Nine-hour nightmare to Nottingham for passengers stuck on broken-down train

Click to follow
The Independent Online

London to Nottingham is not normally considered one of the great railway journeys of the world, but passengers on one that arrived yesterday morning are unlikely to forget it in a hurry.

London to Nottingham is not normally considered one of the great railway journeys of the world, but passengers on one that arrived yesterday morning are unlikely to forget it in a hurry.

The trip on a Midland Mainline train started from St Pancras at 10pm on Monday. The 130-mile journey should have taken one hour and 40 minutes; instead, the exhausted, bedraggled passengers arrived at Nottingham station at 7am yesterday - nine hours late - on a double-decker bus.

Even then it was not quite over. The travellers had been told by rail staff that there would be a fleet of taxis waiting for them at Nottingham, but staff at the Midland Mainline desk there knew nothing of this and said it was up to passengers to arrange and pay for cabs. Only after heated arguments, did they "grudgingly" agreed to pick up the fares.

Yesterday, Midland Mainline said they would be "generous with the passengers, who can expect at least a full refund". Company officials said there might also be a free trip in the future by way of compensation. Most passengers said they took this as a threat rather than an offer.

Things started to go wrong 40 minutes after the journey began, with points and signals failure south of Bedford. But it was midnight before the first member of staff was spotted by the passengers and he declined to tell them what had gone wrong. An hour passed before any announcement was made to the passengers.

Mark Adams had taken his wife to London as "a surprise" to celebrate her birthday. "It was certainly a surprise on the way back, a very unpleasant one," said Mr Adams, a fork-lift driver. "The way we were treated was disgusting. We simply did not know what was going on; no one bothered to tell us anything."

At 3.50am, Railtrack was given the all-clear and the train moved off, but it was a short respite. When the train arrived at Kettering, the passengers were told to get off because maintenance work was being done on the track between there and Leicester. The rest of the journey was by coach.

Janice Burke, 35, said: "It was the attitude of the staff which was so annoying. We had been told we would get free coffee and something to eat, but when people asked for food they were told all they were getting was one packet of crisps, or a packet of biscuits.

"We were told there would be a coach for us at Kettering station. One woman who had two young children was getting quite agitated. They told her that unless she calmed down they wouldn't let her on the bus.

"Then came the coach, except it turned out to be a double-decker bus, and it was unheated and freezing cold. I felt sorry for the driver. He took a lot of flak from the male passengers; one man threatened to hit him. But it wasn't his fault. He even stopped at Loughborough station to ring to arrange taxis for us at Nottingham."

Ian Hawkins, a 25-year-old computer analyst from Nottingham, who was returning from a visit to see a friend, said: "There had been a certain amount of gallows humour, but I think for most people the rickety old bus was the last straw"

As well as the Nottingham-bound passengers, the bus had taken others who had been on their way to Derby.

"There must have been a hundred people on that bus," Mr Hawkins added. "I had to ring my boss at 2.45am to tell him that I didn't think I would get to work."

The double-decker finally arrived at Nottingham in the morning, after making stops at Market Harborough, Leicester, Loughborough and Derby.

At Nottingham the passengers, rubbing sleep out of their eyes, were greeted with blank looks when they asked about the taxis they were expecting.

"There were, of course, no taxis," Ms Burke explained. "I missed my lift to Birmingham, where I was supposed to visit my father in hospital before he had an operation. He has no family with him, and he doesn't even know why we are not there because we couldn't contact the hospital."

Shona Green, a spokeswoman for Midland Mainline, said: "We can only apologise to passengers and will consider any compensation claim."

But Ms Burke would not be placated: "I have been left literally sick today," she said. "I haven't slept a wink or eaten, and the shock to my system has left me vomiting.

"An apology is simply not enough. I will certainly pursue compensation."

Mr Hawkins added: "I got home and had to shower and shave and turn straight around again and go to work. How can they expect passengers to put up with this?"

Comments