Paddington train in new safety scare

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The Independent Online

By Tim Glover and Sophie Goodchild

By Tim Glover and Sophie Goodchild

Two days after Paddington Station re-opened last week following the Ladbroke Grove disaster, another Great Western train has been involved in a safety scare, the Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The driver of the 10am service from Paddington to Swansea, taking fans to the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff yesterday, refused to stop to pick up passengers because, he told colleagues, the train was so overcrowded he feared for their safety.

The train was already full leaving London and when hundreds of passengers crowded on at Reading there was standing room only. By the next stop at Didcot, there were more than 1,000 people on the high speed train, which has seating for 470.

First Great Western said it had been forced to reduce its service after Railtrack changed signal arrangements at Paddington in the wake of the disaster which killed 30 people on 5 October.

The train was so packed with rugby fans that the driver told guards that he could feel the effects of the extra weight and had to reduce his speed. He told the train staff that if any more passengers were allowed on he would refuse, on safety grounds, to take it any further.

At Swindon, guards attempted to lighten the load by asking passengers to get off and take another train to Gloucester where they would be bussed on to Cardiff. Nobody accepted the offer.

The staff, again taking advice from the driver, decided that the train would not make its scheduled stop at Bristol Parkway where, they had been informed, hundreds more spectators were waiting to embark on the journey to Cardiff. People who wanted to get off at Bristol were informed that they could alight at Newport and take a taxi back, paid for by Great Western.

Although the train stopped at Newport, no new passengers were allowed on. Thirty people who had paid £130 at Paddington for first class tickets, which should guarantee a seat, stood all the way to Cardiff but were told they would be compensated. The train eventually reached Cardiff 45 minutes late.

First Great Western last night blamed Railtrack for the chaos and overcrowding and insisted that passengers were never at risk. The company said yesterday that it had provided two extra services but that it could not prevent fans cramming onto trains. Great Western denied that the overcrowding had presented any safety hazard for passengers.

"We would always encourage people to take a later train," a spokesman added. "The new signal arrangements at Paddington mean there is limited capacity but we had people who were very enthusiastic to get to the game. There is no evidence that a crowded train is a safety risk."

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