Dear South West Trains…

Tonight I got on your train at 18:15 from Waterloo, and I got off your train at 22.59:45 at Woking after the following:

1. Total chaos at Waterloo with delayed trains and no explanation whatsoever
2. Finally getting on a train after failing to get on two previous ones as people were literally hanging out of the doors
3. Train rode well to Clapham then crept towards Woking – no explanation
4. Train stops

==== Guard does the following announcements in a variety of orders and not very often and very reluctantly =====

Apologies for the delays tonight
Apologies for the delays tonight it is because of signal failures
Apologies for the delays it is because of a fire in Farnham
Sorry for no information, I can’t get through on the telephone for an update
The managers say that you have to stay on the train
The engineers are fixing the signals
We have too many trains in the station
There are no trains going in or out of Woking – (except that one)

Then – after 2 hours of being stuck on your train, the lights and air go off. No explanation. After ten minutes, the guard says that he is going to open the central doors to help air movement – he doesn’t. He also mentions that he has a drink and a sandwich, but does not offer to share – we have no food or water, people start getting ill.

==== the air is off for well over an hour – that’s the air conditioning that enables a packed train to breathe – imagine that =====

The announcements start up, and this time the driver joins in – once – (note he didn’t when it was the signal failure being blamed)

We are told:

  • If we get off the train we will be arrested
  • That police are walking the track and waiting at Woking to arrest anyone who attempts to leave the train – we see no sign
  • That *passengers* have broken out of the trains and are roaming the tracks therefore we can’t move – I see no passengers, or indeed any activity outside
  • That the manager cannot organise a manual evacuation as there are not enough staff (sorry I pay *how much*?)
  • That the reason we have no light or air is because of these (alleged) passengers on the track – again, no one I was tweeting (and there were many), saw any passengers leave any train or on any track

We were told the above in such authoritative and scary ways that we were all too frightened to ask if a door could be opened so we could breathe. By this point we have been stuck in your train for 4 hours and we have had no light or air for 2 – TWO HOURS… and FIVE HOURS in total on that damned carriage.

Incidentally, as the guard was telling us how Woking station was swarming with policemen waiting to arrest us, and that were it not for our fellow passengers escaping from these trains of hell we would all be home and dry. So a fellow passenger who was on the phone to a friend waiting at Woking station told us that there was no train movement in Woking, therefore we were not going anywhere anyway, and that the one van load of police who had turned up, left an hour beforehand and there was nothing other than concerned people waiting to collect people from the trains – friends and family, not your staff of course, they were not there.

We considered briefly calling the fire brigade – or Dominos – but Dunkirk spirit prevailed and we were all terribly English and sympathetic with the “poor” guard who was hogging his sandwiches and water and threatening us with the police – I have to say I was not so sympathetic, I thought he needed to go on a special course for awful people to use in emergencies.

At 22.59:45 we crept into Woking station, somehow the train staff had managed to make us all feel cowed and responsible for the whole debacle because some of our peers had allegedly broken out of a train – and quite frankly who could have blamed them – although I don’t believe it for a minute – I was there and I saw no one – nor any police or arrests – total blarney.

Therefore no one expressed any surprise, that after being trapped in your airless, oppressive, food and water free train (that we paid to go on) that you guys had not bothered, in the 5 hours we were all stranded on the tracks between Waterloo and Woking – to lay on some staff, food, drink, forms – when we piled out at 11pm, feeling a bit guilty for the trouble we had caused, in Woking, even though I and all my fellow passengers and fellow tweeters had done nothing more than swear at you a bit on twitter, no one had ACTUALLY left the train… no one and I don’t believe they ever did. But IF they did, who could  blame them quite frankly.

This authoritative and shouty voice that was relayed to us as “the SWT managers say you must not leave the train or we will arrest you and we have police patrolling the tracks…” etc which tried to keep us in our place, did not have the courage to meet us off these trains of hell and try to at least make sure we had a glass of water. NOT ONE of you bothered – and even the station staff had fled, just leaving the gates open – not ONE official was on Woking station, not one that I saw. Where was the help and apology?

So I suggest that you do the following:

1. Install emergency water and food on every carriage
2. Have a phone on every carriage that in such emergencies people can use to call loved ones/get on the Internet
3. Train your staff to explain always what is happening and why we have to stay in carriages
4. Have a way to ensure that there is light and air in an emergency
5. Ensure that if ever a train is stuck for longer than an hour, that there is a crack team to help at the first receiving station
6. Have a manual signalling system to take over from faulty signals
7. An arrangement with the local fire brigade to evacuate passengers held for longer than an hour in a safe way
8. If indeed this was all caused by a cable theft bid that we are told this from the start, that you don’t run trains when there has been such a cable theft – although I am not totally believing this convenient story

One point I must make, is that the person or persons manning the twitter feed on @NRE_SWT was calm, informative, personal and not threatening. This was a job well done by those manning twitter and they should be commended. This was until my phone ran out after 3.5 hours on your train of hell.

*update* I am told by a fellow passenger, who is heavily pregnant, that she did get off the train but after she was told that the power was off on the track – whch would mean a decent amount of time after we had been trapped in the airless, light-free carriages <- a convenient excuse for SWT to hold onto, in my opinion. What caused the panic amongst passengers that they would risk their lives and those of their unborn children? This is panic, not rationale, and cannot be blamed for what had happened beforehand

41 responses

  1. Sounds like I got off lightly compared to you.

    I was waiting at Woking station from about 10:30 to get home to Brighton. We eventually left at around 11:45 and I got home at 01:55.

    As usual in these situations the staff vanished and the announcements and displays gave out conflicting information. I spoke to the driver of the train I finally left on and he didn’t even know which stations he was supposed to be stopping at yet, if any, on the way to Waterloo. Not his fault, the management just plain don’t seem to think anybody else should know what is going on and customers are the lowest priority of all.

    I saw a few transport police when I first got there and then 2-3 regular police but they were only there for 15-20 minutes then apparently left.

    The trains stuck in woking did have lights and air conditioning, but it seems the toilets don’t flush without power from the tracks. The few I checked and finally had to use were almost full and stank.

    I’ve been travelling to and from Woking for work for around 8 years and there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of – If there is the slightest trouble, outside of a few delays, everything goes to pieces. Usually they cancel or delay any local services in favour of getting the (mostly empty) trains back to London every 10 minutes. This time it seems it was the opposite and trains to London didn’t start up until about 30 minutes after the ones going the other direction.

  2. good grief what a nightmare…they should be utterly ashamed for this sort of behaviour. The industrial revolution is truly over. Why can’t trains in the UK manage to bring a decent service, despite the high costs the average user is paying? How do France and Japan manage such efficiency?

    In a over populated country, you would think there is an effective public transport system in place by now, especially with the costs and perils of using your own vehicles.

    One word.Pathetic.

  3. I was one of the abscondees from a train and there were no police anywhere to be seen. Our guard got so cheesed off with telling people “no information” that when we asked to have a door opened for air, we were brusquely informed that “if you want, there’s a door open at the back of the train, you can get off” … so we did. AND the power had been off for at least 30 minutes. SWT are trying to blame everyone else but themselves. Disgusting behaviour and they should be called to account for they have a duty of care to their passengers, which clearly failed! Being told we could be there til 1am made some of us just say “screw it, we’re off” and I’m glad I did!! They *knew* the length of the delays, yet people were getting on trains at Waterloo and being told signalling problems, not complete failure and hours and hours of journey time. That, in itself, is disgusting – knowing the timelines and not conveying it to passengers. Am still seething (can you tell?!) 🙂

    • I just don’t blame you and YES how convenient to blame it all on passengers on the tracks – and not address the reasons *why* passengers were on the tracks. My rofl moment today is a memory of the guard, who ralised that one of my fellow passengers had opened the door so we could breathe using the emergency thing (no one left out of said door) – strutted silently into the carriage carrying a hold all of tools, his packed lunch and water bottle clutched to his chest. Wordlessly walked to the door, shut and bolted it and walked away. With not one word. Seriously…

  4. Hi Emma

    Luckily, I managed to escape the horrors of SWT last night as I was at the theatre. What you describe is absolutely inexcusable. I hope you manage to get a response from SWT and that everyone who was caught up in the incident manages to get some sort of compensation. The prices we pay for our tickets are extortionate and despite this, I rarely manage to get a seat on my train from Surbiton in the morning.

    Hope you’re OK?


  5. That was nice for you Siân. Only going to Woking were you? The problem didn’t rest with SWT but Network Rail. Might have had to stay ’til 1 a.m. eh? Gosh. I didn’t get home until 0215 – but then of course I was going to Salisbury and couldn’t walk along the track, meaning the power had to be switched off because you did, meaning trains stacked up all the way along that section of track, meaning thousands were stranded – having left Waterloo on the 1922 to Exeter.

    The train I was on was full, with 6 x coaches, that equates to around 600+ people and there would’ve been 8, 10 and 12 coach trains involved as well, plus of course the ‘local’ trains that Siân was probably on.

    So well done the guard and driver on the 1920 to Exeter/Bristol for at least talking to us and giving us what limited updates were available. Thanks to my fellow passengers for their ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and conversation. Thanks to SWT for at least getting some bottles of water on the train at one station stop. Hope the thieves who stole the cables causing the signals failure rot in hell and if the general populace could just stop buying stuff made in China (buy British Siân, maybe televisions would still be made in Wales then?) then the Chines might stop buying up all the world’s supply of copper, driving prices through the roof and a constant theft of copper cables from the railways and telephone companies.

    • yours seems to be a reasoned account of all things on 1920 to exeter, train crew were also affected and trying thier best in a time of system failure due to unthinking thugs out for greed and theft.

  6. Interesting… The actual crime was probably signal cabling theft. As of today (10/06/11) you can earn the following:

    Dry Bright Wire: £4500 per 1000kg
    No 2 Dry Wire: £3700 per 1000kg
    Insulated copper Cable: £1100 per 1000kg

    1000 Kg may sound a lot, but with a disk cutter two guys can load a transit van with that much cable in 20 mins…4-5 guys and you can strip a siding in just a couple of minutes…All whilst the BTP are arresting you for escaping hell.

    Unfortunately, much of the UK network is already cabled, so it is pretty impossible to prevent theft marking or other methods that would make it easy to prosecute the buyers of stolen cable….DNA water is probably too expensive no doubt…

    Leaping off the train, although completely understandable, would have cost you a £2000 fine and a possible criminal prosecution, etc…

    The sad fact is that the loser is always the rail passenger.

    The only way to fight back is to leave the operator in droves and sit in traffic at Hangar Lane, Hammersmith Flyover, Wandsworth, etc.

    It would probably be an offence to canvas on the platform, but an alternative would be a Private Transport coach club?

    A private coach can seat 24 – 50 people – with TV, a toilet and refreshment bar!

    A 12 month season ticket (Swindon – Paddington) costs £7,024 x 24 passengers = £168,576. A 2003 Scania Irizar Century K114 49 Seat Auto Coach = £55,000…

    OK, fuel, insurance, tax, driver, etc…But lets face it you will never be fined for getting off when it breaks down. It might even wait for you if you are a bit late in the morning.

    As you can see I have also spent hours wondering how to escape…

    Pubic Transport (spelling mistake intended).

  7. What a complete joke. I was lucky – I hopped on a SWT just before 11:30pm at Clapham (which had come from Waterloo) and, aside from the time boards on the platforms confusing the crap out of me (saying x train expected at y time, but actually arriving at z time), I didn’t have half the trouble described above. Sounds like SWT fell to pieces. Why is it so difficult for staff to communicate with passengers??

    • There were people on the track after 4 hours of them/us being stuck on the train. It was chaos and bad communication throughout that LED to people being on the track. Not that people were on the track causing the chaos. When I got on the train at 6.15 in Waterloo it was already a disaster, the problems started WAY before anyone tried to leave the train – but it is a nice story for SW Trains to use, granted

  8. me and my partner was stuck on one of those trains, i am 7 months pregnant and had our two young children( aged 2 and 4) with us after taking them to London zoo for my daughters second birthday we got on at London Waterloo at 6:50 , going to Andover Hampshire we didn’t get home until gone 1:00 o’clock. we were sat on two fold down seats outside the toilet for the majority of the time, by 10:30 we sat in first class as they were the only seats free. my four year old had a poorly tummy and was in so much discomfort, we ran out of water by 9pm . the driver and guard did not say much about what was going on and did not come through the carriages to see if any passengers were OK.

    • Oh you poor, poor thing. I did thank God that my children were not with me, they would have been very very frightened and would not have been able to handle that pressure, especially when the air went off. I hope they and you are recovered today

  9. We need a drastically new transport system joined up with for the major motorway junctions and the airports. (why isnt there a rail network round the M25 with stations and car parks at major junctions). It needs to be the kind of quantum leap the railways originally brought when they replaced the canals.

    It takes over an hour to get to London from my Surrey station, exactly the same time as when the station was opened in 1885. Compare that with other technology progress.

    They are dinosaurs. I use them a lot, but under protest.

  10. That was clearly an emergency after an hour of no movement and especially after power went out so you all should have just opened the doors and walked away. If they wanted to sue you for that afterwards, there would be a hell to pay .. fro them!

  11. I was stuck on Mondays nightmare in the morning and evening but i did manage to escape yestersays madness by 10 minutes i did feel fall all these people. SWT are apauling when it comes to information and also very bad at running on time, Just think every years those fees go up and nothing changes, I bet passengers will not be aloud to apply for there money back

  12. My Mum and I boarded the train from Waterloo at 7.15 pm, we sat on the middle of the tracks at Weybridge until almost midnight, there was no food or water available. We were going to Weymouth at the end of the line and when the train got to Bournemouth at nearly 2am we were kicked of as the train was going no further. We were told to consult with station staff to get home. They were not extpecting us and had to send for another driver to get a coach taken to Weymouth, it is unbelieveable that this was not already arranged! After waiting 30 mins on a freezing platform we jumped in a cab and took our claim form for the £90 fee and everything else!! I eventually got home at 3.30am, 8.5 hours after getting on the train. I have no idea what time the passengers left on the platform waiting for the driver got back…..later than us no doubt. I am disgusted in South West Trains attitude to customer service and will be writing them a staunch letter…. when I recove r!

  13. Reminds me of a time when I was on a Virgin Trains Pendolino (also owned by Stagecoach), and evacuated by the BTP. We were literally left on a street corner, with nobody from Virgin Trains (including the train crew) to help, and unable to speak to anyone in the firm as their Customer Services line was closed.

    Nice to see that nothing’s changed.

    I think the demands of emergency rations and a phone on board are maybe a little unreasonable (think of the cost of stocking and rotating this – ultimately passed on to passengers) but as you rightly say, it’s disgraceful that there were no staff members to greet you and provide refreshments at Woking.

    As an aside, under London’s Strategic Emergency plans, if an evacuation of the city was needed, SWT routes would be used to evacuate people by train. Nice to see that such infrastructure is so resilient.

  14. Emma. I was there with you on the same train going nowhere.

    You obviously did not try to use the toilets while you were stranded…. otherwise that deserved a mention too! The toilets were not designed to cater for a very full train load of commuters over five hours. Perhaps that is why SWT did not provide passengers with any water?

    With over 30 years of commuting under my belt – last night was the worst delay I have ever experienced. I am just glad I was not stranded at Waterloo with no news. which must have been worse.

    You forgot to mention the emergency call for a doctor or nurse and then the subsequebnt call for anyone with some insulin for a passenger who was collapsing. To be fair on the Guard (who was clearly as frustrated as we were with the lack of any accurate information coming from his Managers) I think he was taking his own sandwich and bottle of water to help the person who had collapsed.

    • No I am hugely grateful for the fact that I did not need to use the toilets, I can just imagine. I didn’t write all of it down no! Just the stuff that stuck in my head when I got back too angry to sleep!

  15. I think this comes as close to a definition of hell as I’ve heard – I have great sympathy for everybody especially for those with children, or anybody who was not well.

    Surprised that nobody has mentioned ‘unlawful imprisonment’… plus I think after several hours of no air it would have reasonable to call 999 and ask for emergency evacuation for health reasons. Anybody who was asthmatic for example could quite easily have become quite seriously ill.

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  18. Hi Emma,

    I can confirm that the cable theft was real. It is becoming increasingly common due to the high price of metals. The cable thefts lead to signal failures, and one imagines it takes Network Rail a fairly long time to identify the problem and fix.

    Network Rail do have processes in place for manual signalling I believe, (whether you like it or not, this is not the train operator’s responsibility), however it is obviously much slower and safety HAS to be the number one priority.

    The lighting and air conditioning on a train is powered by the conductor rail. By switching the power off to protect the lives of those people who made their way onto the tracks, the air-con and lighting could not run. There is not , realistically, a backup option available to deal with that.

    I think it is fair to criticise SWT for their lack of on-train communication, but it isn’t fair to criticise them for not doing things which are Network Rail’s responsibility, or to accuse them of making up the cable theft, without any evidence.

    Simon Coates
    FdEng, Railway Engineering
    Sheffield Hallam Uni

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  20. Simon,

    All passengers have a contract with the train company, not network rail. The train company could and should have done more to get passengers off the train at the nearest platforms once it was clear trains were going to be stationary in excess of an hour.

    The duty of care is with the train company, the contract of carriage is with the train company, therefore it is fair for passengers to blame the train company if one of their suppliers (Network Rail) fails to deliver.

    The thieves caused the problem, but the failure of the train companies to acknowledge the problem of stranded passengers is the reason I’m kicking up such a fuss.

    Getting people off the train at Woking, especially since many commuters were within driving distance, and could use cabs or relatives, should have become a priority far earlier than it did.

    The fact that South West Trains didn’t implement such a plan far earlier directly resulted in passengers taking issues into their own hands.

    The first “breakouts” didn’t occur until 9:30. The first lesson that needs to be learned is that this cannot be avoided, and train operators need to do everything in their power to:
    (a) Plan to avoid stranding
    (b) Provide passengers with clear and accurate communications
    (c) If faults aren’t repaired as expected, the plan (a) must allow a fall-back to release passengers at stations to give them other onward-journey options, food etc

    It’s not the first time passengers have broken out of trains. Operators can never guarantee down-track conditions, but they should be doing everything in their power to cater for passenger needs – which included giving them the freedom to choose other methods of travel where available. I.e. get them off the trains or get the trains into the nearest stations.

    I would suggest, after any suburban train service (with no drinks/food on board) has been stationary for 60 minutes, operators should be forced to start planning to get passengers to the nearest station. 60 minutes might not sound long, but bearing in mind it might take an hour or more to implement the new plan, at some point this decision has to be made.

    Failure to make such a decision did and will continue to lead to passengers taking matters into their own hands. And who can blame them.

    James Firth

  21. I think the first thing to remember from the legal viewpoint is that first and foremost you have consent to be on or about the trains and stations if you are in possession of a valid ticket or authority to travel. The next thing is that people who decamped from trains which were not moving did so to preserve their own lives and property; therefore they had legal excuse to be on or about the permanent way. I think that just about covers it. Any police officer that thought otherwise probably could do with a course of retraining. The same goes for south west trains officials. You all have my blogspot id and you are welcome to see my short blog item on this:

    I look forward to hearing from any of you about this matter if you think I can be of further help.

    • I think i am right in saying you dont have a legal right to be on the tracks. a train or a station is not the track. i dont think i have ever read anything so stupid as “did so to preserve their own lives” it was through frustration, which was understandable. you run the risk of ending your life by getting on the track which has a live rail.

  22. I was caught up in it all. totally frustrating but what i will say is i am more annoyed at the thieves who caused it all.

  23. I did say legal excuse, not legal reason. If you commit a criminal act there is such a thing as legal excuse. If some of the people who went on the track did so in the reasonable belief that they were saving lives and property, there’s not much you can do to gainsay it BECAUSE they believed they had legal excuse to do it.

  24. I dont know anyone silly enough to think they would have the legal excuse to go onto a rail track. we are not 10 year old kids. being stuck on a train for a few hours is frustrating but hardly life threatening. i really do understand the frustration, i was in it, but if some thief has stolen cables and the signals have all turned red because of it the best safety measure is to simply stop the trains. if they hasnt and a collision had taken place i’m sure a lot of people would be asking them why they moved them on red signals. I travel on swt every day. this was the worst incident i have had with them. but i will say most of the time i get to work within a few minutes of arrival time.
    The option of food and water on trains for this type of incident is something i agree with and should be looked at by swt.

  25. If you dont understand the concept of legal excuse I cant explain it to you any further than I have done. If you cant see that there are situations in life whereby you have mitigation to take the law into your own hands, then there is nothing I can say to you thats going to make very much difference.

  26. I fully understand it. you carry on though being a martyr for people who were stuck on a train for a few hours. i mean, it really was like the end of the world was upon us.

    all the best.

  27. I was frustrated enough when I got on a South West Train for a two and a half hour journey to find that there is no buffet car or trolley. No water available at all on board on a train going from London to Weymouth! The way the guard told me though was most surprising, he was almost, well … pleased. “No ma’am, nothing like that,” he beamed, almost as if I had asked him, “Do you experience issues of racism in the workplace?” “Nothing like that at all.” Well done South West Trains – shit service.

  28. Sorry to hear about all the delays the other night, typical SWT service though!
    I travel all over the UK rail network, frequently using Virgin, Great Western, East Midlands etc.
    SWT service is pathetic when compared to the others.
    Woking to Exeter St Davids – First Class supposed trolley service just pushed through the carriage, not stopping, never to be seen again!
    No seat reservations for a 3 hour journey! In this day and age having to “bundle” to guarantee yourself a seat is a third class service.

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