Great Railway Fiascos No6: Cubs left stranded at midnight

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The Independent Online
A PACK of Cub Scouts returning from summer camp in the Lake District was stranded at midnight on a station platform after fellow travellers were chauffeured home in taxis.

The group of 16 Cubs, aged between eight and 11, and their five leaders were last weekend left for three hours at Reading station after they were forced off a Virgin train. While they waited to continue on their journey they were threatened by drunk youths and saw a couple having sex in the toilets.

At one point the group, who had taken refuge in a waiting room, fought off a gang of youths trying to break in. A security guard was eventually posted outside to prevent further incidents.

Vanessa Ashley, whose 10-year-old son was with the group, said the whole experience left parents anxious and some of the children traumatised. "This is a `what if?' situation," she said yesterday. "But it was a dangerous one."

It was 5.30am before the children arrived to their base in Lymington by bus and taxi - after a more than 13-hour trip.

"The group feels it has been very seriously let down and abandoned by Virgin," said Ms Ashley, speaking on behalf of all the parents. "They were told they would be given priority. But once they got to Reading it seems that nothing had been arranged. "Instead, they had to sit on the platform as other passengers got into taxis or buses."

The journey started at 3.30pm on Sunday, when the pack boarded Virgin's service between Windermere, Cumbria, and Brockenhurst, Hants.

After their train had braking problems in Preston, the group had to change. Worse was to follow. The train ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere because of serious flooding. The pack had to sit for three hours with most of the toilet facilities out of order and the buffet running out of food and drink.

At 11.30pm, they were told the train would terminate at Reading. "But when they arrived at half past midnight, the station manager told them he wasn't aware that they were on the train and no coaches had been arranged."

Virgin denied the group had been abandoned. A spokesman said: "We got them home and we got them home safely."

He blamed the delay on a bus company, saying it had "let them down" by sending a driver who had too little time left on his tachograph to take the children home. Travellers will be offered a full refund.

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