At 18:46 hrs on Tuesday 7 November 2017, a London Overground service from Dalston Junction to Battersea Park, operated by Arriva Rail London, came to a stand shortly before reaching Peckham Rye station. A faulty component on the train had caused the brakes to apply, and the driver was unable to release them. There were about 450 passengers on the train.
The train driver spoke over the railway radio system to the service controller, train technicians, and the signaller. Following these conversations he began, with the assistance of a member of staff from Peckham Rye station, to evacuate the passengers from the train via the door at the right-hand side of the driver’s cab at the front of the train. This involved passengers climbing down vertical steps to ground level, very close to the live electric conductor rail (third rail) and walking along the side of the line for about 30 metres to Peckham Rye station.
Soon afterwards, an operations manager from Govia Thameslink Rail, which manages Peckham Rye station, contacted the member of station staff and realised where they were and what was happening. The operations manager immediately instructed the driver to stop the evacuation, and requested that he contact the signaller and his company’s controller for further instructions. The driver, after further advice from control room based train technicians, isolated various train safety systems, and found that he was eventually able to release the brakes and move the train forward into Peckham Rye station, arriving at about 19:44 hrs. It was then possible for all the remaining passengers to leave the train normally, and it proceeded, empty, to the depot at New Cross Gate. No-one was hurt in the incident.
The incident occurred because the driver initiated the detrainment of passengers without the traction current being switched off. He did this because he was given instructions by control room staff who had misunderstood the actual location of the stranded train. The train driver and the signaller did not reach a clear understanding about the actions that were required to safely detrain the passengers. The delay caused unrest among the passengers on the train and contributed to stress and task overload of the driver, which affected his decision making. The driver’s experience and skills did not enable him to cope with these demands, and Network Rail did not effectively implement its own procedures for managing an incident involving a stranded train.
Underlying factors were that Arriva Rail London strategic command and Network Rail signalling staff were not adequately prepared to manage the incident, and the railway industry standards and procedures relating to stranded trains place little emphasis on the need for practical training for those involved. The RAIB also observed that there were a number of deficiencies in the training and briefing of staff and in the ARL control room arrangements.
The RAIB has made three recommendations, directed to Arriva Rail London and Network Rail, intended to improve the response of the railway industry to train failures and other abnormal events, and has identified three learning points relating to the importance of following the correct procedures when preparing to evacuate passengers from trains, ensuring that communications are properly understood, and passing on the details of incidents promptly and effectively.