Network Rail and Southeastern rail were guilty of “inadequate management” when dozens of passengers abandoned their stranded trains to walk on potentially active lines near Lewisham station, according to a new report.
The damning report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) comes a year after the incident in early March last year, during the bad weather caused by the so-called Beast from the East storm.
The report said that an “ill-defined management processes” led to several trains being stranded for up to four hours during the storm.
Passengers became “increasingly uncomfortable” in over-crowded wagons and no toilet facilities available, until “ultimately the motivation of passengers to leave the train outweighed the effectiveness of encouragements to stay on board.”
The situation was not deemed serious sufficiently quickly, leading to wider disruptions. Informal communication using inappropriate channels and poor presentation of key operational information also contributed to the mismanagement of the incident, says the report.
Applying the rights procedures and regulations highlighted in the report would have “greatly reduced the impact of the incident”.
The report says: “To be stuck on a train that is not moving can be an unpleasant experience. Add to this a crowded commuter service, limited information and no toilet facilities and the result is a situation that none of us would want to be part of.
“Our investigation has focused on the circumstances which led some passengers to get out of the trains and walk along the tracks which were still open to traffic, in proximity to a live conductor rail.
We have considered what could have been done to prevent a relatively minor event involving one train escalating to involve numerous other trains and thousands of passengers. Our investigation highlights the importance of decisive action in the early stages of an incident involving a stranded train.”
RAID has told the rail networks to improve facilities on trains by installing toilet facilities, heating and ventilation, as well as food and drinks dispensers.
Network Rail and Southeastern have responded by apologising to passengers for “what was an unpleasant and distressing experience”, assuring they would be taking actions to “minimise the chance of this happening again.”
“The Beast from the East in 2018 brought about some of the most challenging weather conditions we’ve seen in the south east for more than a decade.
“Unfortunately, this led to a serious incident in Lewisham which has taught us many lessons and inspired positive change, especially in how we’ve prepared for this winter.
“We have improved the way we manage extreme weather, examined ways to keep the power on when the conductor rail fails and updated our procedures for communicating with passengers during emergencies.”
Network Rail and Southeastern had announced significant changes in August 2018, following the release of an independent report the companies themselves commissioned on the Lewisham incident; these included providing training to more than 3,500 staff, installing rail heating in Lewisham and improving communication systems.