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Lewisham rail incident could have been a disaster

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09 March 2018
Train Commuters If like me you saw the ten o’clock news last Friday, you will have watched in shock as hundreds of people jumped out of iced up trains and onto the tracks at Lewisham Station in a rail incident that could have easily been a rail disaster.

The arctic weather conditions which swept the country effectively resulted in a train getting frozen to the track. Other trains backed up. Engineers worked to fix the problem but horrendous overcrowding, no toilets, no heating, and no sense of when the ordeal was going to end, meant that some people took matters into their own hands. With a live rail (which was thankfully shut down quickly) and hundreds of angry and desperate individuals, we are lucky that no-one died. 

Along with the MP for Lewisham Deptford, Vicky Foxcroft, I met Southeastern this week to understand the chronology of events and to explore with them what compensation would be offered to passengers and, more importantly, how we could ensure a similar situation doesn’t arise again. Southeastern have now announced increased compensation payments for anyone caught for longer than 2 hours in delays last week, and a minimum £100 payment for people caught up in the incident on Friday night. 

An independent review of the incident is to be carried out to get to the bottom of what happened, to consider what actions might prevent future incidents of this nature occurring, and what protocols might be needed to handle them if they do. It is my view that the Rail Accident Investigations Branch should be involved in this and I have put this to the Department for Transport. 

The fact that multiple services were affected, where many people could see platforms and could monitor in real time the actions of others on social media, creates a very difficult situation to manage. A lack of trust in the train operating company and a high level of pre-existing anger about overcrowding and unreliability on this part of the rail network will, I believe, have compounded the problem.

People who depend upon rush hour train services that run through Lewisham often refer to the fact that cattle enjoy better conditions than Southeastern commuters. They are right.

This incident should act as a wake up call to the Government to ensure that capacity enhancements, more comfortable trains, better communication with passengers, and better communication with Network Rail are hallmarks of any new franchise. If these problems aren’t tackled, the latent anger, which in part contributed to the events of last week spiralling our of control, will continue to represent a real threat to the safety of the railway.  

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