A report has been released today on events surrounding people leaving a packed Southeastern train that was stuck for over three hours in snow last winter.
You may feel a sense of déjà vu as Southeastern and Network Rail reveal a list of recommendations given previous issues in wintry conditions and “lessons learned”.
To remind you, due to snow, services were severely cut back to just two an hour on a very busy suburban line on a normal working week day. An evening rush hour train was thus packed when it left London and stopped within site of Lewisham station.
Within the hour lights failed as did heating with the temperature below freezing. Many toilets were out of order or inaccessible.
The intercom also appeared to fail and some people reported not hearing anything from the driver. Those who use Southeastern trains will know they are often inaudible at the best of times.
Those that did hear the driver (more than one train was involved) stated their driver relaying that he was receiving no information from control.
Some people decided to leave the train. Others wet themselves.
Initially Southeastern launched a strong attack on passengers doing so. As details of the conditions inside became apparent they moderated their stance.
Southeastern’s press release today takes a softer line on those same passengers.
Here’s what the report suggests:
- 3,500 staff trained in a simulation of major incidents to “ensure staff are well-rehearsed on emergency procedures”. Hopefully this continues as the franchise is due to end in less than a year.
- Installation of conductor rail heating to include key locations, like Lewisham, which although not prone to freezing could potentially benefit from heating in extreme weather events. A trial of a more effective anti-icer on Network Rail’s fleet of snow and ice treatment trains will also be carried out. In addition, Southeastern is exploring the use of ice-breaker shoes on some passenger trains.
- Network Rail and Southeastern are working with specialist consultants on planning and preparation for severe weather. This will include examining the criteria needed to decide if trains should be running in extreme weather, such as the snow and icy conditions experienced in March.
Could this mean trains cut entirely on snowy days? The repercussions would be severe for the public and economy. One issue was the lack of trains on the day (just two an hour) which resulted in such high levels of passenger crowding and allowed ice to form on rails between trains. Other suggestions are:
- Improving how we communicate during extreme winter weather. This includes investment in improved systems for providing information to passengers; revised protocols for communication between teams on the ground and control centres; more effective procedures for liaising between different organisations involved in any future incident.
- Examining engineering changes to extend train battery life, meaning train communications systems and lighting could stay on longer if the third rail power system is unavailable.
At the time it was reported that Southeastern had opted for cheaper batteries to be installed with a shorter shelf life. If true, that short term cost cutting has cost more in the long run.
It should also be noted that if this happens again many Southeastern stations are unstaffed, even at busy times. TfL wanted to change that if they were allowed to take over operating services. Will the DfT improve staffing in the next franchise? Little so far suggests so.
Ultimately, a lot of the recommendations have been heard before and things still went wrong. Will they revert to cutting all services on days with snow? If so, it’s not a great solution to chronic problems.