Rail chaos warning for New Year's Eve

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The Independent Online
A DISTURBING picture of Millennium Eve chaos is painted in a confidential rail industry report which warns that "many thousands" of passengers could be stranded, and even prepares employees for the possibility of mass suicides.

The report reveals a worrying lack of co-ordination between London Underground and the overground network which could result in "tens of thousands" of revellers surfacing from tube stations to find there is no rail service.

Overnight there will be 20 tube trains an hour when surface railways are not running, says the document. The "mismatch" between the two rail systems in the capital has also resulted in London Underground closing some stations where overground trains will still be running.

In the document, Peter Sones, of the Rail Millenniumprogramme office, warns that large numbers of revellers and a greater "propensity" for individual and group suicides could lead to a "higher level of disruption than normal".

The memorandum, prepared within the last fortnight by independent consultants commissioned by Railtrack and the train operating companies, also points to a lack of cooperation between agencies elsewhere in Britain and calls for an urgent review of plans to deal with New Year's Eve. It gives the example of Cardiff, where big celebratory events are not matched by the rail network's ability to get people home. It refers to a number of "high- risk" stations in various parts of the country, which Railtrack yesterday declined to identify.

The industry is warned that British Transport Police has refused to deploy officers to act as "stewards" and will only attend serious incidents.

Despite Railtrack's contention that it has dealt with the millennium bug, the memo also expresses concern about the potential failure of systems and "embedded chips". And it points out that any incident at night is normally sufficient to close a line for several hours, so there could be "many thousands of stranded passengers" with little possibility of using buses, taxis or hire cars.

A spokeswoman for Railtrack said that the report referred to a "worst- case scen- ario" and it indicated the length to which the industry was going to ensure that it was prepared to cope with every eventuality. She said that companies were acting on the report's recommendations and Railtrack had spent pounds 90m preparing for the millennium.