Train set off without a qualified driver on board

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The Independent Online

An investigation has been launched into how a commuter train pulled out of a station with only a trainee at the controls, leaving the qualified driver behind.

An investigation has been launched into how a commuter train pulled out of a station with only a trainee at the controls, leaving the qualified driver behind.

The South West service, which was travelling between Reading, Berkshire, and Waterloo in London early on Tuesday morning, left Richmond after the instructor had got out to go to the lavatory.

The trainee driver is thought to have heard the door of the cab slam, assumed his instructor was back on board and set off without him.

The train, with 200 passengers, continued down the track for several miles before the trainee, who had only three weeks' experience on the busy route, realised his mistake.

The instructor re-emerged from the lavatory, realised the train had gone and took a taxi to catch up with it. An unscheduled stop was made at Barnes, where the instructor rejoined the train, the 5.54am from Reading.

Both the Health and Safety Executive and the rail company have launched formal investigations. A spokesman for the HSE said: "If a driver is under instruction, his instructor should be there as well."

The blunder happened a week after the crash in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, in which four people lost their lives.

A spokesman for South West Trains said: "Rather than push back through the passengers on board his train to reach the closest toilet, the driver had decided to hop out the side and use the one on the platform. The trainee realised his error and was driving very slowly as he went to make a special stop at Barnes. The mistake seems to have been in assuming the driver was back on board."

The RMT rail union said it was concerned about the incident. A spokesman said: "This could be a disciplinary matter either for the trainee or for the instructor. We cannot have this sort of thing happening."

As a result of the delay the passengers, who had hoped to arrive at Waterloo by 7.09am, were forced to get off at Clapham Junction and wait for another train.

Nick Steele, one of the passengers, said: "We heard a guard being told that 'Stuart was not on the train'. He swore and we subsequently discovered that 'Stuart' was the driver. We were left waiting for 20 minutes until he had caught a cab to Barnes. This is another example of the dreadful service. It wouldn't be tolerated if passengers found a plane was being flown by somebody without a licence."

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