/ Travel & Leisure

When Tube chaos strikes, who’s there to help?

On Wednesday night I was trapped on the London Underground for over three hours. After what seemed like a lifetime of TfL bods ‘faffing’, two train loads of passengers had to walk a mile down the tunnel for freedom.

But what was being done to ‘save us’ and, maybe more importantly, to help my fellow Tube travellers and I feel safe and listened to?

Just out of Baker Street station at 5.20pm on the hottest day of the year so far – 24˚C over ground and around 30˚C underground – the Jubilee line train in front of mine broke down, leaving over 700 of us stuck between stations in stifling heat with no fresh air and little if any water.

What was being done?

For around one and a half hours we were repeatedly told by the driver that there was a defective train, but we would hopefully be on the move shortly. This failed ‘promise’ became less and less reassuring and more irritating as time went on.

By around 7pm, the decision was finally made to move everyone to the front carriage of the first train, to presumably walk to freedom, although this still wasn’t clear.

In a stop-start fashion, with no information on what was happening, we made our way to the front. During this time we got brief glimpses of equally disgruntled and hot train engineers, police officers and paramedics trying their best to check we were surviving.

Finally the majority of passengers walked to freedom, while those unable to make the journey – a diabetic, someone with hip pain, an asthma sufferer and me with a heart condition – stayed behind to get a lift on the Tube trolley, adding another hour to the drama.

What next for unhappy passengers?

As I emerged, being one of the last to leave, I was kindly offered a taxi home (all paid for of course). But I highly doubt this was the case for everyone, many of whom then had greater distances to travel home.

How will we be compensated? After asking at my local station, I was told that £40 would be automatically credited to the Oyster cards of everyone stuck in the tunnel. But with an annual zone 1-2 travel card already paid for, I’d much rather the cash. I’m sure others across the country would rather not travel on a similar hideous journey again, rendering vouchers useless.

Feeling helpless

Sadly, many of us have no other option but to use train services in our daily lives. But when we don’t receive the service deserved, we feel there’s no one to listen or make changes; we simply have to put up with it.

As disruptions will no doubt continue to occur, at the very least there needs to be an overhaul of the communication system within rail companies and compensation policy.

So, how would you rather train disruptions were dealt with, both at the time and in the aftermath? And what do you think needs to be done to shake up the communication us helpless train travellers receive?

Comments
Profile photo of Jennifer Davis
Member

Liz – I sympathise with your story. I was on the Jubilee line at the same time as you, although thankfully, I wasn’t on the broken down train. Still, my train limped into the station over an hour late.

Frankly, I think what happened to you is disgraceful. I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping passengers ‘in the know’, as there’s nothing more likely to make your situation worse than not giving you any information. I refuse to believe that the driver couldn’t have been informed that a) a train was broken down in the tunnel and b) you would be stuck there for a significant time.

For a train full of hot, anxious, and I imagine frightened tube passengers, some reassurance that the network knows what it’s doing is vital. To me, the £40 compensation is woefully inadequate. But I don’t think train companies should be focusing so much on compensation – they should be focusing on communication. If there’s one complaint I hear from commuters more than any other, it’s that communication is appalling. As far as I’m concerned, there’s simply no excuse for it.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

If a train is held up due to a breakdown, the first priority is passengers’ safety. Hopefully each incident is reviewed and appropriate action is taken. Poor communication is unhelpful and may create a risk to safety, I agree with Jennifer that improving communication is essential.

I suggest that Liz asks for a compensation payment rather that a card credit in her circumstances.

Compensation has to be paid for, so the more that is paid, the more fares will rise. I am not convinced that compensation is always appropriate. I travelled south on the day after all trains from Scotland were cancelled due to bad weather. It was a horrible journey with a diversion due to a tree on the line, three missed connections and long waits at stations. It was suggested that I should apply for compensation, but since the problems were due to weather I did not see compensation as appropriate. My only criticism was that we were being given updates on the delays in one train and then they stopped for some reason.

Member
Phil says:
27 May 2012

“If a train is held up due to a breakdown, the first priority is passengers’ safety.”

Which is why de-training passengers is a last resort. Even with the power off the track is not a safe place to be and as mentioned in the OP ambulances are required to attend and trollies etc are needed for the infirm.

If it’s any consolation the new generation of Tube trains are air conditioned so the long hot wait in the tunnel should eventually become a thing of the past… providing the power stays on.

Profile photo of Liz Ransome
Member

I totally agree that in any situation like this the passengers’ safety should be the first concern. I do worry how many people became unnecessarily ill or panicked through receiving no information; not knowing how long you are going to be trapped underground in stifling heat is a frightening and claustrophobic experience. Although paramedics and police were on the scene at the later part of the incident, I wonder at what point they were called? Surely even an hour is too long for someone with an illness or pregnant, of which there were a few of both.

With regards to the compensation, I checked my Oyster card this morning and there is still no sign of the £40. I believe it was to be within 5 days (presumably working days), but I am a little sceptical as to how they will know who was involved. Either way, I will be making a complaint through the TfL website, strongly suggesting that other forms of compensation should be considered.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I hope the incident was investigated and the report will be made public. That might provide an incentive to do better in future.

At least trains have toilets. Can you imagine being stuck in a motorway traffic jam for hours, as a result of an accident?

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Afraid Tube trains don’t have toilets…

Profile photo of Liz Ransome
Member

It was a real catch-22 situation with the toilets – we were desperate for water in the heat, but acutely aware that we wouldn’t be able to go for a few hours at least!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

That’s an unpleasant dilemma.

If there are no toilets, I wonder how the elderly are supposed to cope even when the Tube trains don’t break down. Perhaps TfL expects them to be suitably catheterised before considering using the Tube.