At around 18:26 hrs on 26 May 2011, a First Capital Connect service from Brighton to Bedford lost traction power and became stranded between St. Pancras and Kentish Town stations. Almost three hours elapsed before the train, with its passengers still on board, was assisted into Kentish Town station.
During the period that the train was stranded, conditions for passengers became increasingly uncomfortable because the train was heavily loaded and the air-conditioning and toilets stopped working at an early stage. Some passengers opened doors to improve ventilation and passenger alarms were repeatedly activated.
The strategy for rescuing the stranded train was to bring another train onto the front and haul it into Kentish Town station. The arrival of the assisting train was delayed and it did not couple onto the front of the failed train until around 20:20 hrs. During the next 50 minutes, the driver of the combined train tried to complete the arrangements necessary for its movement into Kentish Town. He was hampered by further operation of alarms by passengers frustrated at the continuing delay, and his uncertainty over the status of the doors (open or closed) on part of the train. A small number of passengers started to alight from the train.
Eventually, the driver over-rode a safety system in order to move the train. At the time when the train moved a short distance for the driver to test that it was properly coupled, some passengers were still alighting from the train to the track. When the train subsequently moved into Kentish Town, it did so with at least two doors open.
The investigation found that options for evacuating passengers, other than the use of an assisting train, had either been discounted or had not been briefed to those staff responsible for developing the rescue strategy on the day. There had been very little communication with passengers during the incident because the public address system on the train failed about 45 minutes after the train became stranded. Previous incidents of a similar nature had been investigated by First Capital Connect, but actions had not been taken on the findings.
RAIB has made:
- one recommendation to First Capital Connect in relation to its management processes for emergency preparedness
- one recommendation to Network Rail and the train operators on developing a set of principles for dealing with stranded trains
- one recommendation to Network Rail and the train operators to review their processes for undertaking incident reviews so that safety lessons are captured, tracked to closure and shared with other industry stakeholders.
Response to recommendations:
- RAIB will periodically update the status of recommendations as reported to us by the relevant safety authority or public body
- RAIB may add comment, particularly if we have concerns regarding these responses.