First Capital Connect criticised over stranded train

Passengers at Kentish Town. Pic: Nancy Mandizha
Image caption The problem was due to electrical supply issues

An incident in which a train lost power and became stuck for three hours has been described as an "astonishing story of unpreparedness and confusion".

London Travelwatch added it was "intolerable" that people were stranded near Kentish Town.

The passenger watchdog was responding to a report which has criticised First Capital Connect (FCC), claiming it was unprepared and had poor communication.

The train firm said it had made changes since the incident on 26 May last year.

It also apologised to those who were affected.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report said the train lost power shortly before arriving at St Pancras International station when a branch fell on the part of the train that attaches itself to the overhead power supply.

As the driver had been able to regain power to the front half of the train, it was decided that the train would head to Kentish Town where it would then be cancelled.

After leaving St Pancras, as it was heading towards Kentish Town, power was lost again and it became stuck for three hours.

The report said conditions for the 476 passengers became "increasingly uncomfortable" because the train was crowded and the air-conditioning and toilets had stopped working.

After about 40 minutes, the driver was no longer able to communicate with passengers as the back-up electrical supply had run out of battery.

Some passengers opened doors to improve ventilation and passenger alarms were repeatedly activated.

Overrode alarms

The report added that an assisting train eventually arrived but the movement of the failed train into Kentish Town station was delayed by further operation of alarms and the opening of doors by passengers frustrated at the continuing delay.

About 30 to 40 passengers who had left the train and were walking between the train and the tunnel wall then had to rush back on to the train before it moved to Kentish Town station.

Throughout this journey, at least two doors on the train remained open after the driver overrode safety alarms.

Other criticisms in the report include:

  • The train was allowed to continue from St Pancras despite it experiencing the same fault as it approached the station
  • The driver of the train was not given adequate support by operating staff during the incident which affected his ability to manage the conditions on board the train
  • The incident was poorly managed and only limited consideration was given to a range of possible strategies for rescuing the train
  • Limited or no information was provided to the passengers on the train during the incident
  • The train operator had not briefed staff effectively on its policy for handling incidents involving stranded trains
  • Lessons had not been learnt from a number of similar incidents that had occurred on this section of line between 2009 and 2011

The RAIB said since the incident, the train operator had taken measures to prevent this happening again.

'Testing time'

It recommends that Network Rail and train operators improve their processes for tracking and sharing safety lessons.

Sharon Grant, chair of London Travelwatch, said: "It is astonishing just how ill-prepared it was to deal with this situation, particularly as it happened on one of the busiest routes in the country."

FCC's managing director Neal Lawson said the report had confirmed many of its own findings after it carried out an internal investigation.

"This quick and decisive action means we have already made 10 separate changes to the way we operate to address the findings," he said.

"The report recognises this and makes only one further recommendation specific to ourselves - and our work to close this out is now substantially complete."

He added: "This incident was a difficult and testing time for everyone involved for which we would once again like to apologise."

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