I cannot believe that my classroom training is halfway through. But it is; eight of sixteen weeks completed. It has passed by me at a rate of knots.
Don't worry, I don't get let loose after sixteen weeks. Once completed, I have some more weeks of conversion courses (to learn other types of trains that I will be driving), and then I spend many months of driving with an instructor. Once I've done 240 hours and passed my final rules and driving assessments, only then do I get to pull the levers unsupervised.
I've now completed modules dealing with Personal Track Safety, and learned my core traction, and we now commenced signalling.
This week just gone, however, has been the best so far. I've been front-ending, which means sitting in the second-man's seat in the cab and seeing how it's all done. As well as the thrill of having the second best seat on the train, this was invaluable experience of what we've been taught in class. Seeing is understanding.
The six Leeds drivers were given a rota of six diagrams (shifts), meaning each of us missed one of the diagrams. I missed out on the Leeds - Manchester - Hebden Bridge - Preston - Leeds trip, but got the following choice routes (highlighted red on the Northern Rail network map below):
08.29 Leeds - York (via Harrogate)
11.11 York - Leeds (via Harrogate)
12.59 Leeds - Knaresborough
14.05 Knaresborough - Leeds
08.49 Leeds - Carlisle
11.55 Carlisle - Skipton
14.48 Skipton - Leeds
13.49 Leeds - Morecambe (via Lancaster)
16.19 Morecambe - Leeds
19.02 Leeds - Ilkley
19.41 Ilkley - Leeds
13.48 Leeds - Sheffield (via Rotherham)
15.14 Sheffield - Leeds (via Rotherham)
17.16 Leeds - Goole
18.49 Goole - Leeds
14.05 Leeds - Nottingham
16.15 Nottingham - Leeds
19.19 Leeds - Doncaster
20.26 Doncaster - Leeds
The routes we were given all included interesting features, layouts, signalling or operation that was relevant to the modules we'd completed to date. For example, the Leeds to Morecambe route has the longest Absolute Block section in the country, so has no signals for 24 miles. Tuesday gave me good views of the famous if rather damp Settle to Carlilse route, plus free tea and coffee from volunteers on the line. The lines to Harrogate and Goole were very slippy. I saw signalling faults, helped when a passenger collapse just outside Leeds station (he was OK, and was met by an ambulance at the next station), saw scores of foxes, badgers, rabbits and pheasants (some of which we hit), and finished the week flying towards Doncaster at almost 100mph (the quickest speed any Northern Rail train can reach).