipment you might need to carry.
The next exercise, involved skills of a totally different kind. After an expert demonstration we got to test our own dexterity by transferring an egg between two pots using hydraulic 'spreaders' which you would normally use to prise open doors. Definitely not as easy as it sounds, but some of our members rose to the challenge admirably and Feli Shallow was awarded a prize for completing the exercise without cracking the egg.
All in all it was a morning very well spent and these comments from some of our members just about sum it up.
“I loved that we could get really stuck in and have a go with the equipment. The guys running it were so accommodating in answering all of our questions. It was great to find out more about what this team does, I had no idea it even existed.”
“This event gave me a great insight in to this really important service that LU provide to the network. I have the utmost respect for everything they do there and was amazed at their calm composure and dedication to the job they do. I really enjoyed getting hands on with some of the equipment and having first hand experience of crawling under the train.”
“The event allowed me to experience something that I wouldn't usually, and learnt a lot about what goes on behind the scenes with emergency services. It's also a great way to make contacts, and have a lot of fun too - especially with the train crawl!”
“Dennis and his team are an inspiration! The work they do every day of the year to ensure the safe operation of the tube is incredible. I have a huge amount of respect for the ERU and we were very lucky to have got a small taster of the training they complete and what the job entails. Thank you WiT and ERU!”
There's no doubt that we all appreciated the insight into the wonderful work that the ERU team do. We would also like to thank them for being so generous with their time and for handling our never-ending questions with such patience and humour.