The day that Virgin was thunderstruck

Great Railway Fiascos No2
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SUDDENLY THERE was a jolt followed by a rattling noise on the roof and the train ground to a halt. The crackly voice on the Tannoy began with ominous words: "Ladies and gentlemen, the news is not good - we have been hit by lightning."

Among nearly 300 passengers stranded last week on Virgin's inter-city service from Liverpool to London was Gemma Muckle. And she is not ready to forget what followed, a four-hour delay in blazing sun with no air- conditioning and drink supplies running dry.

"A lightning strike is unlucky and counts as an act of God, but surely the aftermath could have been better organised," she said yesterday.

At 4.10pm on 1 August, the hottest day of the year so far, Miss Muckle, 21, set off from Liverpool Lime Street to see her granny in Derby. Her plans were to change trains in Crewe 45 minutes into the journey. "As I boarded the train it was apparent that any air- conditioning was ineffective," remembers Miss Muckle, a biology graduate.

After a short delay caused by signal problems at Runcorn, the train resumed its journey towards Euston. It was then that the thunderbolt struck.

A voice over the Tannoy said the power cables were down and the engine had packed up. Rumours went around that the train would have to wait two hours for a new diesel engine.

"They must be exaggerating, I thought, naively," said Miss Muckle. But it was to be another seven hours before she would reach her destination. With temperatures outside approaching 90F, the announcement came that everyone dreaded - the buffet had run out of food and drinks.

"So we were stuck, enclosed on a train in hot, sweaty carriages with no access to food or drink even for the crying 13-month-old who could not be rocked to sleep," said Miss Muckle, of Muswell Hill, north London.

It was four hours before the train started moving again but that did not spell the end of Miss Muckle's nightmare. In Crewe, she discovered that the last service to Derby had been cancelled, forcing her to wait an hour for a coach. It was 11.30pm when she finally reached Derby.

Miss Muckle believes Virgin should have at least got refreshments to the stranded train. "Must the British nation really endure and accept such nightmarish experiences?" Virgin apologised and said passengers had been offered compensation forms allowing them a 50 per cent refund in vouchers.

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