by Phil Marsh

Passengers evacuate themselves off trains not understanding the dangers

Published: 24th October 2013

An appeal for witnesses and a prosecution for train company after passengers are trapped and panic -

One of the worst things that can happen on the railways is what is officially called an ‘Uncontrolled evacuation of a train’. This is when passengers get off the train in a dangerous situation which has been in the news twice recently.

Carnival Tube Chaos

During The Notting Hill Carnival, passengers got off a tube train when partly in a tunnel at Holland Park station on the London Underground on August 25. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), is investigating this incident of the uncontrolled evacuation from the train. Stations and trains in this area were busy at the time due to the carnival.

At around 635pm a westbound train departed from Holland Park station and just after it started moving, the emergency alarm was activated by a passenger stopping the train with the first half of the first carriage in the tunnel. This was followed by other alarms quickly being activated.

The driver was unaware there was a brake fault on one carriage which generated smoke and fumes and subsequently, London Underground has suggested that the train may have simultaneously suffered an electrical fault on one of its motors, possibly generating a loud noise.

Self-evacuation and unintended consequences

The passengers tried to get out as soon as the train came to a stand by means of wrenching the twin doors apart, helped by people on the platform. They were only partially opened trapping some people inside, while those on the platform operated the platform fire alarms which in turn initiated an automatic station evacuation sequence.

The associated evacuation announcements were heard by passengers stuck on the train and within two minutes some passengers were using the carriage end doors to leave the train, climbed over the inter-car barriers and went onto the platform. While this was going on, the Train Operator was trying to see what had happened but the train doors adjacent to the platform remained closed.

So it took just a few minutes to cause chaos, but who was to blame? RAIB will publish its findings probably next year on this incident. RAIB would like to hear from you if you were on the train or platform, especially if you witnessed the incident.

First Capital Connect fined after chaos causing unsupervised train evacuation

Nearly 18 months ago at about 630pm, on May 26, 2011, a First Capital Connect (FCC) train running between Brighton and Bedford lost power and was stranded after departure from St. Pancras International station.

This was a peak time train and the RAIB has looked at why it took nearly three hours before the train was able to be moved to the next station, Kentish Town, for evacuation. These three hours marooned inside a train created awful conditions for passengers who became increasingly distressed as the air conditioning and toilets stopped functioning as the train’s power supply failed.

The PA system stopped working 40 minutes as train batteries ran out so the driver was unable to let passengers know what was happening. Some passengers opened exterior doors to improve ventilation while passenger alarms were repeatedly activated.

Would you walk inside a railway tunnel?

The train had to be rescued by another FCC service but by the time this had arrived, passengers had activated the alarms and opened doors which meant the train could not be moved bringing more delays and anger. It is estimated that up to 40 passengers got off the train and walked alongside the train INSIDE the tunnel on their own accord.

The driver of the assisting (rescue) train was unaware of this and moved the train forward for a short distance as part of the coupling test, to make sure the rescue train was safe to move. This train movement understandably caused alarm to the walking passengers alongside on the track.

Crossed wires and leaves on the power lines

They got back on and the train moved to Kentish Town station but crucially, at least two doors on the train remained open while it was moving compounding the issues. The RAIB’s subsequent investigation identified that the cause of the power loss was because foliage becoming lodged between the train’s pantograph and Network Rail’s overhead wires.

The train had experienced the same fault on the way into St. Pancras International but the train carried on towards Bedford with passengers on board, despite the risk of failure. The driver over-rode safety alarm systems linked to the open doors and moved the train but it was also found he was not given adequate support by operating staff during the incident which affected his actions.

FCC has since developed new strategies for responding to such incidents as has Network Rail for emergency preparedness.

After the investigation – the prosecution

FCC was subsequently recently fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of £27,718 following being prosecuted by the ORR because FCC failed to protect the safety of 700 passengers trapped on the broken down train. ORR’s investigation found that FCC had not adequately planned how to deal with stranded trains or provided those on board with accurate information, working ventilation or toilet facilities.

Passengers had to use their phones for updates and were given wrong information. The risk of passengers unilaterally evacuating a train is a recognised risk and FCC were found to have failed to act on Industry guidance developed after other similar incidents. They pleaded guilty to a charge brought under section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

They said

Ian Prosser, ORR’s Director of Safety, said: “ORR’s investigation into First Capital Connects’ response to a broken down train in North London highlighted that passengers were treated with a distinct lack of care, as the company committed a catalogue of errors.

“The company left hundreds of passengers trapped on a train for three hours with no air conditioning, toilets or communication system. The company’s response significantly increased the risk of passengers independently leaving the train onto the tracks, when the safest place for them was to stay on board until told otherwise.

“Since the incident, First Capital Connect has taken steps to rectify their management of similar situations. ORR is monitoring the company and will not hesitate to take action to ensure passengers are not placed in such a position again. Accurate and timely passenger information is essential not only for those planning journeys, but as this incident demonstrates, is critical for the safe running of the railways.”

ORR also said that “Passengers self-evacuating a stranded train are exposed to significant safety risks, including dangers from moving trains, power cables, weather and ground conditions. The safest option for passengers in these circumstances is to remain on the train until told otherwise”.

The Office of Rail Regulation is the independent safety and economic regulator for Great Britain’s railways so their advice should be heeded at all times, no matter how bad it seems on a train, you are safe.

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