Desperate passengers abandon stranded trains
PASSENGERS stranded on five Southeastern trains made the decision to self-evacuate onto the tracks in south London during the evening of March 2.
Overall, some 9,000 passengers were stranded on nine trains as a result of the severe weather conditions. Of these nine trains, one was not fitted with toilets and had around 1,000 passengers aboard. Conditions deteriorated on the train, and amid rising distress from those who took to social media to complain or seek information, the operator’s official Twitter handle swore at passengers (see panel).
Investigations are under way by the operator, while Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser has also confirmed he will be investigating the incident.
RSSB spokesman Matt Clements confirmed there is no industry standard (as such) for evacuation, but pointed out that an ATOC/ Network Rail Guidance Note from June 2014 states there is an “aspiration” of evacuating “within an hour” of the train coming to a stand.
He added: “However, that does need to be put into the context of the whole guidance, the specific operational procedures within NR and the train operating companies themselves (which they will own to satisfy their own need to meet safety requirements), and the professional judgement of operational staff on the day.”
The incident started at 1816, when it was reported that the late-running 1556 London Charing Cross-Dartford (2M48) came to a stand outside Lewisham unable to draw power. NR sent a Mobile Operations Manager (MOM) to de-ice the railway to help 2M48, which then suffered an Automatic Warning System (AWS) fault at 1828. It had started its journey 67 minutes late, and was 80 minutes late by the time it left Lewisham.
The plan was for 2M48 to run to Blackheath and terminate. The Up and Down fast lines were blocked until the train got under way - this would allow the 1626 Charing Cross-Dartford (2M50), which was behind it (formed of 376002/035) but which had yet to call at Lewisham, to pull forward into the south London station. This train had started its journey at 1713 (47 minutes late), and was 54 minutes late when it was reported approaching Lewisham at 1738.
At 1836, the MOM confirmed he was on site and had had to take an emergency isolation of the third-rail system on the Up and Down North Kent lines to de-ice the conductor rail. He took the isolation on both lines due to the proximity of the conductor rail.
Nine minutes later, at 1845, the MOM advised that “multiple persons” had alighted from 2M50 at Lewisham Junction, and were on the track. He requested emergency assistance, and an emergency isolation of the third-rail was put in place. Between 1845 and 2026 there were six further reports of
Speaking to RAIL on March 7, Southeastern Managing Director David Statham said: “The first isolation was for a limited section, but this was never taken off.”
This was because passengers were de-training from 2M50. Asked if trains would have been able to run had that not happened, Statham said: “What I can say is once we got the isolation off there was a 15 to 20-minute window and we were able to gradually start moving.”
The NR log reports the current was returned at 2136 and trains were moving at 2159. Statham suggested that trains could have been running by 1900.
Some passengers had been on the first train for 92 minutes, before those on the one behind got off their train.
NR confirmed that the routes were suffering from freezing rain. As soon as the water landed, it froze. Access to the locations was by road only.
Passenger Robin Clarke blogged his experience. He described conditions aboard the ‘376s’ as: “I myself needed the toilet but was not in desperate need, others were getting quite upset about it and started to face the realisation that they will need to either find a bottle (which is obviously easier for a man) or face the humiliation of wetting yourself - or worse.”
When the driver announced the plan to de-ice the track, he blogged: “We should be being evacuated not waiting for Southeastern to make a half-arsed attempt at spraying some car de-icer on the train track.”
He wrote that after at least a further 30 minutes: “I could hear several people in the carriage crying and the smell of urine had become apparent.”
Statham said Southeastern’s options in this situation is to get the train moving, or move passengers to another train either by nose-to-nose or side-by-side. “Walking on the ballast is the last resort,” he said.
He confirmed there were “four or five” occasions when Southeastern sought to turn the power back on, but couldn’t because passengers were on the tracks.
Statham said because there were nine trains to deal with, seven of them extremely busy, the plan had been to get the power on for all trains, rather than selected trains. “I understand people were in difficult conditions,” he said.
Asked whether a locomotive could have been used to rescue the trains, he said that would be investigated, but that “it would have been a very difficult position for all nine trains”.
Passengers leave the stranded Class 376s near Lewisham on March 2.