Monday 14 February 2022
“First TransPennine Express and the industry regulator The Office of Rail and Road… have jointly commissioned this research to find out how satisfied you were with the handling of a complaint you made to First TransPennine Express…”
The message lands in my email inbox, at the start of the month. Keen to have a say on this occasion, I fill out their suggested questionnaire promptly. When, 2 weeks later I’ve heard nothing, I decide instead to share the complaint-in-question in this week’s blog. Back to November we go …
The occasion was Prom-dress daughter’s weekend trip home from the Scottish capital which coincided with Storm Arwen hitting the British Isles. And Arwen caused travel carnage. The train schedule was a catalogue of disruption and delay, so we were surprised when my daughter’s return journey was not amongst them and found ourselves setting to Piccadilly as planned.
On platform 14, we descended together … into a scene of utter chaos. Because this was one operational service in a deluge of cancellations, everyone wanted to be on it! Crowds were seething in all directions in the sort of numbers you see when Old Trafford empties out. But unlike the end of a large sporting fixture, when experienced marshals and police manage the crowds with authority, there were no rail staff to be seen.
As the slightly delayed train pulled into the station, a lone windswept and harried guard scurried out with his flag and watched the assembled passengers surging forward to cram into the carriages. Prom-dress daughter was frozen to the spot for a moment but, colour drained from her face, also scrambled aboard and I saw her standing in a corridor near the doors.
“No seat mum, but I do have a space to stand…it is completely packed!”
came the text.
My horrified eyes now scanned the rest of the train, as more and more people pushed themselves through the doors. I watched the train stutter out of the station, rammed to the rafters. Faces and bodies pressed against windows and doors. And I felt fear….
“Who is in charge?” I asked the guard “It looks ridiculously crowded… is it safe?”
I was told that there were only 3 members of staff, one of whom was the driver, caring for what were clearly hundreds and hundreds of passengers.
Back into the main part of the station, I queued to report my concerns. A manager was tannoyed to come and speak to me but he swiftly waived my concerns aside and reassured me that safety was his ‘number one concern’ and that when the train was judged to be full, new passengers would be stopped from boarding.
This turned out not to be the case. At each of the 9 stops, more and more people were allowed to force their way into the carriages. My daughter sent only occasional texts, as she struggled to find the room to raise her phone to eye level. No-one could move a muscle. One of the most shocking reports was that passengers needing the toilet had to be ‘crowd surfed’ in by fellow travellers. Trainline recorded a staggering 87 crowd alerts.
And this continued for hours and hours. I contacted TransPennine. I contacted the transport police. I contacted Trainline. Everyone was concerned but no-one had a plan of action. One operator assured me that she would relay these concerns onto the train personnel and my daughter later told me that for the final 30 minutes of the journey, there were regular messages giving out an emergency number for any passengers in distress. Was that due to me… no idea!
As no-one else seemed willing or able to take control, I eventually texted
“Just get off at the next station”
My child replied,
“I cant…I cant even see where the exit is anymore…”
and I no longer knew what to do to help, other than pray!
Thankfully they made it to Edinburgh but my relief has now given way to real anger and I repeat the question I asked of the guard back in Manchester
“Who is in charge?”
I do not for one moment want to suggest that our trains are consistently unsafe, but they were on this occasion and it cannot have been unexpected. Storm Arwen had caused over 24 hours of train cancellations prior to this service being allowed to run. Any Tom Dick or Harry could have predicted high demand for limited seats so,
“Where were the extra staff to manage this and keep people safe?”
Secondly, I was told that if the train was deemed too crowded that new passengers would not be permitted to board. Well, if 87 crowd alerts, passengers being crowd-surfed to the loo and bodies and faces pressed against windows and doors are not indicators for this… what exactly are? What further metrics are we looking for? How much more shocking do the standards have to be before anyone takes action?
Thirdly I was told that safety was a ‘number one priority’. Well, on this service no-one could budge an inch and this included the 2 train staff who were unable to move through the carriages and corridors to check on passenger well-being. So how on earth would they even have known if anyone was in distress? In my daughters cramped corridor there was an elderly lady, medically advised not to stand for long periods of time. She had to abandon her fold down seat and stand as the seating simply took up too much space.
It is unacceptable and down to a clear lack of leadership. There appeared to be no-one able to make a decision. No-one with the courage, clarity and care to stand up and say
“Enough is enough! No more people on this train. It is not safe”
Why did this not happen? Was is money; fear of compensation and refunds? I have certainly been pointed towards refunds and financial claims but I haven’t made them because I don’t want a refund. I just was assurance that this will not happen again.
I await a response from First TransPennine Express and the industry regulator The Office of Rail and Road…