Friday, June 10, 2011

Chaos on South West Trains

By John Bingham
A heavily pregnant woman was confronted by police and accused of trespass after being carried off a train where she had been trapped for hours late at night.
Emma Firth, who is eight months pregnant, joined a group of passengers in an impromptu evacuation from the train stranded outside Woking station in Surrey four hours into what should have been a 20 minute journey.

They were among thousands of commuters caught up in chaos after signal failure left a total of 60 trains stranded, some without power, until 11pm last night.
It was the second time in three days that signals forced an almost complete shutdown of the South West Trains network, the busiest rail operator in the country which serves a large stretch of the London commuter belt.
On Tuesday thousands of rush hour passengers were stranded late into the night after a series of technical faults.
Last night Mrs Firth, from Farnham, Surrey, joined an Alton service at Clapham Junction on her way home from London.
Already slow running because of separate signalling problems around Waterloo, it ground to a halt outside Woking at around 7.15pm, caught in a long queue of packed trains unable to pass the faulty signals.
After another two and a half hours, the power was switched off.
“I wondered if they were going to walk us down line,” she said.
“There were no refreshments on board and there had already been a call by guard over the PA system for any medical staff, or anyone who had insulin so I guessed one person at least was unwell.”
“My husband James had by that point arrived at the station with dozens of others trying to collect people.
“He was told the power was off because passengers from the train in front had got out of the train and were walking to Woking station which could be seen in distance, less than half a mile away.”
But Mrs Firth, who works for Telegraph Media Group, and her fellow passengers were told that there were not enough staff to supervise an evacuation of their train.
Meanwhile reports were coming back from friends and family waiting at Woking that there were around 22 trains backed up and that some of the drivers of those trains stuck at the station were going off shift.
“We were being told to sit tight for now, but there was no talk of what might happen or any suggestion they might have a plan,” she said.
“At this point I and some others decided to make a break for it.
“One guy had already opened the door, and we knew the power was off.
"I was talking about it to a man near me, we said: ‘This is our only chance’.
"In my condition I wasn't going to sleep overnight on a train, I had no food or drink.
"So the man gave me a piggy back off the train and helped me walk down the track.”
Joined by four of other passengers they met a Network Rail worker who helped guide them along with his torch.
But as they reached the station police shepherded them towards a side exit where they were confronted by more officers.
“The police at the gates were very angry, saying we had trespassed,” she said.
“Cue lots of arguing, everyone and me pointing out I was almost 8 months pregnant.”
Eventually the six passengers walked off but she said others following behind were also stopped and were ordered to give their details.
A spokesman for Network Rail said that 60 trains, all from Waterloo, had been affected by the failure which he claimed could have been caused by vandals.
"There were two trains where people were trying to get off and we had to get them back on.
"Signalling was switched back on at 10.55pm.”
A South West Trains spokeswoman said: "We are very sorry for the lengthy delays and inconvenience this has caused to many of our customers."

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