What is/was the worst job on the railway?

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Inspired by this recent thread, alongside this older one regarding the Woodhead tunnels, I wonder...what do you think was, or indeed is, the worst job in the history of the railways?

Doing a six-hour stint in the choking, dark and damp environment of the Woodhead tunnels must be pretty near the top, as evidenced by the short-lived existance of the role. But, would that be preferable to spending twelve-hours trudging over Shap summit in a blizzard, tightening fish-plates? Are the signallers who spend a whole day sitting by themselves, staring at a bank of screens, driven to insanity? The navvies who dug Box tunnel had to work in the same vacinity as rock-blasting, because it would take too long to evacuate the tunnels before detonation. Was the awfulness of that job mitigated by the pay and heroic quantities of whisky consumed?

No wrong answers, I'm just interested to hear anyone's examples or anecdotes of jobs, recent or historic, that stand-out as being particularly tough in an industry that's not always been known for its easy-going working conditions!

I've always thought that the rear-facing guards on early GWR services, perched on a seat at the back of the tender with brief to just watch-over the carriages, must have had a pretty rough time of it in winter!
 
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Iskra

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Being a shunter was notoriously dangerous work.

Also, being a navvy can’t have been too much fun.
 
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Mcr Warrior

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Cleaning up duties can't ever be much fun. :|

Routine stuff (back in the day or on heritage lines) such as steam train boiler maintenance and overhauls.

Cleaning up (in more modern times) after Friday / Saturday night "vomit comets" have made their way back to the depot.

Emptying toilet retention tanks.

And last, but not least, those specialist track workers who have to remove dead livestock, run over wild animals and the suchlike (or worse, but let's not go there!) from off the line.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Steam age depot works - not just cleaning , but crawling into still warm fireboxes to deal with minor issues (which could become big ones if not sorted) , ash cleaning and so on (no eye protection in those days) , and manually coaling engines in locations with minimal welfare facilities. So much for the romance of steam. No wonder they could not get staff. Same goes for the coal mines.

Some awful PW works , I am reminded of some long suffering blokes who dealt with blocked drainage - not in rural arcadia , but in North London dealing with a mix of leaking sewage and "fat bergs" - of course done at anti social hours. This in the 1990's. (not in Dicken's London)

Another gruesome job was dealing with vehicle cleaning - not just the results of trains striking human or other objects (wildlife etc) , but blocked discharge onto the track toilets , and of course (a problem to this day) - carriage cleaning with the risk of discarded needles....often stuffed under seat cushions.
 

43096

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Emptying toilet retention tanks.
Particularly the poor sod I heard about.... Train having its toilets discharged and the system apparently malfunctioned. Someone had to open the door: it turned out the system had blown rather than sucked - you can guess the rest.
 

Spartacus

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Emptying toilet retention tanks.

I'm told wehn Wabtec converted TPE's 158s into 159/1s it was discovered no drawings existed of a 159 retention tank, so one had to be reverse engineered, apparently not a job for the faint hearted or weak stomached!

I'd probably say shunter in a big yard was the worst, not a great chance of retiring with all your limbs intact, if you made it at all.
 

Dr Hoo

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Only the depth varies...

Early in my career, 'somewhere in the North West', there was a cloudburst and a sewer 'blew' under the line at a certain station, flooding it and stopping the job. It happened that the Area Manager lived in the same village and came down to inspect thing as I turned up as the local Traffic Manager. Things were quite a mess and the AM noted a flotilla of condoms making its way in the Up direction amidst the rest of the 'waste'. "I had no idea that there was so much ****ing going on in [guess]. I must be missing out on my share."

More importantly the signalbox locking room had flooded. "The S&T are still miles away. I think that you need to 'step in'".

"Yeah. Thanks very much..." :(
 

Revaulx

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Some awful PW works , I am reminded of some long suffering blokes who dealt with blocked drainage - not in rural arcadia , but in North London dealing with a mix of leaking sewage and "fat bergs" - of course done at anti social hours. This in the 1990's. (not in Dicken's London)
Even worse in the early 80s when Dennis Nielsen was living on Cranley Gardens :frown:
 

ge-gn

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Attending the scene of, or clearing up the results of a fatality.
 
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Only the depth varies...

Early in my career, 'somewhere in the North West', there was a cloudburst and a sewer 'blew' under the line at a certain station, flooding it and stopping the job. It happened that the Area Manager lived in the same village and came down to inspect thing as I turned up as the local Traffic Manager. Things were quite a mess and the AM noted a flotilla of condoms making its way in the Up direction amidst the rest of the 'waste'. "I had no idea that there was so much ****ing going on in [guess]. I must be missing out on my share."

More importantly the signalbox locking room had flooded. "The S&T are still miles away. I think that you need to 'step in'".

"Yeah. Thanks very much..." :(
Lordy, picking excrement and condoms out of the locking must have been a miserable job.

Generally, it seems like cleaning all manner of unpleasant material comes pretty top of people's lists.
 

Andy R. A.

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July 2007. A flock of sheep had been run down after getting onto the track. With the temperature around 29c the smell was something awful. And Yes, the Traction current was isolated by this time. Tarps were being used to remove the bodies to a nearby access point for the Farmer to load onto his Lorry. This picture is the only one of the set which wasn't too gruesome to include .

XSLWMA1102 CSI Wadhurst 3 08.07.07.jpg
 

Dr_Paul

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Particularly the poor sod I heard about.... Train having its toilets discharged and the system apparently malfunctioned. Someone had to open the door: it turned out the system had blown rather than sucked - you can guess the rest.
Not on the railway, but a very similar event. Up in Manchester some time back, in one of the big blocks of flats in Moss Side, there was a major blow-back in the sewerage system, and -- to be delicate about it -- every khazi needed redecorating. I visited that part of Manchester shortly afterwards, and people in the neighbouring blocks thought it simultaneously awful (it could happened to their block) and funny (but it didn't).

Much more seriously, railways were dangerous places to work. Theodore Rothstein's From Chartism to Labourism gives annual figures from 1897 to 1912: the lowest annual figure for fatal and non-fatal accidents were 372 and 12 979; the highest were 631 and 28 200; the number of fatal accidents dropped during that period, but non-fatal ones doubled. Fatal accidents on the railways accounted for on average 12 per cent of the national total; non-fatal injuries between 15 and 20 per cent. I don't have figures for later years; it will be interesting to see figures for the railways for the whole twentieth century, with a breakdown of the various jobs of those involved. One suspects that shunters, especially those working at night in barely lit yards, suffered badly.

Attending the scene of, or clearing up the results of a fatality.
Back in the early 1970s I knew someone who worked on a team on the London Underground, dealing with several cases each week. I think he dealt with it by building up what seemed to me a rather flippant attitude to it, saying that the first thing his crew had to do was to ascertain whether the dead person had a valid ticket. I lost touch with him, so I don't know how long he continued with the job.
 
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Gloster

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In the late 1970s/early 1980s recovery of bodies was often described as a ‘black bag job’. A flippant attitude was a way of coping with the unpleasant reality of such duties. Nowadays, it is frowned on as you must think of those affected: family, relatives, friends, etc. Despite all the offers of counselling, different people have different ways of coping. If a private comment relieves the strain on those who have done the really nasty work, why not? Even then you would be careful: a vulgar joke would only be made in the hearing of those doing the job, not the grieving loved-ones.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Not quite as bad as these, but signal duty in the old St: Pancras tunnel box.


Having had the experience of going down there and seeing the remains of the "cabin" - it must have been a truly awful place to work. Access was by a spiral steel staircase - akin to going down a gun barrel with plenty of soot and muck.
 

Spartacus

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Having had the experience of going down there and seeing the remains of the "cabin" - it must have been a truly awful place to work. Access was by a spiral steel staircase - akin to going down a gun barrel with plenty of soot and muck.

Funny enough according to this the signalmen typically liked it! Must have taken a certain type of person (presumably who likes training rats....)

I'd be interested to know which door it is and if the vent/speaking tube is still there!
 

bassmike

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Door used to be in the narrow roadway at west side of St: P in the angle as the road turned sharp left. Think it has disappeared with the re-building -St P Thameslink sta:
 

greyman42

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Back when the 465s were built at York carriage works, a problem developed with the pipe from the toilets to the retention tanks, resulting in the waste ending up in the well of the body shell, underneath the floor. As the trains were under warranty, teams from York were sent to Slade Green to rectify the issue. This involved taking up the floor in the toilets and the only way to get the floor up was to use a crow bar and considerable force which resulted in a lot of "splashing". The smell was horrendous and you also had the danger of discarded needles that had been flushed down the toilet. PPE was not what it would of been at present.
 
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ian1944

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In "Signalman's Morning" Adrian Vaughn describes the heroic efforts of the PW gang doing fogging duty, out in the freezing cold placing detonators near signals while he was snug in his heated box. It doesn't seem to compare with the graphic sewerage examples, but at least those involve a lot of activity.
 

Lucan

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Funny enough according to this the signalmen typically liked it!

When I was at Acton Works (LU heavy overhaul works) there was a guy in something like a space suit who steam cleaned the undersides of the trains prior to overhaul. He worked in a pit in a continuous downpour of brake dust liquor. He said he loved his job, he could see directly the achievement of what he did.

In "Signalman's Morning" Adrian Vaughn describes the heroic efforts of the PW gang doing fogging duty,

... and his phrase describing their heavy work on the track itself sticks in my mind "... pulling like oxen ....".
 

bramling

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Having had the experience of going down there and seeing the remains of the "cabin" - it must have been a truly awful place to work. Access was by a spiral steel staircase - akin to going down a gun barrel with plenty of soot and muck.

Weston Street, between King’s Cross and Angel on the Northern Line would have been comparable. Similar arrangements - spiral staircase down to small cabin. Cabin a small white-tiled room between the two tunnels, I say room as it was about the size of a cupboard, though it did have a wooden door with glass panels which the signaller could close. Must have been very noisy and dusty, hot at times too. The room is still there today, albeit an empty shell now.
 

lxfe_mxtterz

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Can't remember what the actual job role was, but I remember on a First Great Western documentary some years ago, watching a worker in a depot explaining how toilet waste is expelled from Mark 3 carriages, all whilst poking and prodding away with some metal spatula thing at this wonderful fusion of used toilet paper, excrement and who knows what else, scraping it away from the "waste chute" under one of the carriages.
 

furnessvale

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I had several rough jobs in my early days on the per way dept.

1. Taking the profiles of rails in tunnels (to look for signs of wear). All day inside smoke filled tunnels like Summit, couldn't see your hand in front of your face.

2. Shap summit in a blizzard attempting to defrost a frozen Matisa track recorder.

3. Developing prints in the drawing office print room at Blackburn! Doesn't sound bad.....but, prints were developed using an open dish of fuming ammonia. The only fresh air was a sticking your head out of a tiny window, immediately above the turntable which inevitably had a black 5 or big 8 turning under your nose.
 

AndrewP

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I have so much respect for the people who do some of these jobs which I simply couldn't do.

Thanks everyone who does
 

infobleep

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I had several rough jobs in my early days on the per way dept.

1. Taking the profiles of rails in tunnels (to look for signs of wear). All day inside smoke filled tunnels like Summit, couldn't see your hand in front of your face.

2. Shap summit in a blizzard attempting to defrost a frozen Matisa track recorder.

3. Developing prints in the drawing office print room at Blackburn! Doesn't sound bad.....but, prints were developed using an open dish of fuming ammonia. The only fresh air was a sticking your head out of a tiny window, immediately above the turntable which inevitably had a black 5 or big 8 turning under your nose.
Wow. Would your time in the tunnels be when trains weren't running?
 

furnessvale

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Wow. Would your time in the tunnels be when trains weren't running?
Not in the 1960s. I had a lookoutman, probably more correctly a "listenout" man protecting me. When a train entered the tunnel you could hear the rumble. I had to get the clamp I was using off the rail and "retire" gracefully into a refuge. The smoke was often that thick that a Tilly lamp next to you was just a diffused glow.

The clamp itself was made of alloy so it could be sacrificed if it jammed. Fortunately I never had one jam on me.

Quite surreal sitting on the rail half way through at dinnertime having your butties!

Happy days!
 

theageofthetra

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During WW2 on one of the US railroads (think the NYCentral) in order to improve locomotive turnaround times for wartime traffic it was someone's job to go into a still red-hot firebox in an asbestos suit to clean it. Must have been horrendous but possibly no worse than working in a ships boiler room in the Pacific campaign.
 

Dai Corner

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One terrible but fortunately very rare experience must be that of a driver or signaller knowing that a collision was about to happen but being unable to do anything about it.
 

infobleep

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Not in the 1960s. I had a lookoutman, probably more correctly a "listenout" man protecting me. When a train entered the tunnel you could hear the rumble. I had to get the clamp I was using off the rail and "retire" gracefully into a refuge. The smoke was often that thick that a Tilly lamp next to you was just a diffused glow.

The clamp itself was made of alloy so it could be sacrificed if it jammed. Fortunately I never had one jam on me.

Quite surreal sitting on the rail half way through at dinnertime having your butties!

Happy days!
Some how I expected you to say no.

I think I'd be petrified of this loud thundering smoky steam engine with wagons or carriages thundering past.
 
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