After the incident on Monday evening I wrote to Southeastern to find out what happened to the train and passengers on the Bexleyheath line train and the subsequent delays to the rush hour services. I received an apology and this explanation earlier today:
First and on behalf of the company, we are very sorry to all those passengers delayed, inconvenienced or held on trains in what were intolerably hot conditions on Monday evening. All those affected will be compensated in the form or leisure or rail travel vouchers and every claim, including those for out of pocket expenses will be considered. Please ask your constituents so affected to contact our Customer Relations team on telephone 0845 000 2222, by surface mail at P.O Box 63428, London SE1 5FD or by webform via our website http://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/ If any report problems in securing compensation, please let me know.
The causes were as follows. Late on Monday afternoon (27 June) a train broke down between Bexleyheath and Dartford, causing a number of following services to come to a halt. Unfortunately the failed train was near a crossover point so a number of services were affected. Engineers were called to the scene and an investigation is being carried out into the exact causes of the breakdown. Completing repairs took longer than expected and given the unseasonably warm weather, understandably, passengers became frustrated.
After approximately 30 minutes passengers on a following train that had been halted asked the driver if they could be let out. For safety reasons (you will appreciate we operate a third rail power supply network) this was not possible. This advice was ignored and passengers activated the emergency egress and began to leave the train and for obvious reasons the driver had to instruct Network Rail to turn off the power supply. This was unfortunate as by this time, emergency repairs to the failed train were near complete, services could have been resumed and delays and cancellations kept to a relative minimum.
Given that passengers were now exiting the train, the driver took the correct decision to assist with a controlled evacuation. You will appreciate that away from a station platform it’s a drop of several feet from the train to the track and ladders are required to safely exit the train. The train was crowded and it obviously took some time to get passengers off and escort them to a place of safety.
In such situations, evacuating a train is a last resort and only done when there are significant numbers of trained Network Rail and train operating company staff to assist (with support from the emergency services as necessary) and buses to take passengers to the nearest station . Apart from the electrified third rail, the railway is a dangerous environment as passengers, some of whom may be elderly or mobility impaired, will have to walk over ballast, negotiate sleepers and walk perhaps a considerable distance to a place of safety, which sometimes can only be reached by climbing up or down steep cuttings or embankments. In this instance, with just the driver to manage the subsequent controlled evacuation, getting passengers safely off the train took considerably longer than normal. Compliments have been received at his management of the situation and his actions are to be commended.
Unfortunately, with just the driver available to evacuate the train and its location near a crossing point meant that yet more trains became backed up towards London and resulted in services being severely disrupted. Although trains began to move at around 1745 you will appreciate that disruption on this scale has a knock on impact until much later in the evening as trains are in the wrong place and train crews are displaced.
In partnership with Network Rail there will be a full investigation covering all aspects of this incident, including communications, hot weather arrangements and customer care and we would be happy to share the outcome with you.
Clearly there is still a big question mark over the speed and content of passenger information on the trains and platforms and I have asked for more detail about these failings, I will also read, with interest, the Network Rail report.