What it’s like to be a tube driver during a terror attack

‘I was driving the train in front of the one at Parsons Green’

Just after 8am last Friday, during the busiest period of London's morning commute, a fireball swept down a tube carriage at Parsons Green station. There were 29 people injured by a bomb which failed to detonate fully.

Tom, a tube driver of 16 years, was driving the train in front of the one affected at Parsons Green. We spoke to him about what it's like to be driving a tube when a terror attack happens.

What was your experience of the attempted terrorist attack on Friday?

I was driving the train in front of the train affected by the attempted terrorist attack. I had just pulled into West Brompton station and it was the morning rush hour, so it was busy like usual. I was performing my platform duties and I looked up and in front some tunnel lights had come on. This meant the traction current has been turned off. It was then that I became aware that something had happened.

Then, the line controller put out what we call an ‘all call’, which is a message to all trains on the District Line. They said that trains at Putney Bridge and Earls Court would be held at the platform due to a mayday call made from Parsons Green, and it all went from there.

What was your first thought after hearing about the attack?

Well it wasn’t the obvious, I didn’t think that it was a bomb because we get so many things which occur that are not related to terror. My first thought was that it could be what we call a ‘malicious activation’, which is where someone sees the emergency alarm on the train, pulls it and walks off. Which actually happens quite a lot. Often, if a mother is holding her baby in her arms and the child is looking over her shoulder she can’t see their hands. The baby sees this bright, colourful, red handle and wants to pull it, so that often causes false alarms.

In the mornings, it is so busy and people collapse, because they get hot. So alarms are also often sounded if someone faints. I just thought it was another day to day occurrence.

Parson's Green Station

Parson's Green Station

What happened after the attack?

When it had been confirmed on the radio and I knew what was happening, I had to get everyone safely off my train, as obviously none of them were moving. Eventually, when my whole train was clear, I closed all of the doors to stop anyone from attempting to get back on the train and turned the lights off, putting ‘not in service on the displays’. I explained to the customers that trains would not be running from Wimbledon to Earl’s Court in both directions and helped to redirect them on their journeys.

A lot of people where asking what was going on, but all I could say was that the trains wouldn’t be running. I couldn’t explain any further otherwise people automatically panic.

After everyone was off the train I walked back to Earl's Court, as none of the trains where running and reported to my manager. Because of the events I had missed my connecting train where I was meant to be picking up a train along the line.

I stayed at work until my finish time, as trains needed returning and putting away in their depots. After that I came home and had a very strong cup of tea with lots of sugar, it was a stressful day.

Does this make you scared of your job?

No. Not in the slightest. At the end of the day I am paid to drive a train and I knew, when 7/7 happened back in 2005, that this kind of thing wasn’t going to go away.

It’s a conscious decision that you make because if you change your lifestyle or you change your job, the terrorists win. You would be changing because of them, and for me that’s never going to happen because I won’t let them win and I won’t let them change my life. That’s what they want, so no – I’m not scared.

These types of events definetely make me more suspicious and cautious of people. I am always looking at people in a funny way or looking at bags suspiciously, that sort of thing.

Are there any procedures in place to prevent these kinds of attacks?

Because the driver of the affected train saw people running around in panic, he led passengers stuck on the train down onto the tracks away from the potential danger. In this situation going down on the tracks is the lesser of two evils, it is very dangerous down there because you’ve got seven hundred and fifty volts on the tracks, but it is a lot safer than being close to a potential bomb. Most people won’t step on rails, so it is safer than being near the train.

Do you get training for these kinds of attacks?

Our main priority is getting the passengers off the train safely. Because you just don’t know what could happen and it’s hard to be trained for those kinds of events. A lot of it comes down to how you react as a person.

Apart from the procedures above there’s not really much they can teach us because you just don’t know when, where ,or how an attack will happen.

We were given guidance last year where they basically told us that if there was an armed person, or a knife attack on a train for example, we had to do whatever we thought was the best for that situation in order to get the passengers off the train as quickly and as safely as possible.

Do you ever get false alarms that customers don’t hear about?

Not really in terms of suspected terror attacks because in today’s world of social media, anything that possibly might be related to terror is always on the internet within seconds. So, there isn’t anything that we could hide.

The only thing customers won’t hear about are suicides.

Is there any support available for drivers affected by terror attacks?

When traumatic events occur, for example when I experienced a person under, I also had counselling and I fully expect the driver from Friday to have the same if he feels he needs it.

These things affect people in different ways, there is also a chance of post-traumatic stress disorder which may occur at a later date, because events like this really can build up in your head.

When I experienced my person under, I went back to work after three days, because I thought I was fine. I was driving back through the station where it happened and it was the day of the marathon, so it was very busy. People were right up close to the platform and it freaked me out. After that I was off work for three months. Events like this definitely affect you. You need time to process and come to terms with what’s happened.