Through persistent nagging emails I have managed to get a response from Southeastern from my original article describing the conditions on the 2nd March incident at Lewisham.
The response is as follows:
Dear Mr Clarke
Thank you very much for your emails on 4, 5 and 6 March regarding the difficult journey you had home from London Bridge on Friday 2 March. While this doesn’t change what happened, we are incredibly sorry.
Having read your blog, it’s certainly given us a detailed insight of the uncomfortable position you were in.
To explain what happened in more detail, we were continuously monitoring the weather and due to deteriorating conditions, we agreed with Network Rail to implement our Key Route Strategy Timetable. This meant reducing services on all routes, closing stations and running trains at different times to the normal timetable. Some services were then busier than normal which caused overcrowding that evening. We are sorry to hear that your calves are still in pain, as it has been nearly a week we would advise you to seek medical advice from your doctor.
The train in front of yours then became stranded on the approach to Lewisham station. This was due to ice and snow building and compacting on the conductor rail – also known as the third rail. The train-to-track contacts (the “shoe gears”) were losing touch with the rail, and becoming isolated from the current. This then led to the train losing power and not being able to move.
While stationary, more and more snow fell and froze against the freezing metal. This set around the shoe gears, encasing them in ice, preventing further movement or contact. In order to clear this, it had to be manually removed, and so power to nearby track sections had to be switched off to allow Network Rail work teams to the site. This did have the downside of turning off the lights and heaters on the trains affected, and we’re sorry that this had to happen. The problem they had was that as the shoe gears were freed, they were immediately icing up again, and with 16 shoes for an 8-carriage train, this was quite a difficult situation.
During this time, more and more trains were being caught up in the congestion caused. With several thousand passengers stranded across at least 10 trains, a decision was made to keep everyone where they were safest: on the train. Unfortunately, this wasn’t well communicated to or accepted by everyone, and many took it upon themselves to get off the train without permission or assistance, such as you noticed with several passengers from your carriage. This wasn’t just an isolated incident, but was happening on several trains.
While we understand the reasoning behind their actions, especially based on your description of conditions aboard the trains, it’s something that we cannot condone under any circumstances unless there is something onboard the train that is an immediate threat to life.
As you’ve since discovered, there’s a 2-day course on Personal Track Safety, as the railways are so dangerous. Not only is there the issue of the live third rail, but other train movements, trip hazards, and uneven surfaces (particularly in the cold, dark) are dangerous too. The passengers who got off the train realised this, and were wise to get back on board, despite the initial danger they’d put themselves in.
However, there were many who didn’t do this, and remained on the tracks, or made the treacherous journey towards a nearby station. Because of this, Network Rail had to shut off track power in a full 3-mile radius, stranding more trains, and preventing rescue vehicles from attending. Passenger safety is of the utmost importance, and this was the correct action for them to take as soon as drivers reported non-permitted egresses from their trains.
So, while passengers were safely aboard their trains (even if incredibly uncomfortable), the authorities were having to rescue those who had stranded themselves on the tracks. This, of course, further prolonged the experience for everyone, all the while teams were working on rescuing the trains from the ever-worsening conditions. The Duty Station Manager who was working on Friday evening contacted and utilised all members of staff that were available to him. We would like to thank you for assisting the lady off the train, and can appreciate what a help and relief that was to her at that time.
We welcome the investigation from the Rail Accident and Investigation Branch (RAIB) into what happened that evening, as we feel that a lot can be learned from this. Not just by Southeastern, but by all of our industry partners that were involved. We’re also working with Network Rail to arrange a separate, independent, investigation into what happened across the week as a whole.
Due to the unprecedented volume of incoming Tweets, we drafted in members from other departments, and reverted the system to its basic role of providing service information updates. The Tweet you have referred to in the blog has also been picked up, and is being addressed by our senior managers.
You also commented on the type of trains being used, as the one that failed ahead of you was one of our older Class 465 Networkers. While it’s true that this fleet was built in the early- to mid-90s, the trains have gone through two full refreshes in their time with us. They’re perfectly serviceable, and see just as much use as our newer fleets, but are coming towards the end of their lifespan. To this end, the DfT has requested that new trains be brought to the network for the upcoming franchise for London and the South East, which is due to start in early 2019.
This is because it’s not the train operators who invest in the acquisition of the rolling stock, but the DfT through the various Rolling Stock Operating Companies. Each fleet is assigned to a franchise, and so is inherited by the train operator, at which point it becomes our responsibility to keep and maintain them. We’re hopeful that this investment in new trains will see improvements for passengers across Kent, East Sussex, and South London over the coming years.
As you know, in terms of compensation for all journeys between 27 February and 2 March that were disrupted by the snow and ice, we’re doubling Delay Repay payments. As per your tweet last night I understand you have already submitted a claim and received confirmation that the Delay Repay element of your claim has been processed.
Further to this, as you were stuck on one of the stranded trains for several hours, we’re increasing this to a total amount of £100. Therefore, I’ve arranged a separate cheque for £81 to bring this up to the promised £100 (this amount also includes £8 to cover the maximum Oyster fare you were charged). This should be with you in the next 14 days. Please also encourage your sister’s boyfriend (and anyone else you know who was trapped) to also claim, and get in touch (www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/contact-us) so we can get this arranged for them.
Thank you very much for taking the time to get in touch, we’re extremely sorry for what happened that evening, and would like to assure you that lessons will be learned. I hope that future journeys with us prove to be significantly easier, and trouble-free.
Senior Customer Relations Manager
While I appreciate the response (and the compensation) I am still sceptical that if the same thing were to happen again they would deal with it in exactly the same way. I also think that if Twitter is going to be the preferred communications medium for Southeastern it needs a lot of work. I have heard complaints from many that have been blocked unnecessarily for what feels like a personal grudge on behalf of the Southeastern Twitter operator. Perhaps the block list should be wiped clean and the Southeastern Twitter team need to deal with unruly tweets another way – like ignoring them. Its clear that nothing has been done so far to bring any sort of professionalism to their social media team or insensitive tweets such as the below would not be being sent. This is not a game, when people are late due to train delays it causes stress, anxiety and panic as not all employers are sympathetic.
For anyone that was caught up in the Lewisham incident you will have to phone Southeastern on 0345 322 7021 and someone will be able to up your double delay repay to £100 as they did for me. Simply filling in the contact form was not sufficient and I wasn’t able to access the extra compensation until I made the phone call.
Lets hope that as the snow falls to the ground today Southeastern are prepared and that we don’t end up with a repeat of the disasters that occurred at the beginning of the month.