One of the UK’s worst-performing train operators has launched an investigation after passengers had to climb a 2-meter (7-foot) spiked fence to exit a station when staff closed early.
London’s Avanti West Coast train arrived 100 minutes late at Oxenholme on Tuesday night, by which time staff had closed the station and gone to sleep, passengers said. Some resorted to climbing the fence in scenes described by local MP Tim Farron as “an unacceptable farce”.
Avanti told the MP that he took the incident “very seriously” and promised to investigate.
Several people on board the late 7.30pm train from Euston said the train was running so late that they were initially told the service would not stop as scheduled at Oxenholme, the closest station to the Lake District.
Instead, passengers were told to stay as far as Penrith, where they could take a taxi for the hour-long drive back to Oxenholme.
But when the train reached Oxenholme, it stopped after all, leaving passengers on the platform of what turned out to be a closed station. Passengers said they believed station staff had been told the final service of the night would not stop there and thought they could safely go home.
Farron said some passengers climbed the 2-meter spiked gates and fences surrounding the station to get out. There was also concern that they would be forced to cross live rails to find an alternate exit, he said.
Police were called and managed to locate a maintenance worker who had a key for the doors, allowing passengers to leave after midnight.
“This is just one more example of Avanti failing,” Farron said. “We have seen a large number of Avanti service cancellations, reservation systems failing and now a blocked station. Clearly, there are systemic flaws in Avanti and we can’t let them go unchecked.
“Now we have to ask ourselves the question of whether Avanti is a fit and proper team to run a franchise. The Department of Transportation should seriously consider taking the franchise away from them.”
Avanti has recently reduced the number of trains between London Euston and Manchester from one every 20 minutes to one per hour, with the cuts in effect “until further notice”, and allows tickets to be purchased just a few days in advance.
After meeting with Avanti on Wednesday, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, demanded that the company state when the full schedule would be reinstated. He also urged him to lift first-class restrictions on London services to make more seats available in the reservation system at an affordable price.
“The severe reduction in services at this time of year seriously hurts our economy. Avanti’s decision to take this action without any prior consultation or even notification shows a lack of respect for our city-region and its people,” Burnham said.
An Avanti spokesman said: “We are continuing to investigate what happened at Oxenholme on Tuesday night.”
He said Avanti welcomed the opportunity to meet Burnham and will “fully consider” his requests.
The firm says it reduced hours due to the “current industrial relations climate that has resulted in a severe staffing shortage.”