Today, once again, the mainline rail connection between the east of England and London has been severely disrupted. The cause? A passing train pulled down a section of the overhead line that supplies electricity to the locomotives. This occurred at around 6.00pm yesterday evening, at the height of the evening rush hour when tens of thousands of commuters return home from their day’s work in London. You can imagine the chaos that resulted.
The train that caused the problem came to a halt in the middle of the countryside, without any protection from the sun, on one of the warmest days of the year so far. This type of train has no windows that open and no fans except for the air conditioning which failed almost immediately without an electricity supply. As the temperature rose inside the train, some passengers started to panic, pulling off ventillation grilles with their bare hands in an attempt to reach some fresh air. On these trains it is impossible to open the doors unless the driver releases them – something which he is forbidden to do for safety reasons – so the passengers were effectively imprisoned in an airless metal box. And there they remained, slowly cooking for several hours, while railway managers tried to find a way to release them safely, their only respite a 1 litre bottle of water provided by the railway.
The railway company has said that disruption will continue for all of tomorrow while the damaged section of the overhead line is repaired. Another day of misery for commuters who will suffer delays and intolerable overcrowding. Their employers too will suffer, to the tune of millions of pounds, as a result of lost working hours.
Who is accountable, you may ask? Who has to pay for all of this? Well, no-one it seems. The railway companies appear to have the right to cause havoc for tens of thousands of people without any significant payback.