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A London Tube Dream Ride, In The Driver's Cab

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This time of year coworkers often exchange gifts at the office. And here at NPR we're no different. At our London bureau, producer Rich Preston gave a surprise to correspondent Ari Shapiro. Here's Ari to explain.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: I didn't know where we were going or what we were doing. Friday morning my producer just dragged me onto the London underground.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Your next stop will be Edgeware Road.

SHAPIRO: A man in a blue jacket and tie met us at the station.

EDDIE CORNISH: Hi, my name is Eddie Cornish. I'm the train's operations standards manager for Edgeware Road Train Crew Depot. And I've arranged for a train ride in the front of the cab for yourselves.

SHAPIRO: What a nice Christmas present.

SHAPIRO: The London underground is the oldest subway system in the world. It just celebrated 150 years. A few weeks ago the tube hit a new record of transporting 4 million passengers in a day. Most days I'm one of them.

SHAPIRO: And how often do you get people in their mid-thirties interested in trying - arranging to drive the train?

CORNISH: Quite a lot. Quite a lot.

SHAPIRO: Really, really? (Laughter).

CORNISH: Yes. It's like everyone's dream. They won't tell no one. It's their secret dream.

SHAPIRO: His colleague walks down the platform. Yomi Subuloye has been driving trains for 14 years.

SHAPIRO: What do you enjoy about it?

YOMI SUBULOYE: I just like it. I like being alone. You know what I mean? It gives me loads of thinking time.

SHAPIRO: It's a strange workplace where you're surrounded by crowds but isolated in a private cocoon. Our train pulls into the station, and we climb into the compartment in the nose.

SUBULOYE: Come on. Let's go boys. Are you ready?

SHAPIRO: Subuloye punches in a code, turns the key, closes the passenger doors, and we begin to pull into the long, dark tunnel.

SHAPIRO: This is really cool.

SUBULOYE: It is. It is not bad at all actually.

SHAPIRO: It is a completely different perspective with trains crossing in front of us and colored lights along the sides of the track. On the dashboard there are computer screens, buttons and a red bar called the dead man's handle.

SUBULOYE: Do you know why they call it the dead man's handle?

SHAPIRO: No. Why?

SUBULOYE: Let's say all of a sudden I felt faint, and I collapsed.

SHAPIRO: His hand falls from the handle, and the train stops.

SUBULOYE: You take your hand off the handle, for any reason, the brakes come on.

SHAPIRO: Wow. Apologies to the folks in the train for having delayed their journey by about three seconds there.

SHAPIRO: As we pull into the station, our driver has one last present for me. He points to a small button next to him.

SHAPIRO: Just push it?

SUBULOYE: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

SUBULOYE: That's it. Done.

SHAPIRO: Merry Christmas.

SUBULOYE: Merry Christmas to you, too.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.