Virgin train feels the strain

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The Independent Online
RAILWAY PASSENGERS might be forgiven for thinking they had heard every excuse in the book. But even the most battle-weary traveller on the Newcastle upon Tyne to Bristol service was stunned when their train ran out of fuel five miles outside Birmingham.

In what experts described as an unprecedented breakdown, the bizarre diesel deficiency left travellers two hours late into Birmingham New Street.

John Parker, 23, who boarded the train in Doncaster, said: "I thought I had heard all the excuses about useless trains, but apparently not.

"We've had leaves on the line and the wrong type of snow, but simply running out of fuel is the craziest yet. I couldn't believe my ears when we were told the problem."

According to passengers, an engineer sent to the rescue walked through the carriages and jokingly asked if they knew where to find the nearest petrol station.

A spokesman for Virgin Trains said he could "honestly not remember it ever happening before". He said the problem arose after one of the two engines powering the train developed a fault and, as programmed, shut down.

The trains are designed to run on only one engine - or "power car" in railway jargon - but doing so affects the fuel consumption.

The train ground to a halt just after passing Tamworth in Staffordshire and another diesel engine had to be sent to the rescue.

The spokesman said normally there was "always" enough fuel for a train to complete a journey, even on one engine. But he added: "Richard Branson said there would be problems when he took over the franchise in 1997.

"The rolling stock is 15 to 20 years old in this case. We are holding together with what we've got but we have more than pounds 1bn new trains on order."

They were also spending about pounds 1m on each existing train to make them as reliable as possible, he said.

Michael Harris, editor of Railway World magazine, confirmed that running out of fuel really was a novelty in terms of railway excuses.

"It's almost unheard of for a train to run out of fuel as they carry up to 2,000 gallons," he said. "But railway operators refill trains as rarely as possible. This is because any train travelling to the refuelling depot is not carrying passengers and so not making money."