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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Ross Lydall

London Bridge overcrowding: major review ordered after rush hour travellers in fear of being crushed

A major review of passenger safety and the number of train services at London Bridge station was being held on Thursday after massive overcrowding left-rush hour travellers in fear of being crushed.

Thousands were caught in chaotic scenes for more than an hour from 5.30pm on Wednesday, which Network Rail blamed on train delays and cancellations caused by a trespasser further down the line at Hither Green.

But passengers told the Standard that a “dangerous” situation quickly developed as people tried to push up escalators onto platforms at London Bridge. Some said a “total lack of information” from station staff increased the anxiety of people trying to get home.

Some passengers believe the situation has been worsened following the introduction of a new timetable on Southeastern trains last month. This forces thousands more passengers to change trains at London Bridge.

Steve White, Southeastern’s managing director, told the Standard on Thursday that the review with Network Rail would be wide-ranging. It will consider whether future incidents could be dealt with more quickly and customer care could be improved.

He said Southeastern was looking to quickly increase train capacity in the evening rush hour, by laying on more services through London Bridge and/or longer trains.

Responding to concerns on Twitter, Mr White admitted it was the second time that “crowd control” had been required within days at the station.

He said: “The last occasion was when a points failure caused disruption. [Last night’s] disruption was due to an emergency call stopping all trains due to a trespasser. A review will be held [today].”

Mr White said the incident - which is not being considered malicious and may have been an attempted suicide - resulted in 19 trains having to be cancelled or curtailed. The disruption lasted from 5.30pm until 6.45pm, he said.

He said: “When we have a major disruption, we hold a review to ask what happened: Could it have been avoided in the first place? Could it have been dealt with more quickly? How did we look after passengers? What lessons are there to be learned?”

He said trains had been halted around the Hither Green area when a train driver made an emergency call after spotting the person on the tracks.

He said passengers were held on the concourse at London Bridge to prevent overcrowding on platforms six and seven.

But because people congregated around the escalators rather than across the concourse, this made problems worse.

Lesley Walker, who was trying to catch a train to Hither Green, was caught in the crowds as she waited on the concourse trying to go up to platform seven.

“I was about four or five people back from the start of the escalator,” she told the Standard. “People were shoving from behind. It was a ‘rock concert feeling’, where you are being pushed. I could see people around me were starting to look a bit panicked.

“I made a judgement I needed to get out of that situation. It was to my mind potentially dangerous. Staff on the ground need to communicate with passengers. People got upset and a bit angry because they didn’t know what was going on.”

Suzanne Whitlock, a City worker who was trying to get to Clock House station in Beckenham, had arrived at London Bridge from Cannon Street and was trying to go down an escalator to change to a different platform.

“It was just ridiculous,” she said. “I couldn’t believe people were going up the escalator when they could see the volume of people on the platform.”

She said the situation was so bad she had to catch a train back into Charing Cross. “I think there was a trespasser further down the line. It shows how one small incident causes an incredibly dangerous situation.”

Ms Whitlock said the new timetable had doubled the length of her commute. Rather than being able to catch a direct train from Cannon Street, she now had to “double back” on herself and travel via London Bridge to Charing Cross – meaning she has to catch three trains to get home.

Danny Thorpe, a former leader of Greenwich council, called for Southeastern and the Department for Transport – which allowed the Government-run train firm to change its timetable without consultation – to be hauled before the Commons transport committee.

Sammy Backon, a NHS nurse and Greenwich councillor, tweeted to Mr White: “Having been one of those passengers kettled at London Bridge, it is beyond unsafe. Please act before something terrible happens.”

Southeastern said passenger rush-hour demand this month was higher than it had been before Christmas. “We need to improve resilience,” Mr White said. “I think we need to run more capacity in the evening peak.

“We are actively looking at whether we can make some trains longer and run some additional services.”

Victor Chamberlain, leader of the opposition Lib-Dem group on Southwark council, said: “The ordeal experienced by passengers at London Bridge station is completely unacceptable.

“To hear reports of commuters being ‘kettled’ and having panic attacks is alarming, and raises serious questions about the station’s protocols in relation to service disruption. Someone could have been seriously injured.

“I have written to Network Rail and Southeastern Railway to demand immediate investigations into how this could have happened and that they provide solid assurances this will never happen again.”

A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “There were delays at London Bridge last night due to a trespasser on the tracks at Hither Green station. Normal working was resumed by 17.39.”

A spokesperson for Southeastern said: “An earlier trespasser on the line at Hither Green last night caused line closures, cancellations and delays in and out of London, which had an impact on services at London Bridge. The trespasser was apprehended, with power restored to all lines by Network Rail and normal services resumed by 17:39. We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused to our customers due to this incident.”

“A safety review will be held this morning [Thursday] with Network Rail”.

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