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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Women 'save the Tube'
Ayelet Davies
In the cab with new recruit Ayelet Davies

Female drivers have been credited with making Tube trains run on time. We join two women in the cab to find out what it's like to spend the day underground.
Ayelet Davies quit her job in the West End to become a Tube driver because she was sick of commuting. Now she cycles to work.

Ayelet Davies, left, and Amanda Inwood
Driving force: Ayelet and Amanda on shift
Amanda Inwood, too, shuns public transport and instead drives the three miles from her home to clock on at the Wembley Park depot.

Both arrive at work - on time and smiling - to spend the day guiding packed Jubilee line trains the 36 miles from Stanmore in north London to Stratford out east.

Perhaps because they are in the driving seat, Ayelet and Amanda seem to enjoy life underground more than the commuters who cram onto the capital's beleaguered subway system each day.

Going underground
Jubilee line carries more than 140m passengers a year
As one of the aforementioned Tube users, I've always been a bit curious as to what goes on in the cab.

So it is with some excitement that I join Ayelet and Amanda for the short run north from Wembley Park to Stanmore. As the train runs above ground at this end of the line, we whiz past trees and barking dogs rather than grimy tunnel walls.

All aboard

Because of safety regulations, not only am I banned from interviewing the driver, an inspector and a press officer also squeeze into the one-person cab to make sure I keep my hands off the controls.

Tube ad
The ad that enticed Ayelet and others to sign up
No doubt the waiting passengers think a) there's a party going on in there, or b) blimey, no wonder fares went up if that's the level of staffing.

And then we're off. Amanda's in the hot seat first, so Ayelet, a former account manager, explains how she came to join London Underground six months ago.

"My husband spotted a recruitment advert in Cosmo. He knew I was very unhappy in the job I was in, having to travel all the way down to the West End every day and not being able to see my children.

Ayelet Davies
"If my husband catches my train, he's very happy"
"At first I didn't think that driving up and down would be very brain stimulating. But eventually I decided that it could be interesting."

Now a shift worker putting in 35 hours a week, Ayelet gets plenty of time with her young children.

As the train zips past their school, we all wave in case the pupils at play are Tube-spotting.

Cosmo girls

Since London Underground started running adverts in glossy magazines last year, the number of women drivers has shot up from 75 to 167.

Canary Wharf station
The Jubilee is the Underground's newest line
Tube bosses say women have turned around the culture of absenteeism which left trains in sidings and passengers fuming.

New figures show that for one week in May no rush-hour trains were cancelled due to missing drivers - a first in 18 months of a new reliability programme.

Amanda, a former bus driver, takes the "girl power" argument with a grain of salt. But she says the new recruits have changed the atmosphere at the depot.

"For a while I was the only woman here. Now there's seven, the men seem more relaxed and the mix is more natural."

Amanda Inwood
"People do stare when they see a woman driver"
Upgraded trains and facilities have made the job easier and more enjoyable. Years ago, she had to make do with nearby public toilets, "now we've got a locker room, loos and showers all for ourselves."

And automated trains require much less effort to operate, speeding up and slowing down with just a touch of the red handle fitted in the armrest. "There's nothing really heavy to lift, whereas the old Northern line trains had a big handbrake that you had to crank around."

What about blow-your-nose-and-it's-black syndrome, a hazard familiar to anyone who has ventured into the Underground system?

"Not on this line," says Amanda. "Maybe it's because the trains and tunnels are newer. On the Northern line, the inside of my nose used to get filthy."

Summer of discontent

But not all Tube drivers are as content as these two, and with rumours of industrial action again on the cards, friends have been trying to pump Amanda for information.

Queue at bus stop during 2001 Tube strikes
Millions struggled to get to work during the strikes
"When last year's strikes highlighted our salary [27,656 after training], some friends said: 'What a cheek to go on strike - look at the nurses, look at the firefighters'. I was embarrassed about that."

As an experienced driver, Amanda could move into training or management should she so desire.

"But I'm happy driving my own train for now; I like being on the move. It does get a bit boring in the tunnels, but there's always something to look at above ground at either end of the line.

"There's some lovely baby foxes up towards Kingsbury; and I love the view over the Dome and Canary Wharf on a misty morning."

To find a commuter quite so enthusiastic about their trip would be a rare find - but then that's Londoners for you.

See also:

12 Jun 02 | England
22 May 02 | England
31 Jul 01 | UK
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